There’s no doubt about it, nurses — it’s the holidays, and many of us feel pressure in our personal and professional lives. So how do the holidays impact you, your mental and emotional health, spiritual well-being, and professional responsibilities as a nurse?

Working During the Holidays

Many of you employed by hospitals, home health agencies, hospices, and other organizations are likely working during the holidays, perhaps even on your favorite special day. As a result, you may miss special moments with family and friends, even while you do your best to spread cheer among your colleagues, your patients, and their families.

Having to show up for work at 7 am on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day is no fun, and working 11 am-7 pm in the ER on New Year’s Eve is no picnic. However, those who don’t work in milieus requiring us to work holidays may forget how our nurse colleagues are slogging away while we tuck into Christmas dinner and open presents with family.

For Jews who celebrate Hannukah, having eight days makes it easier to be flexible with our celebrations, even though most employers pay no attention to Hannukah in their planning. And for African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa, it can be challenging to ask for time off for a holiday that few people recognize or understand. Then again, Kwanzaa has multiple nights like Hannukah, which can sometimes make it easier, but only occasionally, depending on your work schedule’s demands and your employer’s sensitivity.

No matter how you slice it, the holidays can be challenging enough without the added stress of working odd hours and missing out on the fun and togetherness that others enjoy so readily.

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Nurse Self-Care and the Holidays

Self-care is essential at any time of year — and everyone defines that concept differently — but you need to be extra vigilant during the holiday season. Ask yourself some questions:

  • What can I do to make my holiday shifts easier?
  • How can I bring more cheer to my workplace, colleagues, and patients?
  • Can my family be creative about the timing of special celebrations and meals so that I don’t miss out on my favorite holiday activities? (I’ve heard of nurses having Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner the day before or the day after to accommodate work schedules.)
  • Are there nice things I can do for myself this time of year? Can I take myself out for a pastry and hot chocolate? Can I spend a few hours in my favorite bookstore?
  • How can I reward myself after the holidays for a job well done?
  • What gratefulness can I feel and express for the abundance and love in my life?

Nurses are a nurturing bunch, and we can often forget to nurture ourselves. Do you work 12-hour shifts, do all the holiday shopping, cook most of the meals, send all the cards, and show up bright and smiling every day, even when you feel run down and overworked?

Sometimes, there’s something that needs to give, and whether you cancel a social engagement, delegate a task to another family member, or turn down an extra shift, you may need to make some choices that put your needs first this holiday season.

The Presence and the Presents

As Ram Dass once said, “be here now.” The holidays are admittedly often about presents, but they’re also about presence.

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How can you be more present during this holiday season? How can you be more mindful? You can be present for your patients, expressing compassion for the fact that, unlike you, they don’t get to go home to their families when your shift ends. You can also be present for your colleagues as they struggle with the stress of the holiday season.

Meanwhile, you can also be present to yourself and your feelings; this time of year can be joyous but also a challenge. Remaining mindful of how you feel can help you choose a course that will keep you uplifted, cajole you into scheduling your self-care activities, and relieve you of the sense that you have to do it all. And if you have to work on the holidays, make a plan to do it with great heart, compassion, and a feeling of gratitude for your patients and the ways in which you can serve their greatest good.

Stay present, enjoy the holidays, take care of yourself, make self-care a priority (whatever that means to you), and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done in 2022.

Minority Nurse is thrilled to welcome Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column. 

Keith Carlson
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