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How to manage holidays with shift work

No one wants to be working during the holidays, but nurses, first responders, truck drivers, factory workers and more are among those accustomed to doing so. Pixabay / Special to The Forum

Parties, family gatherings and work socials are a pleasant bonus during the holidays, but tend to overwhelm people's calendars, causing a bit of holiday stress.

While hitting every social event may be difficult to conquer, it is even more challenging for those whose job requires shift work or anything other than the traditional 8-to-5 schedule.

First responders, truck drivers, factory workers and many more are among those who work evenings and graveyard shifts.

When most people are headed to bed, they are headed to work. Shift workers make up 3.2 percent of the workforce, and those who do it typically enjoy the additional pay, flexible schedule or just simply love their job.

However, the perks come with the difficulties of blending shift schedules into traditional schedules, yet families everywhere manage to do it, even with all the additional parties, socials and family gatherings that pop up in already erratic schedules.

Preparation is key

Natalie Ching, a critical care nurse at Sanford Hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, says it's all about communication and staying flexible.

"My sister is a nurse, and my mom works retail," Ching says. "My family has always worked holidays. Once you know you're scheduled to work a holiday, tell (your family) ASAP so you can figure out how to work around it."

Casey Trautman, another critical care nurse at Sanford, says her to trick to making the holidays run smoothly is knowing when to ask for assistance.

"Recruit family members for help," she says. "I can't do it all myself, and people in our family are always really good about picking things out to do."

Trautman says making lists helps her stay organized and doing things in advance allows her to feel in control of stressful situations.

"Last-minute details stress people out so if you are able to make part of the food or clean ahead of time, do it," she says.

Togetherness makes the holiday, not the day

"One year we had Christmas in March because that's when it worked," Ching says. "We don't necessarily have to be together on Dec. 25. We are just happy to be together whenever there is time."

Ching's mom has always encouraged the family to remain adaptable and open to change.

"She has this saying, 'Be a pig because a pig makes a home wherever they are,'" she says.

The meaning behind the words has helped Ching through times when she felt down about not being with her family.

Trautman shares the sentiment. "The holiday doesn't lose value just because we do it a different day," she says. "It doesn't matter what day of the week it is, as long as we get to be together."

Finding privilege in the work

For both Ching and Trautman, one thing is certain: They don't mind working the holidays.

"I remember missing my first Christmas," Trautman says. "It was hard, but it comes with the job. You quickly realize that others are also missing their family members when you work in a hospital."

Trautman says helping others, especially during the holidays, is a very humbling experience. "I feel privileged to be taking care of them," she says "I love what I do, so it's a honor to be with them during the holidays."

As for Ching, working the holidays has given her a different perspective.

"No one wants to work on a holiday," she says, "but my job has made me very sympathetic because no one wants to be sick in a hospital bed on a holiday either."

Both nurses agree that having a positive outlook is important.

"You've worked so hard for this career that you love, if you don't have a good attitude, it's only going to make you miserable," Ching says.

10 tips for better sleep during the holidays

Another challenge of shift work during the holidays is feeling well-rested when gathering with family and friends.

Here, the nurses provide tips for catching some shut-eye:

• "Invest in some heavy-duty blackout curtains and/or an eye mask," Trautman says.

• "I know what I need to do to decompress," Ching says. "So develop a routine and stick to it."

• All of the holiday treats make it hard to eat healthy and stay in an exercise regimen. But it's important for your sleep to occasionally pass on the cookies and hit the treadmill. Stick to your routine even when it's difficult.

• Set the temperature in your bedroom to 68 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure comfortable sleep.

• Try limiting caffeine consumption several hours before going to bed.

• Let family members know you are sleeping so they do not disturb you.

• "Take naps when you are able. I like to nap right before my shift," Trautman says.

• Be careful not to overindulge on the bubbly ... alcohol disrupts REM sleep.

• Have a high-protein snack before bed which may provide L-tryptophan, an amino acid needed to produce melatonin.

• Take some time to wind down from work before going to sleep by taking a warm bath or meditating.

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