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Every nurse has some stress in his or her life. That’s a given in this caregiving profession. Some days, that tension can grow and grow until you feel like you’re drowning beneath a tsunami of stress. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, whatever special days you mark, can also be a major source of anxiety.

Even if you don’t celebrate any of these holidays, the short days and long, dark, cold nights this time of year can dampen anyone’s mood. As a nurse, if you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed this holiday season, it’s extremely important that you try to reduce your stress. Here’s why:

Extreme stress may lead to depression, which is so common in nursing that it’s epidemic, though often unacknowledged by nurses and others. If the causes of stress—events in your personal life, in addition to the everyday stress of nurse life—are not dealt with, nurses will suffer, as will patients who may be endangered by medical errors and near misses.

Ultimately, what will suffer is the nursing profession, if depression leads to burnout, and good nurses leave the bedside or the field entirely.

You may have already heard that depression in nurses is at alarming levels, but is that claim evidence-based, or just hyperbole? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) found that nurses experience clinical depression at a rate of 18%, while ordinary citizens score at 9%—nurses suffer clinical depression at twice the rate of the general population. What’s scary is that depression is difficult to self-diagnose, especially in caretaking professions where sufferers may have trained themselves to turn off feelings of emotional distress.

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Holiday stress comes from many different directions.

You can’t change everything that maybe causing you stress in this “happiest of all seasons.” For instance, you may decide that you really do want to go home for the holidays. But then that means gift shopping for the folks, packing your bags, traveling on the busiest flying days, attending multiple holiday parties, and finally, sitting down for a big family meal with loved ones who know all too well how to push your every last button!

Is there any hope for de-stressing these last weeks before New Year’s when your seasonal schedule is this packed? Yes, and the trick is to focus on the few things that you can control. Being purposeful and applying organizational skills to calm the chaos comes naturally to most nurses. Here are some areas that may make the most difference in reducing your tension during the holidays.

Keep your eye on the prize

In other words, don’t waste your energy on activities that don’t matter to you and your family. Just let them go. Maybe you don’t need to buy gifts for former neighbors and second-cousins once removed. Maybe you can pick up a supermarket pie instead of baking one, if you don’t enjoy spending time in the kitchen. Maybe a seasonal concert doesn’t ring your bell—stay home in your PJs and listen to your favorite holiday music on crackly vintage vinyl albums or a pristine sound-streaming service.

Make a list—and check it twice!

Get organized with a master checklist so you know exactly what needs to get done and when. You may have to delegate chores to other people so you don’t have any last minute running around. Enlist family members if you can, but if that would only add to your stress, splurge and hire a service. It’s worth spending some money to save some time. With a $50 payment, say, you can off-load a few tasks, like house cleaning and errand running.

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Stick to your holiday budget

On the other hand, don’t go gonzo and overshoot your gifts, food, and travel budget. That assumes you have a budget—the very word sounds so old-fashioned. But creating a spending plan can help keep your spending under control. A budget planning sheet or checklist is a smart thing to include in your holiday master planner.

Financial pressures can be a major cause of stress any time of year, but they really heat up during the holidays. It’s so easy to overspend. People want to make the season special and show their love through fancy gifts and festive experiences. It may be tempting to put those purchases on a credit card but then when the bills arrive in January…

Nurses know that the holiday season is a stressful, but special time of year, and with some planning, it can be savored. In the holiday frenzy, don’t forget about self-care—take time to be kind to yourself!

Jebra Turner
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