The holidays are a bittersweet time as a nurse. It’s inevitable that at some point during the year all of us will work a holiday. Coping with working a holiday can be difficult, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, etc. But the holidays are also some of the most important days to be a nurse. To share the birth of a baby, a child’s first ER experience, grandma’s heart surgery, or the death of a loved one on a holiday are all life experiences that don’t stop just because it’s Christmas. This year I’m coming up on working my first Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, so I came up with some ideas to help us get through the holidays.

Here are some tips for not missing the holidays while you miss the holidays.

1. Reschedule your day.

This year my family and I did “Christmas” on the 21st and we’re doing family dinner on the 26th. When scheduling yourself, avoid working the whole weekend unless you really want to. It’s tempting to work 3 in a row and “get them out of the way,” but don’t forget your mental health! Working 3 in a row is tough in general; never mind when it’s the holidays. If it’s inevitable or you were moved around on the schedule (this never happens in nursing, right?!), do your best to switch with someone not working the holiday or pick a day after the holiday to celebrate!

2. Reschedule your day with coworkers.

No one understands working the holidays better than your coworkers and friends. My best friend from nursing school and I designate a day every year to open gifts via FaceTime. Other coworkers and I have been celebrating Christmas since November! Treat yourselves to a wild Monday night dinner party with your coworkers—and sneak a laugh at the “regular” world who has to wake up the next morning for work!

3. Plan a celebration at work.

Based on the sign-up sheet in the lounge, it appears I might be eating better at work on Christmas than I would at home! Potluck meals are a great way to share time with coworkers. We may not have time to pee, but even in the busiest units nurses always manage to make time to eat! Am I right?

4. Be festive.

I’ve been in Target about 20 times in December and i haven’t managed to leave once without a cute pair of socks or a fun Christmas headband. There’s no better excuse for cute, tacky, over-the-top Christmas gear than being a nurse!

5. Do a secret Santa at work.

This year, my unit did a $25 secret Santa that went on all of December! We bought 3 gifts and delivered one each week to our secret Santa. On Christmas morning we will all bring our final gift and reveal our identity. It’s a great way to give and get fun gifts if you’re tired of your mom counting toothpaste and socks as Christmas gifts.

6. Be present.

It’s tempting to check your phone while at work, but avoid too much social media. Your non-nursing friends and family will surely text you and “wish you were there” but saving all that jazz for later helps you to be present and enjoy the festivities that you and your coworkers have planned. Even if you’re not having a great day, the patients aren’t doing well, and everyone else is in a bad mood, take a walk downstairs. I guarantee your hospital has some holiday decor waiting to be enjoyed somewhere. Heck, i even did my Black Friday shopping at the gift shop. Be creative!

7. Decorate your work space.

Target (yet again) has wonderful battery powered lights. The halls may not be decked, but my computer definitely will be. If no one else is taking the initiative, hit the Dollar Tree and go wild with the lounge. A mini Christmas tree, lights, candy canes—the whole nine yards!

8. Decorate your patients. (Note: please don’t decorate your adult patients without their permission!)

Here in the NICU we play dress up every chance we get. I hit up T.J. Maxx and Marshalls ahead of time for all the cute baby Santa costumes and make some of my own designs with crafting supplies. Don’t forget to be culturally sensitive though; make sure your patient celebrates Christmas before decking them out and always ask the parents’ permission.

9. Treat yourself to some time off before the holidays or for the next holiday!

I grabbed PTO as soon as I could for the week after Christmas! If PTO is limited on your unit like it is on mine, make sure to mark your calendar and plan ahead.

10. Take time to thank other professions that work the holidays and realize you are not alone.

Remember, you are never alone! There are 25 other nurses that will be here in the NICU with me for Christmas. Instead of focusing on what everyone outside of the hospital is doing, take 5 minutes to have a conversation with a coworker. Have a Christmas morning cup of coffee together instead of using any down time to browse social media. FOMO is real, folks! Also, don’t forget about all the other professionals working during the holidays. Restaurant workers, fast food workers, police officers, EMT’s, firefighters, etc. are all also working hard—so don’t forget to show them some love, too.

11. Save for next year.

What better way to look at the bright side? While all your friends have spent bookoo bucks on gifts so they didn’t show up empty handed to the holidays, you escaped with that much more money in your pocket. Save up for next year. Didn’t have time for that dream ski trip to Colorado? There’s always next year!

12. Be mindful that your patients are missing the holidays, too.

Lastly (and most importantly), don’t forget that your patients are missing the holidays. And they might be missing more than just one. Their families are missing them, too, and they may or may not even be able to all visit depending on your unit. While it seems hard working the holiday, put yourself in your patient’s shoes once in a while. Be their friend, show them love, and help them celebrate in whatever way you can. To all my NICU nurses—YouTube Christmas lullabies are quite the hit from what the babies tell me!

Happy Holidays, friends!

Alicia Klingensmith

Alicia Klingensmith is a BSN Student at the University of North Florida.

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