It’s a given: the holidays can be rough on your emotional wellbeing, even under normal circumstances. So it’s only natural that they’re especially difficult if you’re spending them in the hospital or another healthcare facility. It can be really draining to see your patients sadden by missing out on joyful experiences this time of year.

And as a travel nurse, you’re more familiar than most people with the challenges of being away from family and friends over the holidays. So what can you do to lift your patients’ spirits? Here are 5 ways to bring joy and festivity into their holiday experience.

1. Decorate to set the mood

Decking the halls is an easy way to bring cheer to your patients. When choosing how to decorate, make sure you consult regular staff and see if you can expand on what they do each year. Be sure to follow hospital codes for safety, and be mindful of keeping a space functional and tidy for all of your co-workers.

Here are a few practical ideas for incorporating holiday decorations into a hospital setting:

  • String tinsel, lights, or paper chain garlands over the nurse’s station. It’s a relatively small space that can make a big visual impact due to its central location.
  • Put up and decorate a tree. This one’s a little more elaborate, but it’ll be sure to bring a smile to your patients’ faces. Want to add a nice touch? Wrap large boxes and place them under the tree to look like presents.
  • Decorate doors. With a festive ribbon, wreath, or sign, you can turn any room entry into a holiday greeting.
  • Dress for the occasion. Take decorating a step further by decking out your duds with festive touches. Wear a Santa hat, reindeer ears, or holiday-printed scrubs

2. Socialize

The holidays are a time when we feel a strong need to gather with others and experience a feeling of community. You can recreate those feelings with your patients by helping them have opportunities for being social and reducing loneliness.

  • Play games. If you have time, play a quick game with a patient. Check out this list of card games for two players. Or mull over “Would You Rather?” questions.
  • Share holiday stories. For many people, the holidays are a time for happy remembrances. If you have time to chat with a patient, volunteer a story of your own or ask if they have one to share. Make them feel heard and appreciated by being a good listener — make eye contact, nod, and ask questions.
  • Keep them busy. Illness often goes hand in hand with inactivity, and that can lead to loneliness. Encourage patients who can to take up activities that will keep their minds focused on other things. That could be reading, watching television, doing crossword puzzles or making crafts (like holiday decorations!)

3. Bring music to them

Nothing brings people together like music. The familiar tunes of carrols may be a huge comfort to your patients during the holiday season. Here are a few ideas for how to bring music to your patients:

  • Play recorded music on small speakers at your station. Play a mix of songs representing different religious traditions as well as secular classics.
  • Sing or perform with an instrument. Find a group of fellow nurses with musical talents and ask them to join you in serenading the patients.
  • Invite a choir to perform. Work with administrators to arrange the visit. Local high schools, colleges, or community groups are good places to look, and will usually perform free of charge!

4. Celebrate the spirit of giving

Generosity, sharing, and giving are hallmarks of the winter holidays. We spend a lot of time picking out gifts for our family and friends. What better way is there to honor the spirit of giving than by extending this act to your patients? Here are a couple of ways to do it:

  • Donate items to patients in need. Organize a donation box with your fellow nurses and bring in items your patients may be able to use when they return home. Ideas: wipes and diaper for new parents, toys for pediatric patients, anti-slip socks for those recovering from an injury, or canned food items.  
  • Arrange a Santa Claus visit. If you’re caring for young children, this one’s a great way to spread cheer. Either hire a Santa or have a nurse, doctor, or staff member dress the part. Share cookies, hot cocoa, and candy canes!

5. Stay compassionate

Compassion is an essential part of nursing, but it can also be hard to muster during stressful times, and that includes the holidays. If holiday stress is making you a bit of a Grinch, see our post on How to Avoid Burnout in Travel Nursing for tips on how to replenish your compassion stores. Remember to maintain boundaries, take time to unwind, and focus on practicing mindfulness and gratitude.

Share your warmth and compassion with families, too. By spending that extra minute going over a patient’s status, asking whether they have questions, or explaining follow-up procedures, you’re going to build trust and alleviate worries. By sharing your compassion with family members, their sense of well-being and reassurance will be shared with your patient, too.