10 Tips for Nurses Working on the Holiday

Are you working on the holiday this year? Check out these 10 tips you can use to make that holiday shift more enjoyable and less stressful. Nurses Career Support Article

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10 Tips for Nurses Working on the Holiday

The holiday season is full of joy and wonder! But you might not feel so good if it's your turn to work on the holiday. Knowing your family and friends are gathering without you can leave you with major FOMO and sadness. It can make it more challenging when dealing with poor staffing, patient deaths, or just a lousy shift instead of enjoying time with your loved ones. All these things can leave you feeling more like the Grinch than one of Santa's elves during the last few weeks of the year. 

So, how can you feel better this holiday season? We've rounded up some strategies you can use today to pull yourself out of the funk and back into the holiday spirit as a nurse.

Create Workplace Traditions 

Working on the holiday is challenging for you and your coworkers. But how about making new traditions specific to your workplace meal instead of wallowing in the holiday blues?

Here are a few ideas to get you in the brainstorming mood:

Host a themed potluck with your coworkers. Do something fun yet easy. Choose a theme and have everyone pitch in. A few possible themes include:

White Christmas - Have everyone bring a traditional potluck meal item and a white dessert - think marshmallow snowmen, snowflake cupcakes, and white chocolate dipped pretzels. You can also decorate with white balloons and paper snowflakes. 

Christmas Tea Party - This is a great theme if you and your coworkers love tea or coffee! Do a gift exchange and have everyone bring a cup and saucer set to exchange. Then, have people bring finger sandwiches, scones, and hot tea for the meal. 

Schedule in Self-Care

The holidays are busy. Most of us have to use a calendar to ensure we'll be in the right place at the right time. So, to keep your sanity, schedule time for self-care activities just as you would anything else. You can schedule time for a few simple yet powerful self-care activities, including journaling, working out, reading a book, getting a manicure or pedicure, or exploring local arts. 

Connect with Patients or Residents

Many people will be in long-term care facilities and hospitals during the holiday season. They might feel sad, forgotten, or lonely. Take a little time to visit with these folks and ask them about their holiday traditions. If you want to take this activity further, consider arranging a time to take your family and friends to your workplace to hand out holiday cards or sing carols.

Make the Most of Your Days Off

Plan your holiday activities and tasks on your off days to minimize feeling frazzled after a long day at work. Choose only one or two holiday tasks to complete each day so you don't overschedule yourself. Of course, always pencil in time for rest and relaxation too! 

Dress for Holiday Success (and fun!)

What we wear can elevate our moods. So, wear your favorite holiday-themed scrubs to work around the holiday, if possible. If you wear a specific uniform, check with your supervisor to see if hats, elf ears, or other fun accouterments are allowed because they boost your spirits and those of the patients. 

Ask for Help If You Need It

You might feel like nurses aren't supposed to ask for help but are the ones who should be doing the helping.  However, this time of year can weigh on the best of us. Recognizing your limitations and telling those around you what you need is critical to good mental and emotional health. You might ask for help with tasks like doing the dishes, wrapping presents, or walking the dog. 

Get Creative with Your Holiday Event Scheduling

Most people celebrate the holiday on the actual calendar day. However, it's essential to remember that there's nothing wrong with celebrating a few days before or after. Talk to your family about being creative with your party planning so you can participate and be fully present while you're there.

Ask to Switch with Someone 

If you're feeling really down about working the holiday and missing out on festive events, send a general request to your team to see if anyone would be willing to switch days with you. You might be surprised to learn that someone else feels the same way about working another day and would love to trade! Don't forget to run the swap past your supervisor and get any needed official approval before the big day. 

Arrive on Time

Make a pact with your coworkers, promising everyone will be on time for their holiday shift. This practice helps everyone attend planned holiday parties and celebrations instead of waiting on a coworker who is running late. 

Avoid Overindulging

Being surrounded by holiday treats when you're sad, lonely, or stressed can be a bad combination. Empty calories can negatively impact your mood and make you feel even worse. Remember to pack healthy foods for lunch and set boundaries around eating too many treats before you go to work, so you stay on track. 

What other strategies do you use when you work on the holiday to stay jolly and bright? We'd love to hear them! Post in the comments below. 

Workforce Development Columnist

Melissa is a registered nurse with over 23 years of experience. She is a nurse leader and freelance writer who loves challenging the status quo.

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Specializes in Family, Maternal-Child Health.

I was glad to see this article.  Leaving loved ones and heading off to work is challenging on holidays.  But as you pointed out, coming up with creative strategies can help make heading into work a little bit easier on these days.  I worked in Obstetrics and Pediatrics for many years.  Of course, the approach for children was to try and get them physically better before the Christmas holiday so they could be home for the holiday.  So the pediatric census would often dip and the kids left to spend the holiday with us were often very sick.  So we tried to make whatever Christmas wonder (dressing up, Santa visiting, elves...) we could for the children. This also lifted our spirits.  Obstetrics like anytime was always unpredictable.  Heading in you never knew if your holiday shift would seem extra long because few came in laboring and delivering, or if you would never sit down the whole shift and end up having your Christmas potluck dinner on the run.

In one unit where I worked they had a tradition that I thought was nice and helped eased some of one's pre-holiday baking.  A few days before the Christmas holiday everyone would bring in a predetermined number of baked cookies.  Then everyone swapped so at the end of the day everyone headed home with a large batch of different cookies to add to their holiday treats and decrease their baking workload.