May 10, 2019 12:13 PM   Subscribe

This past year, without fail, on the precious days I have "time off" from responsibilities I have gotten sick. Is this a known thing? Is there research into why it happens and what I can do to prevent it?

- This happened to my dad too and anecdotally, I have heard it from others.
- I am not traveling on R&R days or otherwise changing my environment
- I have googled this but I just get results about running out of sick days at work and preventing getting sick when traveling

Here's my situation: I'm back at school (distance learning) and holding down the house and the parenting duties of an 18 month old while my husband travels for 60% of the time. Toddler is part time in daycare and is sick often. Probably the source of most of the illness in the house with some coming in from my husband's travel too. We've all been sick often. It just seems like my body keeps it together much better than either my toddler or my husband....until I have a "day off" (i.e. the end of the semester and my husband is home). Illnesses have been a wide variety but mostly terrible colds and stomach flu. My mom always said that my dad's body would get the signal that it was "safe" to be sick and then go at it. A very unscientific explanation...but maybe true?

I need time to take care of my emotional/mental health and also to have fun. I want to understand why this is happening and ideas on how to prevent it. My doctor says I am generally healthy and doing the right stuff to take care of myself. Admittedly, in the last month I have just gotten serious about resuming some of those healthy habits, such as exercising 4 times a week and tracking my eating to lower my cholesterol.

To summarize:
- I am looking for a name or better way to describe the situation of my body "storing up" illness for days of rest and relaxation so I can search for more information on this
- I am looking for research into this pattern
- I am looking for ideas about how to prevent it.
posted by CMcG to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a link/research, but I learned in my psychology class in undergrad that this was known to happen and can be a result of your body's adrenaline decreasing after a stressful time. Adrenaline can keep your defenses up/keep you from feeling illness coming on, and then when you can relax, the adrenaline leaves and you feel the effects of whatever is ailing you. So, that's basically a slightly more scientific explanation of your mom's description of what happened to your day.

Just sharing that it is a known thing to happen, and maybe to include adrenaline as a term in your internet research.
posted by shortyJBot at 12:34 PM on May 10, 2019 [24 favorites]

Best answer: It's commonly known as the letdown effect. And it always happens to me, too. Definitely do some searching and reading about that term!
posted by limeonaire at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2019 [10 favorites]

This happens to me sometimes. It's like the immune system crashes and you're more susceptible to issues because of the ongoing wearing down that happens if you are perpetually overextended.

I also had times when I was in school where I pushed myself until the school break and then would crash and sleep for a long time.

All the more reason to try to find time on a daily basis to create some personal renewal time. Daily meditation, Tai chi, or yoga might be useful. Something to activate the parasympathetic nervous system on a daily basis because it's required for cellular repair and proper immune function.

Anyway, I'd say generally the issue is probably related to stress lowering immunity.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

I find my migraines love to do this, though I don't know if that has to do with immunity or not.
posted by praemunire at 2:26 PM on May 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: To generalize from shortJBot's comment, your brain will modulate your conscious, sensory experience of your body as a survival mechanism. My background in this is from studying pain science, but it applies elsewhere as well. The classic real world example is from people who sustain severe injuries but don't experience pain until later. This isn't adrenaline - it's your brain foregoing a pain experience until it deems you are safe. This is often in the form of EMTs in the modern world - ie, people who will take care of you. Once it deems you are safe, your body has you experience sometimes awful pain to serve as a really strong motivator to not move your broken leg. The "textbook" example is stubbing your toe while being chased by a lion - if you keel over in pain while running, the lion is going to eat you, so it's maladaptive to have the pain experience until the threat has passed.

The technology to diagnose this doesn't exist, if ever, but it seems pretty applicable in your case - you and your brain value taking care of your child and the home over what is probably ideal in terms of R&R if you were able to be purely selfish.

Our brains are pretty nifty but they get it wrong a lot too - people often experience pain when nothing is wrong (most people with chronic pain) or experience no pain when they really are in danger.
posted by MillMan at 3:28 PM on May 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

We call this “let down” sickness in my household. We hold it together as long as we can, working, family, etc and as soon as you can take a breath...WHAM! Sickness. Migraines in my case. Every time. I have no helpful advice how to fix this, though.
posted by gryphonlover at 6:04 PM on May 10, 2019

This may have to do with the sympathetic and parasypathetic nervous systems. When your body anticipates being injured it does several things, like inhibit the circulation so if you get bitten you won't bleed to death. However, when your body feels it is safe to heal, it does the opposite and encourages circulation.

Different things trigger this transaction. A doctor with good beside manner can do this; so can a mother figure who picks you up off the sidewalk and hugs you. So can a placebo, and so can first aid. In general the more expensive or the more noxious tasting, or the more enclosures in teeny, teeny print that your medicine has the more effective it will be. So when the price of a new drug goes down and generics become available they are often less effective, even if the generic is made by the same company with the exact same manufacturing ingredients and process. To heal you need to trigger the bodies ability to heal. This is related to auto immune disorders and immune system insufficiency. If you are under chronic stress you are not going to be healing and your immune system will go out of whack and you will suffer from inflammation. remove the stress and and your immune system recovers. But of course healing results in symptoms. If you are simply being over run by bacteria and your body is not fighting it yet, you will feel awful, but you won't have symptoms. Once the healing starts you get things like histamine reactions and fevers and you may or may not feel better yet, but your runny nose and cough makes it visible how sick you are.

Healing often occurs when you are sleeping as healing takes a whack of blood sugar and other resources. So does your brain. When your brain is in sleep mode the resources are available for healing. So you can trigger the symptoms and collapse by going to bed and getting the healing process started.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:06 PM on May 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

This happens enough to me that Mrs. Ghidorah is no longer remotely amused or sympathetic, and yeah, long awaited time off finally pops up and I’m fine up until the last day of work, then deathly ill. Seeing as it’s just about the only time I get sick, it’s well past tiresome for me. So, yeah, sadly you’re not alone.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:43 PM on May 11, 2019

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