How ICU Nurses Stay Cheerful Around the Holidays

By Melissa Wirkus Hagstrom, contributor

Faced with the fragility of life on a daily basis, ICU nurses encounter a unique set of stressors and emotional situations every time they put on their scrubs and report to the unit floor. These challenges are magnified during the holidays as nurses, patients and their loved ones look to find a sense of tradition, goodwill and holiday spirit in the hospital setting.

Megan Brunson, RN, MSN, CNL, CCRN-CSC, the night shift supervisor in the cardiovascular ICU at Medical City Dallas Hospital and a member of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) board of directors, has over 18 years of bedside experience and has spent many holidays caring for others. ICU Nurses: Tips to Stay Cheerful Around the HolidaysShe explained that serving as an advocate, opening the lines of communication and bringing a dash of holiday magic can make a big impact on combating moral distress and spreading cheer in the ICU.

Create a healthy work environment

“You really can overcome a stressful situation if you have a healthy work environment within the culture of your facility,” Brunson said. Communication is one of the pillars to creating a healthy atmosphere and nurses need to recognize that it is okay to validate their emotions and feelings after a particularly stressful situation--such as the loss of a patient. Having a huddle to debrief after an event or code to discuss the quality of care and the feelings of the clinicians can help soothe frayed nerves and boost morale. Onward’s travel nurses can also talk to a clinical liaison if they need additional support.

Deck the hospital halls

From starting a Secret Santa tradition to adopting a family in need as a unit, there are many things that will help to infuse some holiday cheer into a somber critical-care environment. “It’s about the communication of goodwill and that feeling of doing something good during the season. We’ve literally strung up Christmas lights in patients’ rooms who are long-term patients,” said Brunson.

Bring tradition to the bedside

Megan Brunson offers ideas for ICU nurses over the holidays

Building trust and connecting with patients and their loved ones is one of the most important things nurses can do to help their patients’ families remain positive. “Understand the crisis that they are in, in relation to the holidays, and spend that time being present with them. Recognize that they may be missing out on an event. You have to stay positive, but you have to be realistic as well,” she explained.

Allowing time for religious ceremonies at the bedside and turning a blind eye to holiday treats that are brought in can help build rapport with the families in pain, Brunson said. She even allows her patients to watch a movie on her Netflix account from time to time. After all, there’s nothing like a classic holiday flick to mitigate physical and mental pain.

Treat yourself with TLC

Caring for yourself and your colleagues can make a world of difference to your sanity and holiday spirit, whether that means covering for a fellow nurse who needs a coffee break or keeping a check on your overtime hours. Making time for healthy eating and sound sleep is also essential for coping with stress.

“I recommend mapping out your sleep, especially if you are working the off-shifts,” Brunson concluded. “Determine when you are going to sleep and make sleep a priority to ensure you are getting that quality, restorative time for your brain.”


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