Shift Work and Christmas Celebrations for UK Nurses: The Ultimate Balancing Act

By Rachel Lamb . 14/12/2023 · 7 Minute read

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Christmas is a time of year where for much of the country, the daily grind comes to a halt and we enter a bubble of festivities, family, friends, and food. But what about hospitals? It’s no surprise that people still get sick over the festive period, which means the spoils of Christmas Day are a luxury for nursing staff. 

If you’re a nurse, you’ll be all too familiar with the mixed bag of emotions this time of year brings. Not only are you expected to grapple with your healthcare responsibilities while the rest of the UK celebrates, but you’re also expected to be present with family and friends for multiple gatherings and get-togethers.

How can you make sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin and finding a happy compromise?

In this article, we’ll focus on the important work that UK Nurses do over the Christmas period and how you can find a healthy balance between work and festivities. 

  1. Finding a proper work-life balance

At this time of year, when winter pressures have well and truly struck, the demand on your time at work will be higher than ever. A&E departments are always fuller, illnesses increase, and public mental health can decrease.

These are all prime ingredients for a recipe called ‘stressed out Nurses’. Sound familiar? 

And then of course there’s the other familiar sensation of feeling like you’re letting your loved ones down with your hectic work schedule. Your important work means putting patients before Christmas celebrations and that can be frustrating for both you and your family. 

So, how can you manage both? First of all, effective time management is key. Prioritise days off for seeing family and friends. If you’re working on 25th December itself, why not use one of your days off to create a substitute Christmas Day, where you can still enjoy all the food and fun (and your loved ones get a bonus Christmas - result!). 

Secondly, managing both work and your loved ones’ expectations is vital. Your employer should understand that you can be dedicated to your work whilst still needing time to enjoy the holiday season. After all, you’ll perform your job a lot better after some much-needed rest. On the flip side, your family and friends should understand the importance of what you do and the high-pressured nature of nursing work over the winter months. 

  1. Focusing on your mental health and wellbeing

It’s hardly surprising that Nurses suffer with their mental health over the winter period. The dark, gloomy mornings, the high patient demand, and the juxtaposition of the festive atmosphere with the reality of healthcare can be mentally exhausting. 

If you’re finding yourself struggling, there are ways to combat it, which include self-care routines, mindfulness practices, and being open and honest about how you feel. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of those ideas…

Self-care: Where possible, prioritise some of the hours before and after shifts for your own needs. Take a relaxing bath, switch off devices an hour before bed, eat healthy & satisfying meals, get outside to enjoy nature, or find a form of exercise you enjoy doing. Staying on top of life admin and keeping your home clear of clutter will also help you stay relaxed and happy in your own space.

Mindfulness practices: This doesn’t mean sitting in a twisted yoga contortion and meditating for hours on end (although meditation is a great way to be mindful). Mindfulness can be anything from switching off the TV whilst you eat, to writing down how you feel in a journal, to taking a walk outside and listening to the sounds of nature around you. Mindfulness is proven to help us relax by becoming present in the current moment and not thinking about the past or future.

Open communication: A problem shared is a problem halved and all that! Sometimes telling others how you feel can help to alleviate anxiety and stress. You might even gain some good advice that you hadn’t thought of on your own. 

  1. Keeping an active family and social life

Away from family on Christmas Day or working far from home throughout the entire festive period? There are a few things you can do to stay connected, like using your breaks to video call your loved ones, having virtual family time with party games and present opening, or watching Christmas movies together via a ‘watch party’ (watching the same movie at the same time). 

  1. Understanding coping strategies and support systems

When things get a bit ‘much’, having some coping strategies to turn to will be a great help, whether it’s a hobby you enjoy, physical activity, or a relaxation technique that works for you. 

It’s equally important to know where you can turn to for help at work. Hospitals often offer support systems like counselling services and peer support groups, which are designed to help struggling staff members. Not sure what your hospital provides? Reach out to your manager or HR team for guidance and information. 

  1. Finding the silver linings

It may sound cliche, but looking for the positive aspects and rewards in your situation can help you get through the holiday shifts. Despite the hardships, there’s a real sense of camaraderie among staff and a unique satisfaction in providing care when it’s most needed. 

You might also find joy by bringing some festive cheer to patients who can’t be home over Christmas. The UK is a multicultural country and December is an important month to Christians, Jews, Muslims, and more. There’s something nice about the way this month unites so many faiths, so use this time to talk to your patients and learn about what December means to them. 

  1. Embracing your first Christmas at work

New to nursing? Try to stay flexible and keep a positive outlook. The work you’re doing is life-saving and a vital part of the healthcare system. Look to your peers for support and maximise your time with friends and family outside of shifts. 

You’ve got this! 

Find your next nursing role with Your World Nursing

From all of us at Your World, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We’ve got some great nursing roles across the NHS and private sector available, so don’t forget to view our current vacancies or register with us today. 

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