Nurses and other hospital staff often have to work over the holidays, that is a given. People don’t choose when they get sick. So, nursing over the holidays can be full of surprises. Since nurses work in an enormous variety of clinical and non-clinical settings, every situation will be different; but one certainty is that the working over the holidays can take its toll.
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You will miss out on family time.

No matter what holidays you may celebrate, nobody likes to be separated from their loved ones over the holidays. Sadly, in the healthcare system, there is very little time for respite. It is a round-the-clock affair and nurses are needed to do battle on the front lines 365 days a year.

Whether you’re working on Hannukah, Christmas, or Kwanzaa, you will feel resentful at some stage – it might feel as if you are being robbed of family time. And you are. While you may enjoy holiday cheer with patients or colleagues, nothing can replace the warmth and familiarity of being at home. But you have to remember that what you are doing is for a worthy cause, and ultimately a choice you made. Also, you have the support and camaraderie of your colleagues. Hard as it is.

There are always creative ways of getting around these absences. Some nurses rearrange family celebrations in order to be home for those special days; nurses have postponed Thanksgiving dinner until Friday when they can’t be home on Thursday. If your family is flexible, creative solutions can help.

Patients feel it too.

Just as patients don’t choose their days on which to fall sick, they can’t predict that they will be better before any significant holidays. Inpatient stays don’t magically end on the day before a special celebration, and most often than not, patients end up stuck in the hospital when they really just want to be celebrating with their families. Or worse, some patients don’t have a family to spend time with, so you might be seen as their source of comfort at this time. You are regarded as a kind of substitute for their family. Giving a little extra of yourself and of your time and spreading holiday cheer to your patients is your sacred duty and privilege. And it will go a long way to help you feel better about being away from your own family too.

While you can look forward to going home at the end of the shift, the patient does not have this luxury, and on top of it all, they are dealing with feeling unwell. During these times, a compassionate and empathetic attitude is vital if you are to get through these working holiday times.

Holidays can be a stressful time.

The holiday season can be joyous, but it also brings with it a fair share of worry and stress. There are financial stresses at this time of year, and when patients are facing astronomical medical bills, their stress levels may also increase significantly.

So, during what is potentially a difficult time for all, a nurse needs to look out for signs that someone, be it a patient or a colleague, is not coping. Stress during the holidays can surface due to a past experience, and it goes without saying that some of us have stronger coping skills than others. At these times, festivities can be a trigger for some, especially those who have lost loved ones.

Handle everything with compassion.

One can never be sure how this time of year manifests itself for individual and so, as a nurse, one is obliged to filter everything through compassion at all times. In the end, cultivating compassion regarding your own feelings and the feelings of others is key during the holidays. Kindness, self-compassion, a little extra patience, and a giving heart go a long way at this time. People do hide behind masks and sometimes it is difficult to read their true feelings, so it is important to remain aware of what others may be experiencing, and if unsure, to ask kind questions, and to listen with an open heart and mind. All in all, embrace the true spirit of the holidays.

And for nurses themselves, there are ways of making things a bit better if you have to be away from family: from implementing new traditions on your unit floor to relishing the light traffic during a normally busy week-day commute, holiday work can be as jolly as you make it.
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