It can be difficult when there are events – or entire seasons – that come with an expectation of happiness. These times don’t take into account grief, loss, and/or stress, or that their passing may come with mixed emotions for people who have unpleasant associations with the thing being celebrated or observed. With Mother’s Day around the corner, you might be mentally preparing yourself for how to handle the day. Between social media and marketing campaigns, the celebration and the positive feelings we see around us on Mother’s Day can appear to be inescapable. It can feel like everyone, but us is overjoyed about this annual holiday.
But what if all you feel on Mother’s Day is a disappointment, a void, and abandonment? It can be incredibly stressful when Mother’s Day is not something you look forward to, but you feel like you can’t say that out loud. It can be depressing and enraging. We often come across these scenarios at our therapy practice in Woodland Hills. Anniversaries and/or celebrations can trigger distress and pain for many people across the board.
When Mother’s Day is Not a Joyous Day
There are many reasons why mother’s day is challenging and overwhelming for some of you, and they are all valid. Sometimes, we get caught up thinking about how we “should” feel or what we “shouldn’t” say. While people around us are celebrating, we may feel isolated in our response. Maybe we wish the entire day would go away. Or maybe we want to talk about how hard the day is but don’t want to bring anyone else down with our emotions. If you have a hard time with Mother’s Day, you are not alone. You might not have the same reasoning as someone else, but they will still be struggling with the day as much as you are.
Mother’s day can be a lonely experience if your mother lives far away from you or you have an uneasy relationship. This may feel as difficult as grieving the loss of a mom or having a bad relationship; you crave a closeness with your mother that you cannot have. You may be able to send a message, talk on the phone, or video chat, and yet it can still bring up feelings of loneliness if you don’t get to see your mom on Mother’s Day when you want to.
If you have lost your mother and she is no longer here with you, Mother’s day can feel like an especially lonely day. It might be your first Mother’s Day since she passed, or it might be your fiftieth, and you might still feel pangs of grief today. You may experience jealousy of others who still have their mothers or resentment when people around you don’t consider your loss. These similar emotions can plague you when you have a toxic relationship with your mother. Mother’s day becomes another trigger, reminding you of what you might want to have but don’t.
Mother’s Day can also be difficult for those trying to conceive and have failed attempts. It can be a reminder of not “being a mom yet” and bring feelings of inadequacies. It can cause grief to those who have experienced infant and/or child loss, which is a monumentally difficult thing to endure. If this applies to you, I hope that you have sought grief counseling and/or therapy and have a strong network to lean on. This network can include your loved ones, therapists, or others with similar experiences who utilize group support.
3 Ways to Cope With Difficult Emotions on Mother’s Day
1. Recognize the triggers and your emotions:
Ultimately, we can not cope with things in a healthy way if we first don’t recognize their presence. Remember, what you resist will persist. So the first step I would like you to take is to acknowledge how you are feeling about Mother’s Day and what specific triggers exist that can bring those feelings to the surface.
Are there specific activities that are harder for you? Do some of the people in your life post or talk more about their goings-on? What about what you have going on for yourself: are you more prone to be upset if you are spread too thin in your activities or not taking enough time to do the things that bring you joy and/or peace? Have you recently experienced a complete disruption in your life or change? Change can be difficult to process and taxing on its own without having any other stressors. Does routine help stabilize you; do you need to pay special attention to your sleep cycle, eating habits, alcohol consumption, exercise time, etc.? Our basic self-care can be the first thing to fall away in stressful times. With that lack of self-nurture, we are more susceptible to take things to heart, spend more time ruminating when we face setbacks, and give weight to events and happenings that we would otherwise be able to ignore.
On the emotional side, you may feel depression and/or anxiety. This can be exceptionally difficult if you already deal with one or both of those things regularly. A tough time can exacerbate one or both of those struggles. When recognizing your emotions, try to observe them as neutrally as possible. Consider where you feel those emotions in your body; do you have a pit in your stomach, is your heart beating faster, do you feel exhausted? Once you have recognized your emotions and how they are making you physically feel, you can take action to combat those feelings. This might include resting if you are tired or going for a walk to get your body moving and energized. This might include deep breathing, drinking soothing tea, or having a bath.
2. Create a plan of action:
Based on your specific triggers and emotions, I would like you to plan how you will take care of yourself leading up to and on Mother’s Day. Yes, this is all about you, your feelings, and taking care of yourself. This might mean that you say no to invitations or request that some topics of conversation don’t happen around you on Mother’s Day. If people can’t respect your wishes about that, it is best to know in advance. You may find that there is more than one person in your life who feels as you do and want to make a plan to spend that day together. Whether you want to spend the day doing something fun together and not talking about it, or making space for one another to process the unpleasant emotions you are feeling, is up to you. This day might be a day to do something you’ve been wanting to do as a treat for yourself (assuming that thing isn’t running a Mother’s Day special). Make space in your plan to forgive people around you for not remembering or realizing that this day is hard for you; forgiving them will do you much more good than resenting them will.
There are so many different ways you can plan your Mother’s Day based on your triggers, and if you think you can use the support of a therapist in helping you create your action plan, our therapists can help walk you through it. You might be surprised to find out how helpful it is to have a professional sounding board; a therapist will ask you if you can elaborate on specific comments or emotions, giving you room to think about them. A therapist can also affirm for you and validate your feelings in unexpected ways. You might feel some guilt about your feelings surrounding Mother’s Day and be comforted to have another person acknowledge your struggle.
In your own time, you can adopt coping skills that would help anyone who is experiencing a difficult emotion to process it and keep moving. Number one is to engage in self-care. When considering your triggers and emotions, you may have acknowledged that your self-care tends to slip when you are under stress. Make sure that you achieve sleep, hydration, and nutrition as your bare minimum. Move your body in ways that work for you and make you feel good. Connect with people you love; seeking support from others can feel challenging when you are in unpleasant emotions, but it can be incredibly liberating and comforting. Make sure to uphold your boundaries to care for yourself. Do not agree to do things you cannot do or things that would harm you. Try your best not to be in a situation where you have to painfully endure something in silence “to make everyone else comfortable.” Allow yourself to accept what your needs are and make choices based on that information. No matter what steps you take, make sure they are authentic to your values and feelings. Remember: we are not here to please or care for others. This is about you.
3. Be kind toward yourself:
As you work through this Mother’s day, be your biggest supporter. Practice self-compassion and engage in self-soothing coping statements. You may feel tempted to fall into a negative thought pattern, whether you are ruminating about your loss or berating yourself for being sad on a day that is “supposed to be happy.” That second voice is probably the voice of your inner critic and may, in fact, stem from some of the same reasons you struggle with Mother’s Day. The way your mother communicated with you, the expectations that were placed on you, or the way her behavior made you feel, might have planted a seed of unworthiness in you. If it did, remember that you do not have to live in that mindset forever; you deserve to turn your inner critic into your biggest cheerleader, and you can.
If this is your first Mother’s Day since the loss of your mother, you might feel completely blindsided by this holiday, even if you never really made a big deal of it in the past. In fact, you might find yourself regretting not celebrating it more. Accept your emotions as they come, and remind yourself that we always do the best we can with the information we have. This can mean, in the end, that we grieve for lost opportunities or words left unsaid. Remind yourself of what did happen and what you did say.
If you miss your mother or miss out on being a mother, you will already feel sad enough without any other interference. Set yourself up to process your emotions as gently as you can. This might involve reminding those around you that you miss your mother if that is the case. You might want to connect with family who knew her, if she has passed, and remembers her. If you are at a distance from your mother and can’t see her, hopefully, you can talk on the phone or video chat at some point. It won’t be the same, and that’s okay; don’t beat yourself up for wanting more of her. There is no point in bullying yourself about your feelings. Just because someone might be sadder doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be sad. We never hear anyone say, “You shouldn’t be happy; someone else is happier,” so why would we do that to ourselves when it comes to our negative feelings?
If you are feeling the absence of being a mother on Mother’s Day, that is incredibly painful. I hope that you are able to find a way to support your emotional well-being through self-care. This is not a time to berate yourself for your grief; set yourself up as best as you can to process your feelings as you need to. Hopefully, you have people around you who can be there for you and validate your emotions. Lean into your network for the tough stuff so that you have the greatest chance of feeling understood. This might be online support groups or group therapy offered for people in similar situations.
It is my hope for you that you are not the only person in your life who struggles with Mother’s Day. There can be something particularly distressing about expressing a difficulty and being met with surprise all around. If this is your situation, I want you to know that you are definitely not alone. You are not the only person who feels pangs of grief on this day. There is nothing “wrong with you” if this day is difficult for you. Any day can be difficult for any number of reasons, and no one outside of yourself has the right to tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel about it. I recommend you find as many ways as you can to make Mother’s Day as easy on yourself as possible. Treat yourself, let yourself rest, and do whatever you need to do. You are deserving of self-care on hard days and every day.
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