Do you hate your birthday? Having the “birthday blues” is not uncommon. Some people with birthday depression will try to keep their birthday hidden or ask others not to celebrate it. Others may want to have some sort of celebration but feel too stressed, overwhelmed, or alone.
In this article, you’ll learn about the signs of birthday depression, its underlying causes, and what to do if you feel low on your birthday.
What are the symptoms of birthday depression?
Symptoms of birthday depression can include dreading your birthday, feeling stressed pre-birthday, and sad, depressed, or apathetic on or around your birthday. Another common symptom is ruminating excessively on the past or future. You might feel you haven’t accomplished enough or are behind in life.
Some people with birthday depression find themselves crying a lot, but others may feel numb, apathetic, and emotionless. Birthday depression can also show up as physical symptoms such as a lack of appetite. Insomnia, or physical pains and aches.
Potential reasons for birthday depression
Birthday depression has multiple causes, including unpleasant past experiences and underlying mental health problems. Here are the most common reasons people struggle with their birthdays.
1. Fear of aging
Although a birthday is just one day, and you’re not actually a lot older than you were the day before, it can serve as a reminder that you’re getting older. For some people, that is a distressing thought, although studies show that many people actually feel happier and more confident as they age.
Birthdays can invoke a lot of introspection, comparison, and in many cases, anxiety as we think about where we are and where we’d like to be. This is particularly true in “milestone birthdays” such as 30, 40, 50, etc.
Sometimes, it feels like a reminder that you are “one step closer to death.” These types of feelings can be very overwhelming and keep us feeling stuck and frozen. Feeling this way can prevent someone from being able to focus on the current moment.
You may be surrounded by wonderful friends and family who are trying to organize a fabulous day for you but still be focused internally on these distressing thoughts.
2. A lack of friends
If you have few or no friends you feel close to, organizing a birthday celebration can be an anxiety-inducing situation. Who do you invite? Will people feel sorry for you for inviting them even though you’re not close? What if no one shows up, or they show up but don’t enjoy themselves?
In some cases, you may not have anyone to invite at all. You may feel ashamed at being friendless, and a birthday can call attention to the fact.
Spending your birthday alone may seem like a depressing idea, but there are fun things you can do on your birthday alone. You can treat yourself to something you normally wouldn’t do, like a massage or sunset cocktails. You can use your birthday as an opportunity to learn to enjoy spending time with yourself. After all, your birthday is about you.
For more ideas of things you can do to celebrate your birthday alone, check out our article, fun activities for people with no friends.
3. Past traumatic experiences
If you’ve had negative birthdays in the past, it makes sense you’d be wary of them in the future.
For example, if your parents threw you an overwhelming, unwelcome surprise party when you were very young, you might have decided early on that birthdays are unpleasant and dramatic. Or, if you had a breakup or bereavement around your birthday, upsetting memories of the event may come up every year, which can stop you from enjoying the day.
4. Pressure to celebrate in a certain way
Introverts may feel pressure to have a party or see all their friends at once, even though they hate large parties and prefer seeing people one-on-one. As a result, they feel anxious or overwhelmed and end up disappointed. The following year, they may remember the previous disappointment and dread the birthday altogether.
Or maybe you try to live a zero-waste or minimalist lifestyle, but people insist on giving you lots of gifts you don’t want or need, which stresses you out as they clutter up your house. It could be that you’re vegan, but your family refuses to go to a vegan restaurant to celebrate you. Whatever it is, how your loved ones expect you to celebrate can bring up a lot of stress when it doesn’t match what you feel you authentically want and need.
5. Mental health issues and low self-esteem
The idea of celebrating yourself can be very intimidating and downright terrifying to some people with mental health issues. People with low self-esteem may feel like they don’t deserve to be celebrated.
Other mental health issues like anxiety and schizophrenia can make someone stressed out that they won’t know how to handle the situation. If your social anxiety is keeping you from doing things you would like to do (like make friends and celebrate your birthday), check out our guide: what to do if your social anxiety is getting worse.
How to cope with birthday depression
There are things you can do to help you deal with the birthday blues, even if they’ve been a problem all your life.
1. Decide how you would like to celebrate
We often confuse what we’d like to do for our birthday because of the expectations we pick up from our friends, family, and society in general. A birthday is a celebration of ourselves, but others around us may have expectations of their own: a party, gifts, going out to a nice restaurant, and so on. They may even have demands on who you invite and where you go.
It’s not easy to disregard the people around us and focus on ourselves, but if there’s one time to do so, it’s on your birthday.
For example, you may decide that what you really want is to go away for a day by yourself where you have no responsibilities and can sit in a cafe reading a book all day. Doing something like that can be a way to celebrate without the stress of entertaining or disappointment if people don’t show up. You may need to ask your partner to take care of the kids so that you have the time to do so. You can choose to buy yourself a gift or celebrate with people one-on-one or in small groups.
You may not know how you want to celebrate, and that’s OK too. You may prefer not to have a plan in mind but see how you feel as you get closer to your actual birthday.
2. Celebrate yourself
For many people, birthdays are a time to compare themselves to others and where they are in life. Doing so leaves them feeling worse about themselves.
It may seem like everyone around you is making huge leaps in their career, getting married, going on fabulous vacations, and so on, while you’re stuck in place.
Life isn’t all about milestones like getting married, graduating with a degree, having children, or getting a raise at work. Life is about the little moments, including the times we laugh with friends or learn to react differently to situations that caused us a lot of stress in the past.
Your birthday can be a good time to remind yourself that we’re all on an individual journey. Some happy couples end up growing apart, while someone else may have an accomplished career but feel burnt out. We don’t know what’s going on in other people’s lives or where our own lives will lead.
What you can do is choose to focus on your own accomplishments on your birthday. Make a list of things that you’ve done that you’re proud of, no matter how small.
Accomplishments are unique. For someone who is in a deep depression and cannot get out of bed, getting up every morning to brush their teeth, put on a clean set of clothes, and sit on the couch can be an accomplishment. But if they expect themselves to run for an hour every day, they would end up feeling even more depressed. If you’re doing work to learn and grow, you already have something to be proud of.
You might find this article on self-acceptance helpful.
3. Let yourself feel your feelings
There’s a cultural expectation of feeling happy on your birthday. That’s a lot of pressure! Even if you don’t have birthday depression, your birthday may fall during a difficult period in your life.
It’s normal to have conflicting emotions, even when it’s a day we’re “supposed” to feel a certain way. Try to make room for the range of feelings you may have, which can be felt simultaneously, or they may change throughout the day or week. Show compassion for yourself as you would try to do for a friend or child.
4. Share your feelings with your loved ones
Tell the people around you how you’re feeling. If you know you have specific desires around gifts or how you want to celebrate, let them know.
You can also talk to a friend, partner, or family member about the difficult emotions you’re experiencing around your birthday. They may be able to relate or at least offer you empathy. Sometimes just being heard can help.
5. Consider therapy
If your birthday depression is keeping you back in life, therapy may help. A good therapist can give you space to talk about what you feel, figure out the causes for it, reframe some negative beliefs you may have, and come up with some practical tools to handle the situation in a more skillful way.
CBT therapy may be a good option if you want a short-term process to deal with a specific issue like feeling sad, depressed, stressed, or anxious around your birthday.
We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and are cheaper than going to a therapist's office.
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Is it normal for your birthday to make you sad?
Many people feel sad before, on, or after their birthday. These feelings have multiple possible causes, including unrealistically high expectations, fear of aging, or negative memories of previous birthdays. The birthday blues may be more common in people who experience anxiety or depression.
What is it called when you get sad on your birthday?
If you tend to feel sad, stressed, or anxious on or around your birthday, you may be experiencing what is known as birthday depression or the birthday blues. Birthday depression can be manageable or very distressing, depending on the person and severity.
Why do I always cry on my birthday?
You may be putting an unreasonable amount of pressure on yourself to feel a certain way on your birthday or comparing yourself negatively to others. You may be surrounded by unsupportive people who can’t support you during your day.
Why do I feel disappointed on my birthday?
You may feel disappointed on your birthday if your expectations are very high. If you expect a perfect day, nothing will be able to match your expectations. On the other hand, sometimes disappointing things happen. Your family may be unsupportive, or your plans may fall through.