Written/compiled by Kathleen Murdock for AnxietyCanada.com:
Mother’s Day can be a joyous time, but the holiday looks different for everyone—for mothers who are single, teenaged, “advanced maternal” aged, or adoptive; mothers facing prolonged fertility challenges; mothers dealing with the loss of a child due to a miscarriage, stillborn birth, or tragedy; mothers separated from their children or fighting for them in a custody battle; or new mothers experiencing postpartum anxiety. Additionally, if you’ve lost your mother or have a strained relationship, Mother’s Day can be a painful reminder.
Mixed emotions & mindfulness
Mixed emotions today are normal, yet everywhere we look on Mother’s Day, we’re overwhelmed with images of happy children and mothers. Open Instagram and you’ll see a social media parade of people calling their maternal figures selfless, awe-inspiring, and amazing. Loud, flowery advertisements even follow us around everywhere we go: “MOTHER’S DAY SALE! Spoil your perfect mom with a shiny gift she’ll cherish forever and ever!!!”
As registered psychologist Dr. Melanie Badali says, “Mother’s Day can include feelings of sadness, anger, disgust, surprise, guilt, and fear.” Dr. Badali is a CACBT-ACTCC certified in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, as well as a valuable member of our Scientific Advisory Committee at Anxiety Canada. She’s written many of our postpartum resources.
Here is some advice from Dr. Badali’s Anxiety Canada blog post, A Mindful Mother’s Day:
- If you are missing your mother or a child, you are not alone. If you are grieving the fact that you never became a mother or if you are worrying that you may never become a mother, it’s not just you.
- Maybe you’re angry because you didn’t have a great relationship with your mom. Maybe you are mad because you made your own Mother’s Day brunch or frustrated because — even on Mother’s day — you did not get to use the bathroom by yourself.
- Perhaps you are worrying that you’re a bad mom or that bad things are going to happen to your child.
- You would not be the only one if you are feeling guilty for not doing more (or “enough”) for your children or your own mother.
- It could be that even on Mother’s Day, you feel overwhelmed and underappreciated.
Emotions are complex. You may even find yourself feeling joy and sadness all at the same time. If you are struggling and happiness seems out of reach, try aiming for a “Mindful Mother’s Day” this year. Instead of resisting, blocking, suppressing, or trying to get rid of your emotions, try using mindfulness to manage your Mother’s Day feelings.
Practicing mindfulness of current emotions is a strategy for letting go of emotional suffering (Marsha Linehan, 2015). Try these strategies:
1. Observe your emotion
2. Experience your emotion as a wave coming and going, then surf the emotion wave
3. Don’t try to push away your emotion or amplify it
4. Remember, you are not your emotion
5. Practice accepting your emotion and not judging it
Riding out intense emotions
If a parent is suffering from anxiety and/or depression, it can be hard to take care of their own needs, let alone the needs of their baby or child. Postpartum anxiety and depression can contribute to a cycle of intense emotions, which can be exacerbated by holidays like Mother’s Day.
If you’re struggling today, here are some helpful strategies for “riding out” difficult emotions, from our blog post Riding Out Intense Emotions:
Helpful Things to Tell Yourself
We may tell ourselves that we can’t handle intense feelings, or that our feelings aren’t real or valid. However, this type of self-talk isn’t true and doesn’t help our situation. It’s better to accept your feelings without judgment, and make a plan to get through them. Check out these helpful thoughts:
Helpful Thoughts for “In the Moment”
- All I have to do right now is keep breathing. That’s my only job. Just breathe.
- I’m doing the best I can.
- I’ve felt this way before and survived. I can get through this too.
- This feeling won’t last forever. It will eventually fade, and another feeling will take its place.
- How I feel right now is neither good nor bad, right or wrong. It just is.
- In this moment, I can’t change the situation or how I feel. Instead, I’m going to focus on not doing anything that will make the situation worse.
- There is a big difference between feeling what I am feeling and acting on it.
Helpful Thoughts for Anytime
- Painful emotions happen for a reason and are an important source of information and direction for me.
- Anger and sadness are valid emotions in some situations.
- There is always another way to see a situation, and more than one solution to a problem.
- It is important not to see the world in “black-and-white” terms.
- As a unique person, I have unique reactions. I am allowed to feel however I feel in any given situation.
- Knowing when to ask for help is a sign of strength and an important life skill.
- Gaining wisdom and strength only comes from making mistakes and learning from them as I go through life.
- Life is confusing. I don’t have to figure everything out right now.
Take note of which statements above you think might be helpful to you. Write them down or put them in your phone to help you remember them when you need them.
Helpful Things To Do
Sometimes, our emotions can be overwhelming and lead to unproductive or unhealthy ways of coping. But there are strategies that can help us “ride out” or “dial down” these difficult emotions in a healthy way. Here are some strategies that may help you express or cope better with difficult emotions.
- Call a friend or someone you trust.
- Take a warm bath or shower.
- Play or cuddle with a pet.
- Make a list of things that make you happy.
- Think of all the people who love you.
- Listen to soothing music.
- Blast upbeat music and dance.
- Do something nice for someone else.
- Count down mindfully from 10 to 1.
- Focus on your present experience: notice things you can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste.
- Try some relaxation/“chill out” strategies
- Run, walk, swim, or do some other vigorous exercise.
- Splash really cold water on your face and focus on the intense cold sensation.
- Play a sport (e.g., basketball, tennis, skateboarding).
- Clean your room or re-organize a drawer.
- Go outside in nature.
- Watch a sad movie and cry.
- Watch a really funny video and laugh.
- Remember a favourite day, vacation, or memory. Imagine being back there.
- Eat a favourite snack slowly and mindfully.
- Look at some of your favourite pictures.
- Curl up with a cup of tea.
Try experimenting with some of the strategies above to see which ones help you cope better with difficult emotions.
Learning to ride out intense or difficult emotions takes time. Be prepared to keep practicing these strategies so they become more effective over time. And reach out for help (a trusted adult or counsellor) if your find that you’re still struggling to deal with your emotions.
Meaningful things you can say to struggling mothers
The role today plays in your life may be purely celebratory; you may not yet be a mother, or you know you’ll spend today making your mother feel special. However, you probably still worry about loved ones with conflicted feelings around Mother’s Day.
Here are some ideas of things you can say to loved ones:
- “I know Mother’s Day may be hard for you, and you may not want to talk about it, but I am here if you do.”
- “Whatever you’re feeling today is valid and I’m here if you want to talk.”
- “I am thinking of you today. I’m proud of you and know you are doing your best always.”
- “I know today brings up mixed emotions for you, but I want to remind you that I love you always.”
- “I’ve been thinking about you—sending you my love.”
- “Thinking about you today.”
For a stillbirth, acknowledge that your friend is still a mother to their child, even if their child has passed away. Simply saying “I am thinking of you and [child’s name here] because it’s Mother’s Day” can be meaningful for those who continue to mother and miss a child who has passed.
For those who have lost their mom, saying “I’m thinking of your mom and missing her today,” can also mean a lot.
It’s also okay to say “I don’t know what to say to make today okay, but I want you to know I love you dearly.”
No matter what your situation is, there is no right way to process today, and no right way to celebrate.
You can spend time with yourself and journal. Or honour yourself, your strength, and any positive, formative relationships in your life. It’s okay to ignore calls today or avoid social media. And it’s okay to not know the perfect thing to say. This Mother’s Day, acknowledge your emotions, give them space, let them flow, and know you’re not alone.
Grief, loss, strained maternal relationships, postpartum anxiety and depression, and other variables complicate a day devoted to celebration. Small gestures, simple text messages, and considering other perspectives can go a long way.
We can all be mindful that this day is different for everyone, and that’s fine.
As Dr. Melanie Badali says, “Mindful Mother’s Day to you.”
Resources & Sources
Interested in learning more about anxiety? Check out our free resources, such as our award-winning anxiety management app MindShift CBT and My Anxiety Plan (MAP); listen to our podcast #OurAnxietyStories; download one of our many helpful PDF resources; or explore the many educational articles on our website.
Marsha Linehan (2015). Emotion Regulation Handout 22: Mindfulness of Current Emotions: Letting Go of Emotional Suffering. From DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition.