Have you ever been plagued by the dreaded “vacation cold”? You know, the one that hits you within days of arriving at your beautiful ocean resort or your outback adventure?
There is something especially disheartening about a vacation cold, isn’t there? Not only does it put a huge damper on your vacation, but it can be tough to find medications that work.
I am intimately familiar with the vacation cold. It’s become so entwined in my holidays that I kind of dread my time off work. How sad is that?
My absolutely worst experience with the vacation cold was for my wedding. Yes, after months of planning and finally arriving at our Cancun resort, I got sick. Our wedding was Wednesday and on Tuesday morning I woke up feeling awful.
I spent most of that evening in the bath tub, downing as much cold medication as I could. Wednesday morning, I felt and looked worse. Fortunately, my makeup lady was amazing! It all worked out.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to help avoid the vacation cold. But, for our wedding, I did not bank on the effects of chronic stress on my immunity. I had almost burnt myself out in the weeks leading up to the wedding so I was hit with a nasty vacation cold. So, now I know!
The great news is that there are ways to avoid the dreaded vacation cold. And it all boils down to managing stress and supporting your adrenal glands all throughout the year.
Your Adrenal Glands and Their Relation to Your Immunity
Cortisol, the main stress hormone, is tied deeply to our immunity. Cortisol helps to regulate your immune system so that when your body is faced with stressors, it can be prepared to heal, defend and attack bad stuff in your body.
Perceived stress – traffic jams, work deadlines, or self-criticism – stimulates the release of cortisol just as real stressors do. When you have perceived stress, your adrenals are stimulated and your cortisol levels can either become too low or too high. If cortisol levels are unbalanced, you can experience recurrent infections, chronic inflammation or even autoimmune diseases.
Elevated Cortisol Levels
Adrenal fatigue progresses through stages. In the early stages, your body experiences so much perceived stress that cortisol remains too high. This is what triggers your immune system into overdrive and causes recurrent illnesses or autoimmune problems.
And, because modern stress doesn’t really go away the same way that real stressors do, our bodies continue to pump out cortisol in response to perceived physical, emotional and mental stressors.
Long-term elevated cortisol levels suppress the immune system and we get sick more often.
Lowered Cortisol Levels
We also don’t want our cortisol to become too low either. When the adrenals have become so overworked from perceived modern-day stress, they stop functioning as well as they used to. Less cortisol is produced in response to stress and inflammation becomes severe.
Chronic inflammation from low cortisol can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory diseases, obesity, glucose intolerance and fibromyalgia.
The Vacation Cold
Also termed “leisure sickness” by a psychologist in the Netherlands, people who never get sick during their work weeks can feel ill during any type of downtime. This can include weekends, days off, or vacations.
The stress of your everyday life causes cortisol to stimulate your immune system, making it more active and able to fend off threats.
But, when you take time to relax after an extended period of real or perceived stress, your cortisol levels regulate and your immune system takes a break. And this is where the vacation cold pops its ugly head!
When you’re relaxed, your adrenals don’t need to pump out cortisol to stimulate your immune system. Less cortisol in your system also means your body is more susceptible to illness.
Can I Prevent the Vacation Cold?
Now that you know why you get the dreaded vacation cold, is there any way to prevent it? (Besides quitting your job or taking a nonchalant approach to your work deadlines, of course!)
Yes, you’re in luck! There are some easy things you can do to help prevent the vacation cold. All it takes is a bit of planning ahead and willpower, but it’s entirely possible.
Sugar is an immune system suppressant so when your immunity is already on hiatus, you do not want to make things worse, right? So, skip those lovely tropical drinks loaded with simple sugar and stick to non-alcoholic drinks, soda and liquor, red wine or beer.
Avoid or minimize alcohol.
Alcohol is very hard on your body – it’s dehydrating, it forces your liver to steal nutrients to detoxify alcohol, and it’s another stressor on your system. If your body is taking a break, alcohol can further reduce your immunity. Remember, alcohol has sugar too. Since orange juice has a lot of vitamin C, it’s a good mixer in unflavored vodka (if you want a drink, that is).
Take oil of oregano.
Bring a bottle of oil of oregano on any vacation and start taking it immediately upon feeling a tingle of a cold or other illness. Take it frequently throughout the day and you should be able to fend off a full-blown cold. Oil of oregano rescued a few of my vacations!
Pack a multivitamin/mineral complex.
New food, fun drinks, different diet…these can all mess up your body’s homeostasis. So, make sure to take a high-quality multivitamin/mineral complex with you and take it every day! And, because new foods and extra drinks can mess up your intestinal bacteria, bring a shelf-stable probiotic too. I like the Genuine Health Fermented Protein bars.
Greens Powder Drink.
Concentrated greens in a powder formula is a simple way to keep that liver healthy and your other cells and organs nourished. Greens reduce inflammation and help your immune system get back on track so it’s ready to fight.
I know it can be hard to sleep on vacation, but make this your top priority. Don’t wear yourself out with late nights and early mornings, trying to fit in as much as possible. You’re on vacation, after all – relax! Give yourself permission to enjoy at least 3 long night’s sleeps while away on your holiday.
Lifestyle Choices That Prevent the Vacation Cold
Catching a vacation cold can really put a damper on your holiday plans. To avoid this problem altogether, eat a diet high in fiber, phytonutrients (i.e. fruits and vegetables), and lean protein all year long.
Chronic stress wreaks havoc on your immunity so it’s super important to do all you can to avoid unwanted illnesses. Practice stress management often, ideally every single day. Take 5 deep breaths when you feel overly stressed at work or at home.
A strong immune system is also important to reduce your risk of cancer, autoimmune diseases and viral infections.