Nurses and Holiday Fatigue: Prep Yourself for Twice the Stress

The holidays can be a joyous time, but that joy often is accompanied by stress.

A 2015 Healthline survey taken the week before Thanksgiving found that 62% of the 2,280 respondents considered the holiday season to be “somewhat” or “very” stressful. Only 10% of respondents reported no holiday stress – and chances are, very few if any of that stress-free 10% were nurses.

For nurses, annual holiday stress in late November through early January only serves to compound the year-round stress built in to their daily professional lives.

Nurse fatigue is a serious issue in the United States. The American Nurses Association regularly issues position statements to take into account new findings in research about nurse fatigue.

The position statement issued in 2014 said, in part: “Evidence-based strategies must be implemented to proactively address nurse fatigue and sleepiness; to promote the health, safety and wellness of registered nurses; and to ensure optimal patient outcomes.”

The ANA places ethical responsibility for addressing nurse fatigue and sleepiness on the employer, as well as on nurses themselves. Among the year-round issues identified by the ANA as requiring oversight are:

  • Getting adequate sleep and rest
  • Deciding when to offer or accept work assignments
  • Scheduling or agreeing to work overtime, whether on-call, mandatory or voluntary

A 2012 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing concluded that boards of nursing should consider whether “restrictions on nurse shift length and voluntary overtime are advisable.” The study also recommended that healthcare facilities more closely monitor nurses’ hours worked and determine how to overcome chronic under staffing.

In addition, the study encouraged the development of a “workplace culture that respects nurses’ days off and vacation time, promotes nurses’ prompt departure at the end of a scheduled shift, and allows nurses to refuse to work overtime without retribution.”


How Holidays Exacerbate Nurse Stress

So, those involved in the healthcare industry as a whole are aware that nurse fatigue is an issue year-round. Now, add holiday scheduling irregularities, holiday money challenges, holiday eating temptations and other holiday stressors to the equation, and nurses are subjected to twice the stress.

Plus – and this is a big one for emergency department nurses – the holidays are rife with injuries and illness. Kids are home from school, families are pulling out the decorations (including candles and electric lights), unfamiliar (and possibly poisonous) plants and substances such as artificial snow are everywhere.

Flu season reaches its early peak during the holidays, and other cold-related respiratory illnesses abound.

It all makes for extra work for nurses and other healthcare professionals, who are trying to plan their own holiday celebrations while bracing for the additional stress at work.

That feeling of being tired, mentally “foggy” or overwhelmed can be even more difficult to overcome during the holidays. That’s why it is even more important for nurses to focus on their own mental and physical well-being in times of excess stress, such as the holidays.

Ways to Reduce Stress During the Holidays

The ANA dubbed 2017 the Year of the Healthy Nurse, and November’s focus was mental health wellness. That initiative provided a number of helpful tips to consider during the holiday season.

The peer-reviewed journal, American Nurse Today, conducted a pilot study into the effectiveness of meditation as a way to manage the effects of stress and fatigue. The study authors concluded that “reducing the negative implications of prolonged stress creates a safer work environment, reduces risk of burnout and staff turnover, and increases emotional, physical and overall satisfaction for both staff and patients.”

The study’s work focused only on daily exercises using a free smart phone meditation app. While there might not be a way to remove all stress from a nurse’s daily routine or the holidays, here are a few tried and true tactics to help reduce the effect of stress and, perhaps, mitigate the excess stress brought on by the holidays:

  • Stay organized – Weeks before the holiday season, make a calendar that you know will accommodate your family plans while also maintaining a reasonable work schedule. Write down your anticipated shifts and stick to those, if at all possible.
  • Sleep – Do not forego a good night’s sleep for the sake of a holiday party or other event. Try to maintain a consistent sleep cycle, because disrupting that during the holidays can lead to additional fatigue and tiredness in January and beyond.
  • Take your breaks – A 12-hour shift might be more of the norm these days for nurses, and breaks are built in. Do not skip those breaks, if at all possible. Quick naps can be restorative, even though they don’t replace a full night’s sleep.

The holidays might be a time for giving, and nurses naturally tend to sacrifice their own well-being for that of others. But the holidays are exactly the time when nurses need to remember to focus on themselves so they can be at their very best when patients need them to be.

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