Nursing During The Holidays
By Keith Carlson, RN, BSN
Being a nurse during the holidays can be a mixed bag. Since nurses work in an enormous variety of clinical and non-clinicals settings, every situation will be different; one common denominator is that the holidays have an impact on us all.
Missing Our Families
No matter what holidays you may celebrate, being home with loved ones is generally preferred. Sadly, the healthcare system is a round-the-clock animal and nurses are needed on the front lines 365 days a year.
When you’re working on Hannukah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, you can feel bereft of the experience of being with your family members on a special day. While you may enjoy holiday cheer with patients or colleagues, nothing can replace being home. The reality of your loss is real, and weathering the feelings isn’t always easy; thankfully, you have colleagues for mutual support.
Some nurses rearrange family celebrations in order to be home for the special moments; we’ve even heard of nurses who have postponed Thanksgiving dinner until Friday when they can’t be home on Thursday. If your family is flexible, creative solutions can help ease the pain.
Patients and Holiday Separation
Healthcare providers aren’t the only ones separated from family during holidays. Inpatient stays don’t magically end on the day before a special celebration, and thousands of patients end up stuck in the hospital. Moreover, some patients may not have any family to speak of, thus they may see you as their substitute family. Giving a little extra and spreading holiday cheer to your patients is your sacred duty and privilege.
While you may be dealing with your own longings while working on Hannukah or Christmas, your patients are in a similar situation with the added insult of feeling unwell and being unable to go home at the end of the shift. Although you may miss your family, you can eventually walk out the door. Cultivating empathy for your patients’ plight is an important act of compassion.
The holiday season can be joyous, but it can also be a time of additional stress and worry. Many of us may feel stretched beyond our budget at this time of year, and our patients may feel similarly; and when our patients are facing catastrophically high medical bills, their stress level may rise accordingly.
During this potentially tender time, watch closely for signs of depression and anxiety in yourself, your colleagues, and your patients. Those with a history of clinical depression or anxiety may have exacerbated symptoms, and those with no apparent history may manifest novel symptoms. Additionally, such celebratory times can cause old grief to arise regarding friends and loved ones who have died.
Stress during the holidays can be born of any aspect of our experience, and some of us have stronger coping skills than others.
Compassion is Key
In the end, cultivating compassion regarding our own feelings and the feelings of others is key during the holidays. We need to remember that one person’s holiday may be another’s nightmare, and we cannot easily know how this time of year may manifest emotionally for any individual.
Kindness, self-compassion, a little extra patience, and a giving heart go a long way when the holidays come around. Remain aware of what others may be experiencing, ask kind questions, and listen with an open heart and mind; that is the true holiday spirit in action.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN is a Board-Certified Nurse Coach (NC-BC), award-winning blogger, nurse podcaster, speaker, and author. Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Nurse Keith's work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.