Do you feel like the year can just not be over soon enough?
Are you ready to down tools, get out of the city, hit the beach or the bush and just relax?
You’re not alone. But before you clutch out – I have a few questions:
- Why is it that people frequently get sick when they go on holiday?
- Why are older people often diagnosed with a life threatening disease shortly after retiring from work?
- Why do advanced athletes often collapse right as they cross the finish line?
- Why does it feel like you have just enough energy to make it to the end of the year?
If you are like the majority, looking forward to the Christmas holidays, it may feel like you just have enough energy to make it to your last working day. Finish your last project. And not one more step. The end is in sight and it cannot come soon enough and you are exhausted!
No one can blame you 2021 was a physically, mentally and financially challenging year for most of us (myself included). I was in a survival state most of the year.
What’s up with this collapsing when the end is near, what is at play behind the scenes?
Finish line collapse
Let’s look at athletics. Have you ever watched a marathon, iron man or longer distance Olympic events?
In these events that require maximal exertion we often see athletes collapse as they cross the finish line. This phenomenon is aptly named “finish line collapse”. There are a few factors that influence this, but it comes down to fatigue and exhaustion. But why do they fall, right at the finish line? The number one reason is they have reached their goal. And any more exertion or effort would be wasted. If the finish line were 10 meters further, they would have collapsed a little later.
In the same way, if you had to work 3 more days, you would have just enough energy to do that. And nothing more…
The obvious answer is that you have achieved your goal. And it’s interesting to note that whenever the goal is achieved, it collapses the game. In some extreme cases, you collapse with it.
As we see with athletics, your mind and body conserves, calculates and directs resources and attention to maximize performance and to last until the goal is achieved. Then it collapses.
But for most of us non-Olympic athletes, what’s up with this holiday collapse?
Wikipedia defines this as: “Leisure Sickness, similar to Paradise Syndrome, is the name given to a purported psychological condition, not universally recognized by psychologists, by which some people (typically characterized as workaholics) develop symptoms of sickness during the weekends and/or during vacations.”
So as you reach the end of the year, the finish line, your immune system collapses. You have achieved your goal (of surviving the year), the game collapses and some of us get sick. To prevent this collapse and avoid getting sick it’s always important to set another goal. Now I realize the last thing you want to do is get a lecture on setting goals at the end of a grueling year. But bear with me.
It’s a well-supported scientific fact in the psychoneuro-immunology community that your immune system is intricately linked to your states of mind. More specifically your immune function is tied to the level of purposeful energy you expand.
The vast majority of us derive most of our meaning and purpose from work. That is normal and healthy, unless your work is your sole provider of purpose. And you have no other meaningful pursuits in your life. It’s like sitting on a chair with only one leg. Sooner or later, you will fall.
The question then arises what happens if the sole provider and sustainer of your meaning and purpose is no longer there?
Maybe like in the case of retrenchment or retirement…
If you have not thought of this before, maybe this is a good time.
In the short run, to avoid getting sick this holiday, think of something you want to get out of the holiday. Set an outcome. It could be anything like reading a book, spending more time with the kids, or intentionally doing anything else that will be good for you. So rather than pigging out on food and booze, view this holiday as a retreat where you can improve yourself.
In the long run, think of incorporating more meaningful activities in your life that fall outside of your work or career. While a cold or flu during the holidays won’t be great; the possibility of being diagnosed with cancer, dementia or any form of metabolic disease when you leave or lose your job is no trivial matter.
One way you can prevent this collapse is by providing your structure with more pillars of support. Incorporating more meaningful and purposeful elements and activities in your life is a start.
Having clearly defined goals and dreams in all areas of life will provide purposeful energy and motivation, which will enhance your immune function, health and longevity.
I’ll leave you with a thought to ponder during this holiday:
“If the foundation of your long term health and wellness is standing on one pillar, maybe it’s time to re-structure…”
Leisure sickness: a pilot study on its prevalence, phenomenology, and background
Vingerhoets AJ, Van Huijgevoort M, Van Heck GL. Leisure sickness: a pilot study on its prevalence, phenomenology, and background. Psychother Psychosom. 2002 Nov-Dec;71(6):311-7. doi: 10.1159/000065992. PMID: 12411765.
About the author: Reinhard Korb is a thought leader in the application of psychoneuro-endocrinology, neuro-semantics and epi-genetics. He optimizes health, wellness and performance while preventing disease and disability. As the founder of Thrive, he has facilitated and helped organisations and individuals actualize their potential. He is a certified Fitness & Nutrition Coach, Meta Coach, Neuro Coach, Stress Management Coach and Wellness Coach.