How to Handle Working a Holiday Shift

How to Handle Working a Holiday Shift

Christmas and New Year’s Eve are holidays to take time off and enjoy with our loved ones, but for some nurses, the holidays can mean another shift to take over— one that can be more stressful during a time it feels like others are opening presents.

However, nurses still celebrate just like other workers who take time off. Instead, they take nontraditional, creative ways of marking the holiday.

If it’s your first year as a nurse, or you’re looking for ideas for better managing your holiday shift, here are some tips, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the holiday celebrations.

Find Ways to Communicate with Your Loved Ones as Much as You Can

Bryana , BSN, RN, an ICU nurse, social media influencer, and nursing mentor who manages her own informational nursing resource, Coffee With Confidence, recommends communicating with friends or family during the free minutes throughout your shift and your rest breaks.

Being unable to see your family face to face on Christmas shouldn’t mean that you can’t text or call them during your breaks to see how their celebration is going. For Bryana, when she works 13-hour shifts during Christmas, a FaceTime call helps her connect with family and friends away from her town.

“If I have the energy to do so after my shift, I still try to see or celebrate somehow. With my experience, I’m also realizing that it’s okay to not celebrate it the day of. I usually now celebrate the holiday the day before or the day after,” she says. 

If You Can’t Celebrate with Your Family, Celebrate with Your Coworkers

Since nurses spend most of their holiday time with their fellow nurses and supervisors, participating in a holiday party at work is a great way to enjoy typical traditions with family and friends.

If you work at a larger workplace, such as a hospital, you may have the opportunity to participate in a communal potluck or exchange gifts. This year, Bryana will participate in a bake-off with the nurses in her work unit, where they’ll each bring their best-baked goods to win a prize.

Nurses benefit from spending leisure time together, as it brings a greater sense of community to a busy, sometimes chaotic field, according to a 2022 study.

If your workplace doesn’t have one, consider starting one with the help of your supervisor. Talk with your nurses at your unit to see what holiday festivities you can start at your workplaces, such as a toy drive, an in-house giving tree or a holiday roast to promote community and celebrate teamwork.

Leave Work at Work, Not at Home

Although holiday shifts can be festive, working a shift during the holidays can leave nurses anxious after their shift is over. To protect their mental health, Bryana recommends nurses leave their stress at work.

“I think many people, especially new nurses, struggle to stop thinking about work… but every shift is a new day. You just worked 13 hours working for somebody else. So the least you can do is let yourself have four hours before you go to bed and get some good sleep,” she says.

One of Bryana’s methods of letting go of workplace stress is calling her partner or friend while driving home. That way, once she enters her home, she’s no longer thinking about the negative emotions and feelings she experienced during her shift.

Nurses can also destress from work by engaging in relaxing hobbies they enjoy. For Bryana, that includes watching her favorite TV show and drinking tea, but for you, that might be taking a nap, listening to music, or anything that makes you feel relaxed.

Studies show that participating in after-work leisure activities lowers heart rates, reduces stress, and creates more interest in hobbies, which can benefit nurses as a way to unwind from their shifts.

Working during a holiday may seem daunting for some nurses, but it’s also a way to spread holiday cheer to patients who are having a difficult time. Staying connected with loved ones and fellow nurses can still provide the same holiday spirit, even if it’s not where you would expect.