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The holidays are a great time, but let’s face it, they’re also exhausting. As nurses, you already focus on taking care of others, sometimes to your own detriment. To avoid burnout, we consulted a fellow nurse to offer you self-care tips for the holiday season.

Anna Rodriguez, creator of The Burnout Book

Anna Rodriguez, BSN, RN, PCCN, CCRN, works in Endoscopy at University of Utah, but also is the creator of The Burnout Book, a website and blog with the mission to help her fellow nurses find the tools and resources they need to avoid burnout in their profession, while helping them keep their spark for nursing. She also focuses on how health care organizations can create healthy work environments and support their staff.

Rodriguez took some time to answer our questions and offer her fellow nurses some self-care tips for the holiday season.

Why should nurses be sure to practice self-care over the holidays?

It’s so easy to get sucked into your work and forget to take care of yourself! You’ve heard all the sayings: you can’t pour from an empty cup, put your own oxygen mask on first, recharge your batteries, fill your emotional bank, etc. The thing is, all of those sayings are 100% accurate. You can give so much of your time and energy to others at work and come home feeling drained and empty and unable to give any time and energy to your family. This is why we need to take care of ourselves. The holidays are especially important because there are extra layers of stress on top of the day-to-day stress. Events to go to, food to make, gifts to buy and wrap, pictures to take…it’s one of the most wonderful and busiest times of the year!

What are some things that nurses can do to be sure to remember self-care and to fit it into their busy days?

Anna’s dog and his elf

I think it’s important that we first identify what self-care is. It isn’t about giving yourself permission to do whatever you want or lie in bed all day watching your favorite streaming service (although there’s a time and place for that!). It isn’t all glamorous like a spa day or a weekend getaway either (although I certainly enjoy those too). It isn’t isolated to bubble baths, meditation, and essential oils either. Self-care is about taking advantage of small moments throughout your day to improve your physical, emotional, or mental well-being. For example, some of my favorite self-care moments during my day include listening to my favorite music or podcast while I get ready for the day, prepping my lunch so I don’t have to waste 10 minutes of my break walking to the cafeteria, greeting my dog when I get home and taking him on a walk, cooking dinner with my husband, and taking my daily medications every night. These are all pretty ordinary, but they are good for me physically, emotionally, and mentally, so I make time for them.

My mom-friends will often talk about their self-care moments as sitting the kids down with coloring books from the dollar store while they take a few minutes and do something for themselves: read a fun book, work on a hobby, take a shower, or sneak into the pantry and enjoy some leftover Halloween candy.

Is there anything they can do at work, if they have a break or something? Or something they can do at home?

Absolutely, there are lots of little self-care moments that can happen during your shift!

  • Monitor your own intake and output (I&O) status. Patients don’t want nurses who are dehydrated and hypoglycemic.
  • Take your break! As a new nurse, I was notorious for working through my breaks or cutting them short because I didn’t want to get behind in charting or tasks. When in reality, taking that 30-minute lunch break does more for me and my patients in the long run. A 12-hour shift is a long time to be going non-stop, and more errors happen when staff are feeling fatigued.
  • Be prepared. There are some days when it’s hard to catch your breath, let alone take a break. These are the shifts when I’ll grab a protein bar from my work bag, and that helps. This ties into the next tip…
  • Speak up! Let your charge nurse/co-workers know if you’re drowning in your work and need help. When my patients’ care is being negatively impacted, that’s my trigger to delegate and ask for help, because part of being a patient advocate is recognizing when you can’t do it all.
  • Get outside. There’s an interesting study published in the American Journal of Critical Care about a group of nurses in Oregon who looked at the benefit of taking their breaks in an outdoor garden and the impact it had on reducing burnout. Even if you don’t have access to a garden at your hospital, or you’re risking hypothermia whenever you venture outside this time of year, finding a few minutes to enjoy nature, sunlight, and fresh air can make a big difference in your mindset.
  • Debrief on the hard days. Sometimes you need to debrief with someone (a loved one or co-worker) at the end of your day in order to move on. Journaling can be a form of debriefing too.
  • Disconnect mentally when you clock out. When you’ve had a particularly challenging day, this is easier said than done. Some strategies nurses can use to “let it go” is to listen to their favorite music on the commute, take a hot shower when they get home, or just visualize leaving everything at the door when they leave the hospital.
  • Prioritize. It’s hard when you work 12-hour shifts in winter. The days feel shorter, and all you want to do when you come home is eat dinner (cold cereal), and go to bed. And that’s okay. Work is the priority for that day. If your to-do list feels too overwhelming on your days off, prioritize one or two things you want to accomplish and just focus on that.

What are some absolute must-dos regarding self-care?

Two things come to mind when it comes to the basics of self-care: boundaries and self-compassion.

Boundaries in your life are important, especially during the holidays because they allow you to choose how you want to invest your time and energy and say “no” to the extra things.

It’s okay to say no to picking up an extra shift: you’ve already worked your obligated hours, and those days off are important so you can recharge and come back to work as a better nurse.

The concept of self-compassion comes from Dr. Kristin Neff. It’s the concept of allowing ourselves to be human and give “the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.” It means not beating yourself up mentally for any mistakes and choosing to see them as learning opportunities. It means not dwelling on the negative moments of the day and focusing on the positive. Self-compassion is something that a person can develop with practice.

What would you say to a nurse who says s/he doesn’t have time for self-care because too much is going on?

There’s this whole self-care movement happening, which I love! I think now more than ever, people recognize the impact self-care makes on their personal and professional life. If someone doesn’t think they have time for it, I would say it’s a matter of perception. Maybe they don’t identify the things in their life that seem ordinary, but are actually forms of self-care. Or maybe they really don’t have time because they are giving so much of themselves to their patients and family every day. This is the point where I’d encourage them to make time for themselves. Write down a list of all the things that make them happy, and do one of them every day — or on really hard days, do several of them. The point is, if they think they don’t have time to do self-care, maybe they need to reprioritize their day and make time.   

Is there anything else regarding self-care tips for the holiday season that are important for readers to know?

The holidays can be a difficult time for a lot of people. It can make them feel lonely and miss people who are far away or no longer in their life. There’s also the aspect of Seasonal Affective Disorder that Psychology Today says affects more than 10 million Americans. Take your multivitamins and vitamin D, get outside when you can or use light therapy, and consider counseling or consulting your doctor. All self-care at its finest.

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