HOLIDAYS MAGAZINE: A TRULY FANTASTIC HOLIDAY SEASON IN 4 STEPS

As we all know by now, the holiday season steamrolls in earlier and earlier. Retailers are always anxious to get into our wallets, so why even bother with Halloween? We kid you not—we saw Christmas trees displayed in Home Depot just after Labor Day. 

With two wars in the headlines and economic strife—not to mention personal problems such as mental illness, divorce or even a death in the family—some of us may not be feeling it this year. We hear you. And for those of us who are trying to avoid alcohol? Forget it. In that case, attending a New Year’s Eve party on Duval Street can be a stressful experience.

Take heart. We consulted Florida Keys experts including a mental health counselor and a life coach—and an adventurer, no less!—for some tips to turn around a potentially depressing season.

  1. Experiences > things. 

This is the equation that Lauren Ferrante, owner of Island Flow Yoga, sent us. And she should know about experiences: Not only is Ferrante a seasoned yoga instructor and life coach, but she is also an international retreat leader. (You can learn about her trips on her website, islandflow.yoga, and on her Instagram, at @islandflowyoga.) 

Ferrante suggests asking yourself what you need in order to create special moments, rather than focusing on expensive gifts. Do you like to cook? Would you rather be outside in the sunshine than inside a mall? “The pressure around materialism and consumption can be overwhelming,” she says. “What would feel really true to you this year? What if you got to create your own experience around the holidays? This can be such a beautiful opportunity to create joy and connection.”

For example, Ferrante says that she enjoys simple pleasures like spending time in nature, working on a puzzle with her kids and sharing food “with anyone who wants to come to be fed here for dinner.” In a similar vein, the gift of an experience that is life-changing, like yoga classes, a life-coaching session or a retreat, can be a great idea for someone you care about rather than that same-old Amazon gift card.

  1. Give yourself permission to be nontraditional.

Tiffany Duong is an environmental and community news reporter who quit her stressful job as a lawyer when she realized she was not living a life that was authentic to her. (And, dare we say, she’s an unabashed joy-seeking adventurer—hit up her Instagram page @tiffmakeswaves to see where her latest travels have taken her.) She agrees that if you’re not feeling jolly, the holidays can be extra difficult: “There’s this expectation that they ‘should’ be full of friends, family, food, presents—but that leaves little space for reality, especially if it’s been a tough year. So, instead of feeling like an imposter and/or a liar, I give myself the grace to embrace some ‘nontraditions’ in order to honor myself at the end of each year.”

Sometimes, all you need is a pause, a reset. “Rather than go back home to California for the holidays last year and this year, I chose to stay in the Keys ‘alone’ and enjoy just being here and doing what I want to do—eat, sleep, clean, sit in the sun, whatever. It’s so easeful and glorious!”

If money is tight, create new traditions: “For example, my friend gifted her hubby a scary movie marathon,” Duong shares. “They took apart the couch cushions, ordered pizzas, popcorn and snacks galore, and watched his favorite flicks that she normally won’t watch. He loved it, and it became a core memory for them, so they’re doing it again this year.”

  1. Dust off those coping skills. 

Maureen Dunleavy, LMHC, regional senior vice president of Key West’s Guidance/Care Center, says, “It’s all about coping skills. We can’t control what life throws at us, but we can control our response to it.” In spite of challenging events, you can choose your reactions and behaviors, set boundaries with others and enjoy the present moment rather than fall into a scary “What If” train of thought.

For those coping with depression, anxiety or loss, Dunleavy says the following actions can make a difference: Write three things daily in a gratitude journal; exercise; practice relaxation with reading or meditation; avoid alcohol (it’s a depressant and makes things worse); eat well; and get enough sleep (seven to eight hours a night).

  1. Connect, connect and, did we mention, connect? 

“Volunteering is key,” Dunleavy says. “When you help someone, you get your mind off your problems.” 

And for those who don’t have a lot of pals to hang with this year, that’s okay—she also recommends participating in community events like parades or spiritual gatherings. “You may not feel like doing anything—like, ‘Oh, my God, I don’t want to’—but even going to a holiday parade, standing in the street and just watching is connecting.” 

And finally, if you are in crisis and need more personal counseling, the Guidance/Care Center can help. Call its hotline 24/7 at 305-434-7660, option 8. And for the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, dial or text 988.

Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.