Nursing and the Holiday Season

Being a nurse during the holidays can be a mixed bag on various levels. At this time of year, emotions can run high and there are many potential challenges to being a caregiver while also taking care of ourselves and our families.

Feeling Stretched

No matter how you slice it, the holidays can be a significantly stressful time of year. From holiday shopping to travel and food preparation, we have many extra responsibilities and demands on our time throughout the season.

As Thanksgiving arrives and the family gatherings and other demands begin to increase, we can really feel stretched thin, sometimes beyond our capacity to cope. We can all feel the increased energy and excitement during this time of year, and nerves can fray as things are added to our to-do list as soon as we cross something off. And aren’t there always more things to do than we think we have time for?

How do you cope with your seemingly endless to-do lists?

Compassion For Our Patients

Working in a hospital, hospice, nursing home or other facility, it can be emotionally difficult to witness our patients or clients who have no family or are otherwise unable to enjoy the holidays. For some of us, the holidays are a joyous time of celebration and togetherness, but for some of our patients, it can be a time when their isolation and loneliness can be most powerful.

Faced with your patients’ loneliness and isolation, how do you manage your own feelings in response?

Working on Holidays

Many healthcare facilities are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, so someone is always working on the holiday. This can be stressful in and of itself, especially if you have young children, elderly parents, or others for whom you feel responsible.

Being at work on Christmas, Hannukah or Thanksgiving can feel very sad for a nurse with family waiting at home. Similarly, having to get up and go to work early on the day after a big holiday can be a Herculean effort when you’re worn out from the festivities or from playing host or hostess. Wouldn’t it be so nice to just sleep in?

We’d all like to have the day off on particular holidays, but we also know that we can’t get every holiday off if we work in a certain type of facility. This is one of the hard realities of working in healthcare.

How do you deal with the reality of sometimes working on a special holiday that you love?

Learning To Cope

If you’ve been a nurse for a long time, you’ve probably worked many a holiday over the years. It’s probably been fun at times, sharing the holidays with colleagues and patients and enjoying the festive atmosphere at work. Still, working when you’d rather be home with family and friends can be hard.

Most likely, you have ways that you cope with these realities. Maybe you decorate the nurses station and play holiday music during your shift. Maybe you have a Secret Santa gift exchange with your coworkers. Maybe you bring small gifts for your patients to brighten up their day, and maybe you and your colleagues have a potluck meal to celebrate together.

Whatever you do, make sure to acknowledge how you feel about the holidays as they relate to your work. You can also make special plans so that the pain of working is offset by special celebrations or moments of reflection, and you can also remember that your patients also would rather be home than in the hospital or nursing home.

If you’re feeling badly for your patients, talk about it with a colleague or supervisor, making sure that you aren’t bottling up feelings that would be best to express.

The holidays are stressful, and working on the holidays can be a challenge. No matter how you approach it, be gentle and kind with yourself and others, and revel in the holiday spirit whenever and however you can. Have fun, stay safe, enjoy yourself, and share the celebratory atmosphere with patients and colleagues alike.

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