Children's Hospital Colorado

Provider Resiliency and Managing Stress During the Holidays

Addressing the unique needs of every child so they can be their unique selves.

The holiday season is a meaningful time of year when healthcare professionals and the families they work with have many opportunities to connect with loved ones and engage in individual and cultural traditions. This time of year holds both excitement and expectations that increase daily stress. Healthcare professionals already experience high levels of job-related stress and the holiday season further exacerbates this and increases risk for provider burnout. It is important for providers to recognize the increased demands of the holiday season and take time to proactively build resilience. Preparation helps maintain personal and professional health during one of the most demanding seasons of the year.

Recognize holiday stress triggers

During the holiday season it's important to simplify the demands you face. Reducing daily demands helps build provider resiliency and improves your ability to regulate emotions, mange stress and deliver effective care.

Start by writing down all the stressors in your typical day, then add additional holiday season demands (buying gifts, attending parties, hosting events, sending holiday cards). Review the list and circle activities that you truly enjoy. Star activities that cause stress and brainstorm ways that you can modify the task to reduce stress. Put a line through all activities that can be completely eliminated. Finally, underline activities you can involve others in to help reduce your workload.

An audit of your holiday stress, both personally and professionally, is the first step in helping you make decisions about what activities are meaningful and what activities are unnecessary.

Building provider resilience

In addition to simplifying holiday demands, it is necessary for providers to focus attention on daily activities that help strengthen resilience through increasing positive emotions. Below is a short list of suggestions for proactively building resiliency during the holiday season:

Cultivate a culture of appreciation

Research consistently shows that gratitude improves your mood and reduces the adverse consequences of stress. Healthcare providers are often seen as leaders in their organization and the holiday season is an especially important time to use the leadership platform to help increase positive emotions in yourself and everyone you work with.

Make a goal to express appreciation for one person you work with at least three times a week during the holiday season. Appreciation can be shared in person or through e-mail, but it should specifically identify what you appreciate about that person and why that contribution is important to you. Committing to this small weekly activity during the holiday season can boost positive emotions in both your internal and external environments.

Make space for mindfulness

Mindfulness is a very old concept that has been proven to be highly effective in reducing stress and decreasing burnout in a variety of different populations (including among healthcare providers). Practice engaging in mindful breathing for two minutes.

Start by sitting comfortably in a chair and closing your eyes. Then, focus attention on your breath coming in and out of your body. When you get distracted, notice where your mind goes then bring attention back to the breath. The goal is to notice the activity of your mind, let it go and return to breathing. Try to take a break at work and do two minutes of mindful breathing at least three times a week during the holiday season. Remember it only takes six minutes a week to improve provider resiliency and reduce your risk for physician burnout.

Attend to your basic needs

It is difficult to maintain schedules during the holiday season. Often stress can disrupt sleep patterns and make it more difficult to manage your emotions. Changes in the weather and shorter days during the holiday season make sleep and mood regulation more difficult. To best adapt to these changes, make a specific point to maintain a consistent sleep schedule during the holiday season. Having a consistent bedtime and wake time is an important anchor for achieving restful sleep.

Additionally, increasing physical activity in your day-to-day activities in scheduled (e.g. working out) and unscheduled ways (parking far away from the building or shoveling snow) can help balance sleep-wake cycles.

Building resiliency isn't always easy

The holiday season holds both positive and aversive stressors and it is important to proactively address common factors related to provider burnout. Although the above steps are relatively simple to implement, it is often difficult to create new habits. Start by picking one resiliency-building activity this holiday season and add others as you gain momentum.