Monday, November 22, 2021

Nurses, The Holidays, and Work-Life Balance

There's no doubt about it, nurses; it's the holiday season, and many of us are feeling the pressure in our personal and professional lives. How do the holidays impact you, your mental and emotional health, your spiritual well-being, and your professional responsibilities as a nurse?

Working During the Holidays

Many of you who are employed by hospitals, home health agencies, hospices, and other organizations are likely working during the holidays, perhaps even on your favorite special day. You may miss special moments with family and friends, even while you do your best to spread cheer among your colleagues and your patients and their families.

Having to show up for work at 7am on Christmas Day or New Years Day is no fun, and having to work 11a-7p in the ER on New Years Eve is no picnic. Those of us who don't work in milieus requiring us to work holidays may forget how our nurse colleagues are slogging away while we tuck into Christmas dinner and open presents with family.

For those of us Jews who celebrate Hannukah, having eight days makes it easier to be flexible with our celebrations, even though most employers pay no attention to Hannukah in their planning. And for African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa, it can be a challenge to ask for time off for a holiday that few people recognize or understand; then again, Kwanzaa has multiple nights like Hannukah, so that can sometimes make it easier, but not always depending on the demands of your work schedule.

No matter how you slice it, the holidays can be difficult enough without the added stress of working odd hours and missing out on the fun and togetherness that others enjoy so readily.

Nurse Self-Care and the Holidays

Self-care is important at any time of year, but during the holiday season you need to be extra vigilant. Ask yourself some questions:
  • What can I do to make my holiday shifts easier? 
  • How can I bring more cheer to my workplace, my colleagues, and our patients? 
  • Can my family be creative about the timing of special celebrations and meals so that I don't miss out on my favorite holiday activities? (I've heard of nurses having Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner the day before or the day after in order to accommodate work schedules.) 
  • Are there nice things I can do for myself at this time of year? Can I enjoy more baths? Can I take myself out for a pastry and hot chocolate? Can I spend a few hours in my favorite bookstore just for fun? 
  • How can I reward myself after the holidays for a job well done? 
  • What gratefulness can I feel and express for the abundance and love in my life? 
Nurses are a nurturing bunch, and we can often forget to nurture ourselves. Do you work 12-hour shifts, do all the holiday shopping, cook most of the meals, send all the cards, and show up bright and smiling every day even when you feel run down and overworked?

Sometimes, there's something that needs to give, and whether you cancel a social engagement, delegate a task to another family member, or turn down an extra shift, you may need to make some choices that put your needs first this holiday season.

The Presence and the Presents

As Ram Dass once said, "be here now." The holidays are admittedly often about presents, but they're also about presence.

How can you be more present during this holiday season? How can you be more mindful? You can be present for your patients, expressing compassion for the fact that, unlike you, they don't get to go home to their families when your shift ends. You can also be present for your colleagues as they too struggle with the stress of the holiday season.

Meanwhile, you can also simply be present to yourself and your own feelings; this time of year can be joyous, but it can also be a challenge. Remaining mindful of how you're actually feeling can help you choose a course of action that will keep you uplifted, cajole you to schedule your own self-care activities, and relieve you of the sense that you have to do it all. And if you have to work on the holidays, make a plan to do it with great heart, compassion, and a feeling of gratitude for your patients and the ways in which you can serve their greatest good.

Stay present, nurses; enjoy the holidays;  take care of yourselves; make self-care a priority; and give yourselves a pat on the back for a job well done in 2016.


Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for,,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AUSMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, American Nurse Today,, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.

Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and their adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George. (You can find George on Instagram by using the hashtag #georgethecatsantafe.) 

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