Self Care at the Holidays

Nurses work 365 days a year, and many nurses need to work on holidays when they would rather be home with their families. Long hours and being separated from family at important times can take a toll, and nurses must take special care of themselves at these important times of year.

Planning Ahead

While everyone can’t be home on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving, Hannukah or Kwaanza, planning far in advance can be helpful when considering important holidays and other occasions. Understanding that some workplaces will not accept time-off requests far in advance, having a clear list of your priorities for time off can be helpful when making decisions and submitting timely requests.

Personally, as the New Year begins, I always look over the upcoming calendar for the year, making note of important birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. I then consider what dates may be those which I will want off from work, and I keep a running list of those dates in a file on my laptop. This helps me to be prepared, submit my time-off requests as far in advance as possible, and triage what is most important to me.

A Mixed Bag

If you have to work on a holiday, this can be a very mixed bag. While your family is home enjoying the warmth of holiday celebrations (while missing your presence, of course), being at work on a holiday can be a time of warmth and enhanced closeness at your place of employment as well. Even if celebrations at work pale in comparison to home, making the best of you and your colleagues being in the same boat can help to lift everyone’s spirits.

Some Patients Aren’t Home Either

Even if you’re feeling wistful about not being home on a holiday, bear in mind that your patients are also not in their own homes with their families and often greatly appreciate your being there with them.

If you’re employed in home care and are working on a holiday, it can often feel even more lonely than if you were on a hospital unit with a team of colleagues. While home care offers a large degree of autonomy, driving from patient to patient on a cozy holiday can be emotionally difficult, especially if it prevents you from being with your own family even as you temporarily have a taste of the holiday cheer being celebrated in your patients’ homes.

Taking Turns

Hopefully, your place of employment makes allowances for holidays and tweaks the schedule so that everyone has opportunities to be home with family when these special times come around. If you feel that your workplace’s holiday scheduling practices are unfair, address this issue with your supervisors and administrators long before the holiday season, and ask your colleagues to join you in rectifying the situation.

Stress Management

The holidays can be stressful for anyone, but for those of us who have to work and care for patients on the days when we would rather be home, it can be even more stressful.

Eating well, staying hydrated, exercising, seeking emotional support from family, friends or colleagues, and making the best of your circumstances are a few ways to mitigate the difficulties.

You can also ask your family to “reschedule” holiday celebrations so that you can fully take part, perhaps holding Thanksgiving on Friday rather than Thursday or opening presents on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day when you’ll be away at work.

There is no way to change the fact that some of us have to be at work on special days when we’d rather be with family and friends. Taking care of ourselves, asking for what we need, and—when possible—planning in advance, can sometimes soften the blow at a time of year when emotions run high and demands on our time and energy can be at their peak.

About Keith

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Keith Carlson is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist.

With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers.

Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms, as well as at