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How to Manage Holiday Surge Stress for Healthcare Workers

By Lisa Marlin

With staffing shortages and a higher volume of resignations, it is likely that you have already shown up for at least one understaffed shift. Combine this with the holidays and other issues related to COVID-19 and, not unlike thousands of mental health workers across the US, your mental wellness may be at risk.

Is it possible to avoid repeating the higher rates of depression reported among healthcare providers and staff following last year’s holiday season? We think so.

Tips for Managing the Stress

Eating Recovery Center (ERC) clinicians offer proven ways to help manage the added stress healthcare workers may experience during the holidays. Avanti Bergquist, MD, MS, FAPA, DFAACAP, Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychiatrist at ERC in Seattle, WA, and Lara Schuster Effland, LICSW, Clinical Lead of ERC West Region share ways to cope, including asking for help, giving yourself grace and discovering gratefulness in the season.

How to Cope in a Short-Staffed Area

Effland acknowledges that staffing shortages can be extremely taxing on the team. “It is not ideal, and it definitely can happen,” she says. Having a plan in place can make it easier to cope. She offers these tips:

  • Set your own boundaries; what is possible for you to accomplish in one shift? What are you not able to accomplish and how can you prioritize and triage?
  • Work as a team. Together, come up with a plan for the day and who does what. Talk through what surprises might happen and who will handle what.
  • Find humor in the little things. Remember to smile, laugh and make the most out of the day.
  • Communicate to the patients that you have a plan. If there are any needs that arise that do not fit the plan, you will attend to them with the resources you have. The priority is patient safety and wellbeing. Confirm that things happen with some consistency and that you have a great team to help support.

Take Time to Ask for Help: Professional and Personal

After the holidays in early 2021, over half of the 22,000 nurses surveyed by the American Nurses Foundation reported feelings of exhaustion with 43% being overwhelmed and 36% anxious or unable to relax. Only a quarter of those surveyed sought professional mental health support, with many saying they had no extra time to pursue it.

“Taking that time is worth it; we can all benefit from that,” says Dr. Bergquist, explaining that it can be a valuable resource for stress management. “It’s great to get your own therapy. You don't have to be sick for therapy to be helpful and you don't have to have huge problems.”

Asking for help from loved ones can also benefit your mental health. Effland refers to this as ‘coping ahead.’ “You know what it is that you need in order to make this a special occasion for you,” she says. This could be asking family to set out a festive dinner plate for you after a holiday shift or ordering from your favorite restaurant.

Grace and Gratitude Provide Balance

When it comes to balancing work responsibilities and familial holiday activities and traditions: “Give yourself grace,” Dr. Bergquist says. “Giving yourself that grace if you're a doctor, a nurse, a therapist, that sometimes you're going to miss the [day of the] holiday, and that doesn't mean that the holiday is broken. You can have different traditions and that's okay.”

“Practice self-care, set boundaries, try to not take the stress home, and find a way to take time off when you need it to recuperate after a busy holiday season,” says Effland. “Know yourself and what you need in order to maintain your energy and well-being.”

Finally, count your blessings. “Life is a little bit safer now. We know how we can have some control over life versus last year,” Dr. Bergquist says. “It does feel more grounded, more comforting this year.”

“I'm finding there is a bit of a wave of not having as much like pressure as last year,” Effland says as she recalls the stress of 2020, citing inability to see families and the multiple unknowns of the pandemic. “I would say people this year seem to be more settled. They're feeling a gratitude for whatever they have.”

Written by

Lisa Marlin

After receiving her degree in Journalism, Lisa began her professional writing career as a television and newspaper reporter where she was often assigned the human interest beat to cover education,…

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