Joy, peace, love, togetherness, gifts, pumpkin spice, or apple cinnamon scents wafting through the air with holiday crooners singing in the background are cultural paradigms most of us have grown up expecting at this time of year. Sure, it’s a beautiful image—although we wouldn’t mind if peppermint caught up in popularity with its fruit and veggie compatriots—and yet, what’s less discussed in mainstream pop culture but also widely known is the stress that also accompanies this time of year.
For nurses and nursing assistants, there is an added source of stress: gender-related pressure. According to the United States Census Bureau, women constitute more than 85 percent of all registered nurses (RNs) and nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides. Furthermore, according to a 2006 survey by the APA regarding the “holiday effect,” women are more likely than men to report an increase in stress during the holiday season due to factors such as lack of time, lack of money, and pressure to give or get gifts.
The Increased Demand for Healthcare Services during the Holidays
As frontline workers, many healthcare professionals cannot stay home over the holidays as most people do. However, clocking in to work during the holidays is not the only cause of work-related stress for healthcare workers. There is also an increase in demand for healthcare services over the holidays. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), between 2009 and 2012, there were at least 12,000 emergency department visits per year due solely to holiday decorating accidents!
Common Holiday Accidents—That Can Actually Happen!
Cooking fires are the primary cause of residential fires, causing approximately 165,600 fires per year, leading to nearly 200 deaths and 3,200 injuries annually. What does this have to do with the holidays? Well, each year, approximately 1,600 cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day alone. Turkey fryers—while popular—are particularly of concern, causing an accumulated $9.5 million in property loss since the year 2000.
Holiday decorations are also responsible for many residential fires. Between 2009 and 2011, fire departments responded to an average of 200 fires caused by ignited Christmas trees. These fires were responsible for ten deaths, twenty injuries, and $16 million in property loss. Furthermore, candles are even more dangerous. During the same time frame, candle-related fires were responsible for seventy deaths, 680 injuries, and $308 million in property loss.
Holiday Decorating Injuries
Aside from the home fires caused by candles and Christmas trees, in 2012 alone, there were 15,000 accidents related to holiday decorating, including falls, lacerations, and back strains.
A Surprising Culprit: Toys
As ER nurses can corroborate, toys are not as harmless as most people think. In 2021, US hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 206,400 toy-related injuries. Pediatric emergency room nurses, in particular, will be nodding their heads knowingly since 74 percent of these injuries were sustained by children under fourteen, 69 percent by children under twelve, and 37 percent by children four years old or younger. In fact, that same year, two toy-related deaths were also reported.
Other Common Holiday Accidents
The deadliest day for driving over the Thanksgiving holiday is Wednesday, with an average of 114 car crash deaths per year. Furthermore, 31% of all car accidents on Thanksgiving day are DUI-related. Between the hours of 6 pm and 8 pm on Christmas day is the deadliest time on the roads over the Christmas holiday, and since 1985, over 30% of car fatalities on Christmas day have been due to alcohol impairment.
Another culprit of holiday illness is food. Not only can food spoil if left out too long, but people are also more likely to have allergic reactions when eating outside their homes—it’s difficult to remember that one guest who has a nut allergy when planning a large holiday meal.
How to Deal with "Holiday Effect" Work Stress
Healthcare workers—and nurses in particular—regularly deal with many sources of stress: understaffing, high patient-to-nurse ratios, witnessing patient deaths, exposure to toxic chemicals and contagious diseases, etc. On top of these everyday stressors, nurses face heightened stress as the holiday season approaches, stemming from their roles as both women and frontline workers combined with societal expectations such as socializing, hosting, and gift-giving.
The information provided here does not substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Knowing how challenging the holidays can be, consider the following tips to help you reduce stress and hopefully enjoy the holidays this year:
- Acknowledge your feelings: This is the very first step toward caring for your mental health. Ignoring negative feelings won’t make them go away, and it may even accentuate them. Allow yourself to feel sad or angry about missing Christmas dinner or another special moment you wish you could be a part of. Allow yourself to feel these difficult emotions, and then let them go. However, if you feel that spending holidays with family is not something you want to let go of, consider making changes that could help you achieve a better work-life balance. Picking up PRN nursing shifts is a great way to work as much as you want to when you want to—and make higher hourly rates as well.
- Plan ahead: Since you are likely to work on some holidays as a healthcare worker, you can plan to celebrate these special days on another date. Host a family gathering a week before Christmas. Take a family vacation after the holiday craziness has subsided. Create family traditions that work for you.
- Prioritize: For your own mental health, you must learn to say no. Say no to optional overtime; say no to social gatherings you don’t really want to attend. Instead, spend your time with the people who mean the most to you, doing activities that fill you with joy.
- Seek professional help: When things get too hard, make sure you get the support you need. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 20 percent of adults in the United States experience mental illness each year. Furthermore, about 5 percent of adults in the US experience seasonal depression. Therefore, if your mental health is suffering this holiday season, remember that you are not alone and that you deserve the mental and physical care you provide to others year-round.
- Take a break: The nursing profession can be as hard as it is valuable, so if you need to take a break from nursing, do it. You will always be able to return to nursing when you are ready.
Ready for the Holidays?
Brace yourself; we are moving full steam ahead into the holiday season, and as a healthcare worker, this season likely means greater chaos at work for you while friends and family enjoy downtime. This reality is no easy pill to swallow, and it cannot be sugar-coated. At least know that here at Nursa, we see you, thank you, and celebrate you every day. Here’s to a happy—and injury-free—holiday season for you and yours! Thank you for everything you do.