Nurses live with heightened stress and holiday stress can make things feel much worse. With patients and patient care a top priority, nurses can’t just go through the motions in their jobs without potentially catastrophic consequences.

So how can nurses, who often face both physical and emotional job stressors, manage holiday stress? Finding a way to manage stress will help you feel better and enjoy the season. 

The key is not to think you can eliminate or avoid stress, because that’s just not possible–especially during the holidays. Eliminating stress also isn’t good overall–it’s often something that motivates people to do better. But you can learn ways that help you react to stress so that your body isn’t constantly worn out from the stress response.

What can you do?

Recognize and accept stress

It sounds counterintuitive because we all know when we are stressed. You might notice yourself feeling rushed and grouchy, or you might have physical symptoms like a rapid heartbeat, increased sweating, or a headache. Identifying your stress reaction is part of the solution; accepting the stress is something else. You likely aren’t going to live a stress-free life, so accepting it is a big step. Acknowledge that you’re having a tough time and take extra care to be gentle with your thoughts and actions.

Find what relaxes you

We are all so different, and what helps your colleague relax might not help you relax. Find the activities in which you become so focused that time seems to disappear or activities that make your physical symptoms better. That could be a hobby that absorbs all your attention and, by doing so, gives your worried mind a reprieve. To release the pent-up physical symptoms of holiday stress you might find yoga (gentle or invigorating), meditation, or simply deep breathing helps or that running, boxing, or screaming into a pillow is your thing. As you go through the holiday season, devote time to those activities.

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Get your thoughts out

Often holiday stress comes from all the information swirling in your brain. Get those thoughts out and you might even find some needed clarity. If you’re feeling resentful or stressed, write all your thoughts down. Before you begin, commit to writing freely and then letting the thoughts go. You can either store them safely or, better yet, just destroy them. Don’t share them and, whatever you do, don’t send your thoughts to someone you’re upset with. You can also meet with someone you trust to talk about what’s bothering you. A therapist or life coach is often a good resource as they are a neutral party who can offer perspectives you hadn’t considered. If your stress comes from just being too busy, become a committed list maker–whether that’s on paper, on your phone, or even by leaving voicemail messages for yourself. 

Prioritize what’s important to you

This year, try accepting only the invitations to gatherings you really want to go to. If asked to bring food to an event, offer to bring something that you can easily purchase or order or that you especially enjoy making. Buy fewer gifts for people in your life, and plan so you can reduce the amount of wrapping you’ll need to do. Pinpoint something that makes this time of year special for you–whether that’s appreciating the outdoors and the natural beauty around you, visiting friends and family, going to a fair, store, or a show you love, or just having some quiet time alone. It’s okay to recharge yourself, and you’ll find the relaxation carries over for a while.    

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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