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We all know that the holiday season is typically a time of joy, celebration, and leisure, yet for nurses, there’s a different demand and set of challenges. While the rest of the world is decorating their homes and sipping hot cocoa, you may find yourself working tirelessly to care for patients, juggling higher workloads and the emotional toll of being away from your families during this festive season. 

As nurses are always expected to give, the season of giving should also serve as a reminder to grant yourselves the gift of time for self-care and well-being. This article aims to help you understand why self-care is a necessity during the holiday season and that prioritizing your well-being can help enhance the quality of care you provide for others. 

Holiday Burnout: The Toll it Takes on Nurses 

Americans reported experiencing higher levels of stress during the holidays, according to a 2021 survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Healthcare workers appear to be particularly affected, with 54 percent reporting increased holiday stress and 33 percent expect even more stress than they experienced in the previous year (2020).¹  

Recognizing the source of stress is key to finding effective ways to manage it. Let’s take a look at the stressors that nurses usually encounter during the holiday season. 

High Volume of Patients and Emergency Cases 

Most people tend to eat and drink too much during the holidays. This includes consuming greater amounts of alcohol, salt, sugar, and more food in general. This can lead to a rise in accidents, illnesses, and health problems. 

Hospitals and medical facilities experience a surge in patients asking for medical attention. You may find yourself working longer hours and handling a higher volume of cases than usual, which can be physically and mentally exhausting. Some of these cases are more complicated and might even need specific treatment or urgent care. 

Staff Shortage 

It’s common for many healthcare professionals to take time off to celebrate the holidays. This situation can lead to hospitals and clinics having fewer staff available.  
 
If you’re one of the nurses who continue working during this time, you might have to take on more shifts and additional tasks, which can increase your workload and stress levels. The shortage of staff also means a decrease in the support system, with fewer people to share responsibilities with. 

Emotional Toll 

Nurses are known for their compassionate care, yet the emotional toll of this profession can be especially hard during the holidays. You often see patients going through pain, suffering, or dealing with loss during a time of celebration and happiness. The emotional weight you carry can affect your mood, even when celebrating in your personal life. 

Related Reading: Empathy is Not Just a Feeling: 6 Tips for Practicing Empathy for Global Nurses 

Missing Family Celebrations 

One of the most difficult things during the holidays is not getting to spend time with your family. While some people enjoy and spend quality time with their loved ones, you may be focused on fulfilling your responsibilities as a nurse. This separation can make you feel lonely and long for your loved ones’ company. 

Balancing Work and Personal Life 

The holidays make it even harder to find a good balance between your work and personal life. You have to deal with long shifts and irregular schedules while trying to find time for your personal celebrations and holiday traditions. 

Other Holiday-Related Stressors 

Besides the usual stress from work, you also have to deal with the stress of getting ready for the holidays, buying gifts, and managing your finances. You’re not just dealing with the pressures of your job but also handling the same holiday stress most people experience. 

8 Ways to Manage Stress While Working During the Holidays 

Prioritizing your physical and mental health should always come first. During this busy time of year, it’s important to practice stress management to help you stay on top of things and get through the holiday season on a happy note. 

Related Reading: 2023 Complete Guide to Self-Care for Global Nurses 

Here are some ways to effectively manage stress and stay merry at work. 

Identifying the Signs of Stress 

When you have a busy job, it can be hard to know if you’re stressed or simply having a tough day. Sometimes, you might not notice how it’s affecting you until you start feeling the effects over time. So, the first step is to recognize the signs that indicate stress. 

The American Holistic Nurses Association says that when you’re stressed, your body can manifest it in physical ways. You might have sore shoulders from pushing patients on stretchers, lower back pain from lifting patients, or feel overwhelmed by all the noisy alarms and sirens in a busy healthcare facility.²  

If this soreness or pain keeps coming back and doesn’t seem to go away, it’s a sign that your body is under stress. 

Additionally, there are subtler signs of stress that may not be as easy to notice. Mayo Clinic stated that these symptoms can include anxiety, restlessness, memory problems, lack of motivation or focus, grumpiness or anger, and even overeating or undereating and substance abuse.³ 

Related Reading: Best Ways to Deal with Compassion Fatigue in Nursing 

Take Short Breaks 

During the holiday rush, find brief moments to step away from your tasks. Take a short walk, do some gentle stretches, or simply sit quietly for a few minutes. These mini breaks allow you to reset and refocus, preventing burnout and helping you maintain your energy throughout the day. 

Practice Mindfulness 

Use mindfulness techniques during your workdays over the holidays. When you take care of patients, make sure to pay attention to their current needs and provide caring and compassionate care. Practicing mindfulness can help you remain calm in stressful situations and show genuine care for your patients during the holiday season. 

Connect and Talk 

Spread the holiday spirit to your coworkers. Talk about what you have planned for the holidays, your routines, or even share some memorable stories. Connecting and spending time with your coworkers can create a more welcoming and merrier place during a busy holiday season. 

Keep Yourself Organized 

Being organized is very important during the holidays, when there are lots of tasks and more patients to take care of. It’ recommended to utilize calendars and lists to effectively handle your holiday responsibilities and prioritize patient care. These tools could help you stay organized and manage your tasks efficiently. 

Staying organized lets you give your best care without feeling overwhelmed by all the responsibilities. 

Don’t Compromise on Sleep 

We know nurses often have to work for extended periods of time during the holidays. This makes it even more important to prioritize sleep. It makes your body feel refreshed and prepared for the day. It also helps to regulate emotions and helps you stay focused and alert while providing safe and effective care. 

It’s important to make an effort to manage your schedule so you can prioritize getting enough sleep. If it means going to bed earlier than usual, it might be worth giving it a try. You’ll probably become accustomed to it quickly, and your body will thank you for the added rest. 

Stay Active 

It is important to make time for physical exercise, whether it’s before or after work. Unfortunately, the time you spend standing on your feet doesn’t count. It’s important to keep exercise separate from work and think of it as a time to relax and take a break to get the most out of it. 

Exercise can boost your mood, reduce stress hormones, and keep your energy levels up during busy shifts. 

Establish a Nutritious Diet 

Pay extra attention to your nutrition during the holidays. Avoid excessive sugary treats and focus on balanced meals that provide sustained energy. 

Proper nutrition is your ally in maintaining the stamina required for busy and stressful days. Here are some quick tips for establishing and sticking to a healthy, nutritious diet even during the holiday season. 

  • Sustain Energy: Working long hours and having more patients to take care of can be exhausting both physically and mentally. Try to ensure your meals contain a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to sustain your stamina throughout the day. 
  • Immune Support: The holiday season can coincide with cold and flu season. Consuming foods like fruits and vegetables can boost your immune system, which can lower your chances of getting sick on workdays. 
  • Avoid Sugar Overload: Holidays usually means more sweet treats and desserts. It’s okay to treat yourself sometimes, but excessive sugar can intake make you feel tired and moody. Remember to watch how much sugar you consume and choose healthier options whenever you can. 
  • Stay Hydrated: During busy shifts, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. Dehydration can make you feel tired, and it is harder for you to think clearly. Make sure to have a water bottle nearby and try to drink enough water during your shifts to stay hydrated. 
  • Plan Your Meals: When your schedule is irregular, it’s important to plan your meals carefully. Bring healthy snacks and meals that are quick and easy to eat during short breaks. This helps you avoid choosing unhealthy options when you feel hungry. 
  • Mindful Eating: Make sure to enjoy your meals, even if you don’t have a lot of time. Being aware and focused while eating can help your body digest food better and stop you from eating too much. Take advantage of your meal breaks to rest and recharge, both physically and mentally. 

Time Off: The Ultimate Gift to Yourself 

After the busy holiday season, it’s now time to unwrap a gift that often gets overlooked: your well-deserved time off. As a nurse, you have committed yourself to taking care of others while also trying to get ready for your personal time. It’s common to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget to take time to rest and recharge.  

However, after the holidays are over, taking time off becomes not just a luxury but a necessity. Otherwise, you increase your risk of burnout, which can result in negative effects on your physical and mental well-being.  

Take advantage of your time to relax, recover, and recharge your body and mind. Whether you plan to travel to new destinations, explore a relaxing staycation, or simply enjoy spending time with your loved ones, make the most of this opportunity to take a break. 

If you didn’t have much time to be with your family and friends during the holidays because of work, now is your chance to make it up to them. Reconnect with the people you care about, share your experiences, and make memories that will last. 

The time between the holiday season and the new year is also a great opportunity to think back and reflect. Think about what you have accomplished in the past year and what you want to achieve in the coming year. Taking time off allows you to have the mental capacity to create new goals and intentions. 

It’s your turn to make self-care a priority and enjoy the break that you deserve. Enjoy it and go back to your work with renewed energy, enthusiasm, and a heart that’s ready to keep making a positive impact on the lives of those you care for. 

STRIKE THE IDEAL WORK-LIFE BALANCE WITH PRS GLOBAL 

At PRS Global, we understand the unique demands nurses face, especially during this festive time. We want to help you find the right balance between work and life, so you can have a great time with your family during the holidays and still make progress in your career. 

Allow us to assist you in managing stress with our expertise in direct-hire nursing placements. Connect with us today and enjoy a joyful and worry-free holiday season for you. 

References 

1 “Nationwide Holiday Mental Health Poll Reveals Americans Are Worried about Contracting COVID, Missing.” Psychiatry.Org – Nationwide Holiday Mental Health Poll Reveals Americans Are Worried about Contracting COVID, Missing, 2 Dec. 2021, www.psychiatry.org/newsroom/news-releases/nationwide-holiday-mental-health-poll-reveals-americans-are-worried-about-contracting-covid-missing-family-members-and-procuring-and-affording-gifts

2 Stress Management. www.ahna.org/American-Holistic-Nurses-Association/Resources/Stress-Management

3 “Stress Symptoms: Effects on Your Body and Behavior.” Mayo Clinic, 10 Aug. 2023, www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-symptoms/art-20050987