Four Strategies for Nurse Self-Care During the Holidays


Published: 17 December 2019

During the holidays, nurses can feel the heat in terms of extra work, long hours and time away from family and friends.

It can be lonely and distressing not to be with loved ones on special occasions like Christmas, and the stress of the season doesn't help.

So how do you - a conscientious and hard-working nurse - take care of yourself at a time of year that can be equal parts lovely and extra stressful?

There are plenty of strategies for nurse self-care, and the following four can be helpful when you’re trying to be as healthy and balanced as possible.

Strategy #1: Strengthen Your Immune System

In many settings, nurses are exposed to endless viruses and bacteria in far greater quantities and much more virulent forms than the general public.

Whether it’s primary care, dialysis or med-surg, nurses are on the receiving end of coughing, sneezing and other secretions that put them at risk.

Like teachers, nurses can’t really avoid these pathogens, but you can do your best to mitigate the risk by practising good self-care that strengthens the immune system and helps you stay as healthy as possible when others are dropping like flies.

Immune-strengthening can involve high-quality food, hydration, herbal supplements, homoeopathic remedies, essential oils and vitamins and minerals.

Physical exercise and rest play a role, as well as avoidance of unnecessary stressors, an idea that most nurses - including you - may find laughable.

Excessive alcohol consumption can weaken the immune system, as can nicotine.

Talking with a trusted therapist, friend or faith leader can also reduce the effects of stress.

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Strategy #2: Get Enough Rest

As a hard-working nurse, rest and sleep are the best friends who you don’t see enough of.

If you truly want to keep your immune system strong and decrease your stress load, sleep is essential.

If you work during nights, you need to practice good sleep hygiene. You can use blackout curtains and white noise in order to sleep as deeply as possible. There are also excellent apps that provide binaural audio tracks that promote rest, meditation, relaxation, focus, sleep and other healthy mental states.

Decreased caffeine, a dark and cool room, avoiding screen time before bed, natural sleep aids and other interventions will also help you get the highest-quality sleep possible.

Woman sleeping in bed | Image

Strategy #3: Learn to Say 'No'

Nurses tend to be caring people who naturally want to help everyone and anyone, but this can put a busy nurse over the edge at work or home.

If you carry many responsibilities, work long hours, have many people dependent on you and feel the extra stress of the holidays, you must learn to say 'no' before reaching your breaking point.

Saying 'no' may mean not going to every holiday party you’re invited to. It can also mean turning down extra shifts, even if you need the money.

There may be plenty of things pulling on you, and discerning what’s necessary from what’s superfluous is crucial.

Your time and health are precious, and saying no is one of your best defences against putting excessive strain on your personal reserves.

Sign that says no | Image

Strategy #4: Simplify the Holidays

In order to simplify the holidays, many families choose to use a Secret Santa approach to gift-giving wherein each person anonymously purchases one or two gifts for another person in the group.

A Secret Santa decreases the stress of buying gifts for multiple people and keeps everyone from spending too much time shopping and needlessly worrying.

Simplification may also mean making sure every guest brings a dish so that you don’t have to do all of the shopping and cooking yourself.

It might also involve everyone going out for Christmas dinner or hiring a caterer so that no-one has to cook at all.

And if you want to escape the holidays completely, arranging in advance to go away on vacation is another strategy, although getting time off during the holidays can be one of the most difficult things for a nurse to achieve - however, it can sometimes be done with long-range planning.

Cookies wrapped in a ribbon | Image

It’s Up to You

It’s unlikely that someone is going to say, ‘Hey, let me help you take care of yourself during the holidays,’ so you have to advocate for yourself.

Will some people be disappointed if you’re not slaving away in the kitchen like you normally do? Perhaps. Will a colleague or manager be upset because you wouldn’t cover a shift? Maybe. Will getting more rest and taking good care of yourself decrease your holiday season stress exponentially? Without a doubt.

No matter what you do, self-care begins with you.

Of course, you can choose to push yourself to your absolute limit, or you can take a deep breath, say no, practice deep self-care, and survive the holidays with a healthier outlook and a decreased risk of illness and unhappiness.

The holidays are meant to be fun and memorable. Please make sure you don’t miss out on the fun because you’re stretched too thin.

Take your time, make self-care a priority, and thrive and enjoy the holiday cheer.

You deserve it.


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Keith Carlson View profile
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms---including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram - as well as at and Digital Doorway.