Have you ever gone through a period when you were under almost crippling stress and felt as if you were barely going to make it through it? Of course, you do. We all manage to complete the work deadline, take those important exams, finish the marathon we signed up for, or go through a time of caring for a sick family member. However, after the stressful period is over, we get sick.
The other common thing that happens is you get sick when you try and take a break. You tie up all the loose ends at work, turn the auto reply on your emails on and then find as soon as you arrive at your holiday destination, you get sick. You then spend the first week or so of your cherished time off feeling terrible. You miss half your holiday!
Doesn’t seem fair right?
So, why do people become ill when they emerge from a stressful period or when they go on holiday?
The let-down effect is what’s happening in those situations. It’s also known as post-stress illness. Dr. Marc Schoen is a psychologist who first identified the “let down effect.” Our body produces stress hormones called cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline during a stressful period.
During those weeks, our bodies release a number of hormones that trigger the immune system to stop infection from taking hold. Who wants to be sneezing their way through an important phase in their job or family life? What’s happening is that our white blood cells, which are like soldiers patrolling the walls, hold back pathogens at the front line and stop opportunistic infections from taking us down.
Once the tension has died down, those troops withdraw from the front line, allowing viruses, bacteria, and fungi to infect us. There’s also an increase in inflammation as a result of the high cortisol and adrenaline times you just experienced.
We may also observe a reactivation of latent viral infections in people who have had viruses like herpes simplex 1 (think cold sores, Epstein-Barr virus or Cytomegalovirus), which is known as post viral syndrome. Old viral infections become active again , and we see cold sores re-emerge or the terrible tiredness of glandular fever recurrence after a few days.
Dopamine, on the other hand, seems to decrease once a stressful period has passed and people will frequently use food or alcohol to attempt to raise their low dopamine levels in order to feel pleasure and reward again.
While the sickness is inconvenient, particularly if you have been looking forward to two weeks of beautiful beach time, it is a normal bodily function when your defences have been lowered.
The secret, as we frequently advise clients, is to be aware of the letdown effect and to support your body during a period of stress. Whether it’s diet, exercise, supplements, maintaining a healthy sleep or active stress management (such as not bringing your work home with you), you should do everything possible to preserve your hard-earned vacation. You’ve earned it!
Sick of being sick on holidays? Book an appointment with one of the Radius health practitioner team to stop the negative cycle.