Patient or nurse, no one chooses to be in the hospital over the holidays—but sometimes it can’t be helped. If you’d like to help cheer up your patients but aren’t sure how, we’ve rounded up eight ideas to help you perk them up over the holidays. And don’t be surprised if these acts of kindness make you feel better as well. Helping others release neurotransmitters can contribute to positive feelings, so put on those holiday scrubs and get in the spirit of the season!
Try to keep a positive attitude.
Yes, it sucks to work on a holiday, especially when everyone else you know is at home with family and friends. But think of how much worse it is for patients. Not only are they at the hospital, they’re sick and they don’t get to go home at the end of their 12-hour shift. Some of them may have family who come to visit them, but not all do. Some will be spending Thanksgiving, Christmas and other special days alone in their room. It can be tough to be cheerful when you have to work on the holidays, but try to stay positive when you’re around your patients. Trust us, they probably don’t want to be there either.
Check in with patients on how they’re feeling.
While we often think of the holidays as a season of happiness, not everyone feels that way during November and December, especially if they’re sick and in the hospital. The holidays can trigger feelings of depression and even thoughts of suicide in patients, so be proactive and check in with them regularly, especially if they seem more down than usual. Sometimes the dip in mood is only temporary and having someone else (such as a nurse) take the time to ask them how they are doing can help patients feel better. If you have serious concerns, you can notify their family members and call in a psychologist or other expert to help them manage their negative thought patterns and feelings.
Decorate their rooms.
Many nurses festoon the lounge or nurse’s station, and if you have extra decorations, you can use them to ornament patients’ rooms (with their permission as well as the facility’s, of course). Hospital rooms have a dreary reputation for a reason, and a bit of bright tinsel and a couple of garlands can go a long way towards perking up the space. You can also encourage their family members to bring in other small decorations, such as cards to display in the window or a red-and-green bouquet of flowers for their bedside.
Help them accessorize.
There’s no need to let the decorating stop with the room itself. If patients are up for it, you can also help them dress up a bit to celebrate the season. Obviously, this will depend on each patient’s health and comfort level, but some easy ideas that don’t require much effort are Santa hats and reindeer antlers. As for newborns, it’s hard to go wrong with a holiday-themed onesie. Babies need clothing anyway, so you might as well get in the spirit of the season with fun patterns and a red-and-green color scheme. And of course, if you’re going to ask your patients to dress up, you should wear some holiday scrubs and compression socks yourself so everyone can participate in the fun.
Hand out holiday cards.
Holiday cards are an inexpensive way to spread some holiday spirit among your patients, and you can often pick up a whole set of stationery for only a couple of dollars. Choose a non-religious theme so the cards will be applicable to anyone (and you can hand out extras to your coworkers, too!). Consider a personal note for patients who have been at your facility for a while if you’ve built a relationship with them, but a general holiday greeting will also work for those you don’t know as well. If you’d like, you can make it a group effort and leave the cards in the lounge area so all the nurses in your unit can sign them.
Bring in volunteers.
Nurses’ shifts are packed full of activity on even the best of days, and this is doubly true over the holidays when staff coverage can be a little thinner than usual. Having visitors to talk to certainly cheers patients up, but you might not have time during your shift to stop for a long chat—and that’s where volunteers come in. Many charitable groups and organizations coordinate activities around the holidays, including visiting patients and bringing gifts to those in need of some cheer. If you don’t currently have a volunteer program at your facility, do some research and contact local organizations or religious groups. There’s usually an uptick in volunteers during November and December, so there will probably be plenty of people willing to spend an hour or two visiting with your patients.
Play some festive music.
There’s lots of different music for every holiday as well as different moods, from upbeat carols to somber hymns. As long as your patients agree to it, playing holiday music in either the common areas or their rooms can help contribute to the festive air. If you’d like to take things to the next level, some musically-inclined volunteers will actually come to play at clinics and hospitals all year round, and you can ask them to tailor their song selections to the season. Even if your unit doesn’t currently have musical volunteers, another part of the hospital might, so ask around to see if another department has some contacts you can reach out to.
Coordinate a family night holiday meal.
If you work at a long-term care facility, hosting a family dinner night around Thanksgiving and/or Christmas can be a special experience for residents and staff alike. Having everyone’s families come for dinner at the same time turns it into a memorable, festive event instead of an ordinary meal. Some residents may be on special diets so a true potluck might not be feasible. Try instead to encourage families to check in with staff ahead of time if they would like to bring a special treat for grandma or granddad.
Going the extra mile for your patients over the holidays can really make a difference in their lives. Try one or more of these eight ideas to help boost their mood and show them that you care.
This is a guest post from Deborah Swanson. Thanks for these great tips Debbie!
Deborah Swanson is a Coordinator for the Real Caregivers Program at allheart.com. A site dedicated to celebrating medical professionals and their journeys. She keeps busy interviewing caregivers and writing about them, gardening and walking her dogs.