The holidays are about spending time with and appreciating those closest to you, but anyone caring for patients knows that the holidays can also come with their share of grief for patients and caregivers alike. Here are some strategies to help make it through the holidays yourself – while also lifting the spirits of patients and their families.

holiday mealPlan Ahead: Coordinate With Your Family

While helping your patients get ready to spend time with their families and friends, don’t forget to make plans with those you hold dear. Talk with other members of your team, in advance, about covering for each other or switching shifts, should the need arise. Share your schedule with loved ones and ask them to keep you in mind when planning holiday meals and get-togethers. Shared calendar apps make it easy for people to know when you work without having to ask. Google Calendar is free. There’s also Cozi App, Apple Calendar and Hub Family Organizer (read more about family calendars at

caregiver smiling with patientKeep Smiling

You likely have a lot on your mind, and on your plate, when the holidays roll around. But try your best to smile for your patients. Studies have suggested that, not only is smiling contagious, but it also might make you feel happier, lower your heart rate and help with stress. A smile could help you and your patients feel better, which is especially important for those who may not have anyone to spend the holidays with. What do you have to loose? Your smile might ward off the winter blues and restore the magic of the holidays.

nurse with grieving manBe Considerate of Grieving Patients

Holidays can bring back memories of loved ones. Some patients, especially the elderly, may have lost their spouse or others close to them. As memories return, that loss can be acutely intense. If a patient expresses such grief, you might offer to light a candle, have a moment of silence or hold some type of brief ritual in the lost person’s honor. Depending on your religious or spiritual beliefs, you could offer to pray with your patient (read about spiritual care). If you don’t know what to say, one of the best things you can do is simply listen. Some people may find comfort by reflecting on their past. They may enjoy telling stories and there is nothing you need to do or say.

woman meditatingReserve Some Time for Yourself

Self-care is essential around the holidays. You can easily burn yourself out, running around taking care of others, while trying to find time for your friends and family. To keep your productivity from slipping, remember to take some time for yourself and indulge in an activity that makes you happy. Give yourself time and space to simply breathe and collect your thoughts. Consider doing “mindfullness” exercises (read Mindfulness in Hospice and Palliative Care). Plan ahead by finding a quiet and comfortable place that you can retreat to whenever you have a break.

nurse listening to patientConsiderations for Terminal Patients

Caregivers may struggle to figure out what to say and do around terminally ill patients. Sit down with patients and simply ask them what they’d like to do and what would make them happy. Ask if there are any specific family members or friends they’d like to have come visit them. Depending on your role and relationship to the patient, if appropriate, you could reach out to their closest family and friends to arrange a surprise visit. Just double-check to ensure the person or persons are still on good terms with your patient to avoid a holiday blunder that could result in an argument or bad blood.

vegetablesEat Well

The holidays are also a time of enjoying treats and deviating from your normal eating habits. Nurses and caregivers are on their feet and on the go, which may not leave enough time to eat a healthy meal. Do your body a favor and incorporate some healthy foods or at least some healthy snacks (think vegetable snack packs, hummus, almond butter and fruit). Not only does this help keep off the holiday pounds and aid digestion, but proper nutrition gives you the energy you need to be there for your patients and boost your mood. Plus, you won’t feel so guilty about going back for seconds or eating dessert with those holiday meals.

nurse and patient readingGet Ahead of Depression

Some of your patients may have family and friends who are either out of state or are unable to visit them. Rather than wait to see if your patients grow sad or depressed because of this absence, get ahead of the dark emotional clouds and watch for mood changes. Ask about their circumstances, show an interest in their life and background, and maybe even share holiday stories. Maybe you can act as their stand-in family or friend and bring some holiday joy into their life.

On the flip-side, maybe it’s you who feels depressed, especially if you’re unable to spend much time with your own family or friends for the holidays. During your lunch hour or during breaks, you can catch up with your loved ones via social media, when you’re not able to attend the holiday festivities in person. hug the dogAlso, take out time every day to do something that brings you joy. Take a walk outside in nature, listen to a favorite song, savor a cup of tea (see mindfulness), watch a favorite TV show (preferably a comedy), reach out to an old friend, spend quality time with a beloved pet (read about pet therapy), exercise or get a massage. Perhaps, after the holidays wind down, you can plan some post-holiday visits and enjoy leftovers from the holiday feasts that you missed.

Caregivers give all throughout the year. That being said, the holidays are a time for giving, so plan ahead and be especially kind to yourself, as well as your patients.

For more tips, read Nursing Tips for End-of-Life Care and Talking to a Hospice Patient.