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Summer is here, and the time is right…for taking vacations.

Think you don’t have time? Think again. Flo Leighton, MS, RN, PMHNP-BC, a board certified mental health nurse practitioner as well as an adjunct faculty at New York University College of Nursing, has a private practice in Chelsea, New York, where she sees health care professionals, including nurses and nursing students. Leighton’s background also includes working in inpatient psychiatry and the adult ER at NYPH/ Columbia University medical center.

Leighton took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions about why nurses not only should, but also really need to take vacations.

WFlo Leightonhat are the main reasons nurses should take time to take vacations?

Nurses have the type of job that requires a lot of mental clarity, physical demands, and empathy towards patients and their families. Nurses often care for a full load of patients and have to juggle many competing priorities throughout the course of their shift. Many nurses work 12-hour shifts, evening or night shifts, and may be on their feet for several hours at a time. Nurses that work in ICU, Oncology, ER, or other high-acuity areas are repeatedly exposed to stressful events. It is for these reasons nurses need to make time for themselves by taking vacations.

What justifications do many nurses use for why they can’t take time off?

Some nurses may state they cannot take time off due to financial issues, family obligations, being in school while working, having another job, or wanting to save their elective time up for a rainy day. Sometimes nurses may be prevented from taking peak time—summer or holiday—off for vacation due to staffing issues or not having seniority with highly requested weeks.

Suppose nurses don’t have the funds to go away. Is taking a staycation good enough? If so, what limits should they put on them or what tips can you give for how nurses can stay relaxed during a staycation?

A staycation is a great alternative for those who do not have the money to take a big vacation. The most important thing to keep in mind is to set limits for yourself by limiting work-related projects and correspondence while not at work. Refraining from checking work email will help facilitate being more present and connected in what you are doing in your personal time and help create a better work/life balance. It is easier to feel recharged and less burnt out at work this way.

Whether it is taking a day trip, a yoga or spin class, going for a run, lunching with family or friends, or a spa day—there are simple ways to make the most out of a staycation.

How will taking vacations or time off help nurses? What can it do for them physically and mentally?

Taking vacations can be a great tool for managing stress and preventing burnout and compassion fatigue. Nurses who struggle with stress on the job are more likely to make medication errors, not feel engaged at work, have higher turnover, and negative patient outcomes.

If they decide to take vacations, what can they do to make them less stressful? 

Trying to use time off as a mental vacation in addition to a physical location change is really important. We are accustomed to multitasking and doing structured tasks with multiple deadlines. It is good to try not to plan anything that is too structured or choose a location that offers planning of activities so that you don’t have to. Allowing others to plan is a nice departure from a highly structured and stressful job as well.

Is there anything that is important for readers to know? 

Nurses who repeatedly are exposed to stressful situations—deaths, cardiac arrests, violence on the job, etc.—either directly or witnessing through others are at risk to develop symptoms of Secondary Traumatic Stress (STS). Examples of STS may include irritability on the job, frequent call outs, higher turnover, changes in concentration, and avoidance of stressful situations on the job. If not managed properly this can develop into PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Great stress management, including taking time away from work is crucial.

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Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.
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