“What are you doing for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year?” Chances are, if you work in a hospital, the answer is, “Working.”

Working holidays is not ideal, but we all know it is part of the job. I remember when I found out I had to work my first Christmas shift, I got into my car, called my mom, and burst into tears. It’s harder for some of us to spend holidays at work than others, but it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

What can you do to make the holiday at work bearable?

Plan ahead. Try to figure out as soon as you are able which holiday you will be working, and plan something with your friends or family on a different day. “Fakesmas” and “Fakesgiving” alternate every year in my family! Holidays aren’t restricted to celebration on a single calendar square. Encourage your family to be flexible and understanding so that you can still participate in festivities, even if you are also working. It is possible to do both.

Negotiate. In many departments, coworkers might be willing to trade if you only ask. Someone may not celebrate a particular holiday or may have travel plans that are more flexible than yours. A new mom may be grateful if you offer to trade your New Year’s for her Christmas morning. See if you can negotiate with someone—you never know!

Food is good. In my department, we’ve already got a sign-up sheet a mile long where staff can write down a contribution to our unit feast. This not only gives scheduled staff something to look forward to, but also makes the shift itself feel festive and fun. Chocolate helps!

Decorate. Even if you’re only allowed to decorate the break room, try to bring a little holiday cheer into the space. Have a snowflake-making contest! 

Think about the green. Do you get paid double, or time-and-a-half to work the holiday? Try to use that as a little pick-me-up when you’re feeling down about working.

Embrace your work family. You’re all in it together. Can you play nursing bingo to pass the time, or all tell stories to keep each other entertained if it gets slow? Can you and a close coworker exchange small gifts?

Keep busy. Holidays in the ED can be boom or bust, so try to keep yourself busy if at all possible. The slower it is and the more downtime you have, the more likely you are to get sad.

Stay away from social media! If it is slow, do your best not to take a peek at the fun times your friends and family are having on Facebook or Instagram. Do yourself a favor and stay offline. 

Attitude is everything. Try to be positive and happy while you’re working so that you don’t bring others down. No one wants to work with someone who is moping and complaining that they’re at work. Be the nurse you want to work with.

Remember: No matter how bad it gets, you still aren’t the patient in the bed. Take the time to really connect with your patients on the holiday, and remember that you have the potential to make a huge difference in their lives.

Laura Kinsella

Laura Kinsella, BSN, RN, CEN, is an emergency room nurse in Washington, DC.

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