This Guest Blog post is by blogger Keith Carlson, RN, BSN. Nurse Keith, the blogger behind Digital Doorway, is the featured article in our Nurses’ News Resource: Nursing Pulse. To sign up to receive the Nursing Pulse in your inbox once a month, click here


Nursing Amidst the Holidays: A Guest blog by blogger Keith Carlson 

At this time of year, most people feel the added stress and joy of the holiday season, and nurses are certainly no exception in this regard. Beginning with Thanksgiving, the pressures and expectations begin to mount exponentially, and although there’s often a great deal to celebrate and express gratitude for, some of us can feel like we’re pushed to our limits as we navigate the waters (and snows!) of the season.

Diagnosis: Alteration in Holiday Spirit

If you work in a hospital, there are most likely Christmas decorations everywhere, and other holidays—like Hannukah and Kwaanza, may also be recognized and honored.

Meanwhile, your patients may be forlorn and lonely as they spend the holidays in the hospital, and part of your unofficial nursing duties may be adding “Alteration in Holiday Spirit” to their care plan (along with interventions to assuage their suffering and sadness).

If you’re a homecare nurse, you have the honor and responsibility of visiting patients in their own homes. This type of nursing brings with it various challenges at this time of year, including patients who have no family or are too poor or ill to fully enjoy the holiday season.

Nurses employed in nursing homes and long-term care facilities also face the potential sadness and isolation of their patients, and witnessing residents’ sadness and loneliness can be a psychic burden for the sensitive nurse.

What About Your Spirit?

While you strive to lift the spirits of your patients—whether in the hospital, nursing home, or other milieu—there’s someone who should also be on your list of those in need of support: yourself! This time of year can be difficult enough without potentially carrying the burden of your patients’ loss and grief, and making sure you pay enough attention to your own needs is paramount.

In some workplaces, the high energy of the holiday season can feel very uplifting and cheerful, with office parties, gifts, cards and special treats that brighten one’s day and add a special something to the functions that still need to be accomplished.

However, if the demands of your workplace are generally intense, you may experience a variety of emotional reactions to the “cheer” being spread by the seasonal festivities, and these reactions and feelings are altogether normal.

Keeping yourself balanced and functioning at your best during this time of year is important, so recognizing how you feel and what your individual needs are is something worth paying attention to, whether those needs are emotional, physical or spiritual in nature.

Holiday Self Care for the Nurse

If the stress of the holiday season is impacting you at work or at home, there are ways to “dial down” the stressors so that you prevent illness, overwhelm and burnout.

First, you must pay close attention to the basic aspects of your self-care, and while these are universal at any time of year, they are even more important now.


Sweets and treats abound at holiday time, but overindulgence can lead to a suppressed immune system, gastrointestinal disturbances, weight gain, nutritional deficiencies, and feelings of lethargy and brain fog.

There are temptations around every corner at this time of year, and avoiding (or limiting) your intake of cookies, cakes, candy, alcohol and other special foods may help you to feel better, even though it’s hard to resist when they’re right under your nose.

If you have a friend or colleague who also wants to resist temptation, enlist one another as “accountability partners” and find ways to provide mutual support. Bringing alternative healthy treats to work can help, as well as collaborating on methods for avoiding the nutritional pitfalls that feel good in the moment but come back to haunt you later.


Staying hydrated is always important for every physiological function you can think of. Regularly filling your belly with good quality water can also suppress your appetite when faced with those delectable but nutritionally poor treats that seem to be on every desk and nurses station throughout December. Skip the coffee, soda and sugary eggnog and choose water instead! Your brain and other organs will thank you.

Rest and Sleep

You may laugh, but getting enough sleep and rest is not just important, it’s crucial. The quality and quantity of your sleep impacts your ability to maintain or lose weight, function at your best, and keep an even emotional keel as the stressors increase. If you find yourself staying up too late and getting up too early (or waking up in the middle of the night to ruminate over your shopping lists , then you have to take action to get your sleep on track—stat!


This may seem like a joke to many of us, but getting exercise is important in every season, but it’s probably true that the majority of people slack off on their exercise routines during the winter, especially as the holidays approach.

If, like me, you live in a climate where it begins to get cold in November, your summertime exercise regimen may not translate well in winter. Some of us find ourselves confused and stultified as to what to do to stay fit during the colder months, so getting a handle on this can be very important for your health and ability to resist stress and illness.

Your Emotional Well-Being

I mentioned your spirit earlier in this article, and I want to reiterate again how important it is that you pay attention to your own emotional and spiritual needs during the holiday season.

With the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, many of us are feeling grateful for the safety of our families and friends. However, the holidays can also bring up our losses, our grief, and the people who we miss and are no longer with us. Pay close heed to how you’re feeling, and reach out for help and support if you need it. Support can come from friends, mental health professionals, clergy, an Employee Assistance Program at work, or family members.

Remember, your mental and spiritual well-being are important, and if you’re feeling balanced and healthy mentally, emotionally and spiritually, it allows you to be a more effective nurse and caregiver.

Have Fun and Give Thanks

Of course, the holidays can be stressful, but they can also be joyous and celebratory. One way to care for yourself is to make sure you have time and energy for fun, for family and friends, and for giving thanks for all of the blessings in your life.

We nurses often think of others before we think of ourselves, but being a martyr doesn’t serve you or the people you care about. A nurse who practices good self-care sets an example for others around her, so be the one to set the example by paying attention to your own needs. It’s like they tell you on any airplane before the pilot takes the plane into the sky: you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you help someone with theirs. The same applies to caring for your own needs at work and at home.

Go ahead: nurture yourself, pamper yourself, and make this holiday season one that’s healthy, vibrant and balanced. You deserve it.


Nursing in the HolidaysKeith Carlson, or Nurse Keith as he’s known to his blog community, has been in the nursing field since 1996.  Keith runs a Nursing Blog called Digital Doorway. A Registered Nurse and Certified Professional Coach, Keith says he has equal passion for both, which he uses “to help nurses live the most healthy, balanced and satisfying lives possible.” When Keith isn’t busy nursing, coaching and blogging, he’s working on “RN.FM Radio: Nursing Unleashed.”   Keith co-founded the station, which strives to be “a place where nursing thought leaders, entrepreneurs, writers, bloggers and gifted clinicians can make their voices heard.”

To check out Keith’s blog, click here. More information about his coaching can be found here
To tune in to RN.FM Radio, click here.
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Check out our Q& A with Nurse Keith, click here

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