10 Tips From Nurses on Working Holiday Shifts

by NurseJournal Staff
• 4 min read
10 Tips From Nurses on Working Holiday Shifts

Many look forward to the holiday season, associating December with a time of family, tradition, and cheerfulness. For others -- particularly with the added stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic -- it might be difficult to view the holidays with the same joy. For nurses, work schedules might mean missing some festivities.

Although not everyone observes December holidays, most nurses working holiday shifts encounter common high-stress obstacles. Nurses may need to take on extra hours due to staff shortages or deal with busier shifts, as emergency hospital visits can increase during the holidays.

In many areas, the holiday season also aligns with shorter, colder, and darker days. Nurses might need to navigate their own and their patients' "holiday blues."

To help you navigate the season's pressures, we sought advice from experienced nurses on how to survive -- and even enjoy -- working the holiday season as a nurse. Use the following helpful tips to thrive during your holiday shifts.

  • 1. Create holiday traditions at work.

    Add holiday cheer to your workplace by creating simple, nondenominational customs for your work community, including your coworkers and patients.

    "Maybe everyone brings a favorite snack or side to create a meal or have a secret gift exchange," says Jami Woods, a registered nurse. "If you are able to wear festive scrubs or accessories, do it!"

  • 2. Connect outside of work too.

    You work with your colleagues frequently, so you probably know them well in a professional setting, but connecting outside of work can help form supportive bonds.

    "Organize some sort of holiday get together outside of work at some point during the month," says Crystal Klass, RN and talent screener for Incredible Health.

    Making time to meet outside of work for a small gathering -- or a Zoom meeting to account for social distancing -- can help you feel more connected and foster important working relationships.

  • 3. Decorate.

    Something as simple as decorating your hospital ward or unit can brighten everyone's mood.

    "This gives you and the patients something to look forward to," says Klass.

  • 4. Avoid salty and sugary snacks.

    The holidays are a time when treats are everywhere -- in the break room, given as gifts from patients, on sale at the supermarket, and in your pantry at home. "Getting on the sugar roller coaster is going to make you feel tired and sick to your stomach," says Dr. H. Eva Hvingelby, palliative care practitioner and MSN faculty at Walden University.

    "Eat a healthy meal before you start work to reduce temptation and stay hydrated," says Hvingelby. "If you really can't resist, put a few treats aside for the end of your day."

  • 5. Celebrate another day.

    If you're scheduled to work on a meaningful holiday that you or your family celebrate, "celebrate the holiday on a different day, either before or after," suggests Robin Squellati, APRN-C and MSN faculty at Walden University. "It is still a day to be remembered with family."

    Woods suggests starting an entirely new custom with your family. "With the pandemic, many things are different already, so what better year to start a new tradition? Maybe it will be a holiday breakfast instead of dinner? Or a virtual gift exchange?"

  • 6. Invest in self care.

    Taking time for yourself doesn't need to be extravagant or expensive. Instead, make sure you're healthy and feeling your best. After all, as Woods reminds, you take care of others all day -- it's critical to take care of yourself too. "Maybe treat yourself to a new water bottle so you can stay hydrated," Woods says. "Maximize your sleep time -- consider blackout shades, essential oils, meditation, yoga, or stretching."

  • 7. Prepare yourself for intense emotions.

    Remember that you're not the only one missing out on holiday celebrations. Your patients are in the same boat, and on top of that, many are struggling with injuries and medical conditions. Understandably, this can intensify their reactions and moods.

    "Heightened emotions make communication with patients and their families more intense," Hvingelby says. "Don't hesitate to reach out for help from their primary provider or social support services as needed."

  • 8. Make plans for your holiday pay.

    One benefit to working the holidays is the extra pay. Consider treating yourself to an upcoming vacation, and let those plans motivate you to head to work with a positive perspective.

    "If that means putting in time off requests early for your planned holiday pay vacation, do it," says Klass. "If you put it on the books, it will happen, even if it's a staycation and you're just not working."

  • 9. Get in the giving spirit.

    The holidays are often referred to as the season of giving, and "giving helps you to feel better," Squellati says. She suggests giving ornaments to your patients who are also separated from their families and dealing with health conditions. You can also give small gifts, such as sweet treats, cards, or decorative trinkets to your coworkers.

  • 10. Remember, these are the holidays.

    Enjoy them! "Holidays can be some of the most bonding work experiences since you spend them with peers who share the same interests and values," Hvingelby says. "Appreciation from patients, families and administrators runs high, and the positive feedback is uplifting."

    "Find ways to bring a variety of traditions into your unit to make staff and patients feel at home," says Hvingelby. "Holiday shifts will become some of your best work memories."


Meet Our Contributors

Jami Woods

Jami Woods is an RN and talent screener for Incredible Health. Previously, she worked as an oncology RN and director of infection prevention. Woods loves working with nurses and helping them find and do their best work.

Robin Squellati, Ph.D., APRN-C

Robin Squellati, Ph.D., APRN-C, is a faculty member for Walden University's master of science in nursing program. Dr. Squellati is a certified nurse practitioner and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, where she served as a nurse for 28 years.

Crystal Klass

Crystal Klass is a registered nurse and active duty military spouse raising three young boys in Arizona. She currently works at Incredible Health, a fast-growing healthcare based technology company with a goal to actively reduce the nursing shortages in hospitals across the United States.

Dr. Eva Hvingelby

Dr. Eva Hvingelby is a palliative care practitioner and faculty member for Walden University's master of science in nursing program. Dr. Hvingelby has more than 25 years of experience working in hospice and palliative care settings -- from the emergency room and intensive care unit to the community.

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