Nursing potentiates normal holiday stressors. For many nurses, the beauty of the winter holidays is diminished by feelings of stress.
Staffing woes contribute: Who knows why every year during the holidays, patient census randomly explodes abundantly or trickles down to near nothing, resulting in too much overtime or hours-deficient paychecks?
We go home to enjoy the glow of Christmas tree lights knowing our patients spend their holidays in a hospital or hospice bed, their rooms lit by overhead fluorescent lights, and this knowledge dampens a nurse’s ability to fully enjoy celebrations of bounty. We may experience feelings of guilt that our income is dependent on the misfortune of others, in this case, illness or trauma.
Mismatched schedules, especially those of night-shift nurses, complicate holiday arrangements with family. Gift giving weighs heavily on sensitive souls: Instead of buying gifts, shouldn’t the money be given to those in need? Or are our expressions of love for family and friends, the creation of memories and traditions left after our own health fails, equally important? Someday, we will become the ones missing from the family dinner table of Christmas’s future.
Here are suggestions for handling holiday stress:
- Reduce expectations. Holiday preparations and gifts are expressions of love, not declarations of wealth. Stay within your physical and fiscal boundaries.
- Plan quick, easy, and low-calorie meals in between holiday parties. You’ll feel better.
- Enlist the help of children with holiday baking and food preparation. This is an opportunity to teach them to cook while spending time together.
- Lighten your housework load by asking children to help with age-appropriate tasks like dusting, folding clothes, drying dishes, etc. Work out a payment incentive with them. Encourage them to use the money for Christmas shopping, to buy a toy for a less fortunate child, or donate to a food bank.
- Plan downtime and use it for activities with personal meaning. Don’t skip yoga class or your morning run. Take a break from wrapping gifts for a cup of fragrant hot tea or cocoa with marshmallows. Spend an hour at church, take a long walk, or meditate to regain your sense of grounding.
- Remember the gifts you give. Nurses give to their patients throughout the year gifts that cannot be remunerated on a paycheck. Although we do not have magic wands to cure disease, taking time to listen and help patients with their needs goes a long way. The best way to feel better is to help someone else feel better. This is the gift of nursing.
Does your nursing job ever affect your ability to enjoy the holidays? What steps do you take to reduce holiday stress?