Birthday Depression Is Real: Here’s Why You Don’t Have To Feel Ashamed
By: Dylan Buckley
Updated July 07, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,
Chronic Or Recurring Sadness
Reasons Behind Date-Specific Sadness
Denial About Age
The adage "age is just a number" isn't much help for those who have sadness. The age might be a number, but there's no denying the physical changes that come with getting older. This is something we take more notice of around our birthdays, especially if we're actively comparing our bodies to our younger selves. A fear of aging isn't something we're born with-our ageist society creates incredible pressure to value youth. This means that it's not your fault you're experiencing these feelings; by recognizing where the outside pressure comes from, you can address it and move forward.
Expectations And Pressure
There's quite a lot of freedom in creating a path for yourself. From your career to your family to your finances, you are in control of your life once you reach adulthood. However, there is still a fair amount of pressure from society to accomplish and hit certain milestones by specific times. A husband, a house, a family, and even a 401K are all things that we "should" obtain by a certain age. If you don't reach these milestones within the expected timeframe, this day may be a source of sadness.
When we feel happy, it's an easy and wonderful experience, but you can't force the best time of your life. That goes for everything, including other milestones and important events. If you wanted something much better than what you received, it can be easy to get down about your celebration.
Feelings of Failure
Time is fleeting and many of us have yearly plans and goals we expect to meet. A birthday can often serve as a reminder that we may have not accomplished as much as we had wanted. And if you are extremely far behind on your plans, it may hit hard.
We can choose our friends but we can't choose our families. Sometimes, our family-our very first social setting is a source of tension, stress, and sadness. This usually gets highlighted during a birthday. For those who may have absentee, abusive, or toxic family members, birthdays may not be an exciting time to share (or not share) with family.
Not Having Many Friends
As adults, it can be hard to make friends. Perhaps you've lost close friends as time has moved on and you haven't managed to replace them. Without close friends to celebrate with, our birthdays can feel lonely and isolated. You can always try reaching out to an old friend-you may be surprised by the results. At best, you'll reconnect. At worse, you're in the same situation as before. This is where making new friends comes in. Although it may seem difficult, there are apps to make it easier.
If you struggle with finding your life's purpose or meaning, a birthday can increase feelings of hopelessness or despondency. People crave purpose early in life, and have not found it over time can cause anxiety and sadness. This experience can be heightened when you feel you haven't hit certain expectations as well.
We shower our children with love and affection but may hold back when it comes to adults. When you're older, you may notice a decline in how your friends or family (or even your significant other) express their affection for you. If they aren't vocal and don't get super excited around your birthday, this can lead to feeling unloved and unimportant when the big day rolls around.
When you look back on your childhood and your birthdays, you might recall happy, carefree times. Nostalgia is often a blurry painting of our past and we often long for something that didn't exist. Nostalgia can increase our feelings of sadness if our current situation fails to bring happiness to our memories.
People can be scared to turn a certain age, like 25, 30, 40, 50, etc. While birthdays are supposed to celebrate important arrival points in life, they can be a cause of anxiety, fear, and sadness instead. For example, the big 5-0 might make you feel nervous and worried, whereas 51 comes and goes painlessly.
Don't Feel Ashamed
As you can see, many reasonable factors contribute to sadness. Still, people can feel ashamed of this psychological struggle. Here are some reasons why sadness is often accompanied by shame:
You're "Not Supposed to Feel Sad"
Society expects you to be happy on your birthday, and if you are not, then there must be something wrong with you. However, there is no specified way you are supposed to feel or act on your birthday.
Having sadness doesn't make you ungrateful. In fact, a lot of people who experience sadness live otherwise healthy, productive lives. You simply just need to evaluate why you are feeling this way and what can be done to help you alleviate these symptoms.
We Feel Bad for Feeling Bad
We're very good at pushing ourselves to be and feel a certain way. When we don't feel happy, we might feel bad about feeling bad. But you don't experience emotions at random and they are not superficial. Your emotions and state of mind occur for a reason. It's okay to accept and respect what you feel and experience-whether it's your birthday or not.
For better or worse, some people simply can't relate to feelings of sadness on or around their birthdays. There's nothing wrong with that, but those who do not get sad may not understand what you're going through. To avoid rejection and judgment, we might pretend we're okay or simply deny our sadness experience entirely.
Birthday sadness can be a struggle for some. Fortunately, there are ways to live with your sadness and cultivate positive experiences for yourself without denying or ignoring your authentic, true self. Here are some simple ways you can deal with sadness:
If your birthday is usually a time of anxiety and sadness, plan to ensure you'll get through this experience safely and responsibly. You might consider getting professional help from a licensed and certified therapist in the months leading up to your birthday to help you prepare.
Keep It Secret
This one's a bit tricky if you use social media, but if all the birthday attention stirs up feelings of sadness, consider keeping your birthday to yourself. Instead of sharing your birthdate with everyone and anyone online, share it only with the people who lift you and who are going to make an effort to let you know you are loved and appreciated.
Keep Your Routine
As appealing as a break from routine, the change can be hard to cope with and may throw us off rather than relax. If possible, stick to your routine, especially if it includes activities that make you feel good, such as regular mealtimes, sleep patterns, and exercise.
Show Yourself Compassion
It's easy to be hard on yourself, but on your birthday-and especially if you're feeling depressed-it's important to be gentle with yourself. Yoga, a spa appointment, or a massage can be a wonderful way to relax and enjoy the day.
Be Kind To Yourself
You might want others to pamper you and make you feel special, but why wait when you can do that yourself? Do you have a favorite cafe? Is there something you have on your wish list? Now's the time to treat yourself to a little TLC for your birthday and relieve some of that sadness.
Focus On Accomplishments
You might not have kept your resolutions, earned that promotion, or hit other milestones you expected, but focusing on shortcomings will only result in negative feelings. Instead, focus on what you've done. Count both your big and small accomplishments and feel proud of your strengths and capabilities.
What You Can Do
Birthday sadness is attributed to the day itself, but it can lead to a real depressive episode down the road if the warning signs aren't recognized and preventative measures aren't taken. To make sure you don't slip into a depressive episode, here are three great tips that will help to prevent sadness from gaining traction once your mood changes.
Exercise and Eat Healthy
Many of us know that exercise is one of the best ways to battle depression but will skip our daily workouts due to lack of time or motivation. However, when you are fighting sadness, exercise along with a healthy diet is necessary to make sure your mental health is on track. As little as a walk in the sunshine for 30 to 45 minutes, a day can do wonders for your state of mind.
Reach Out To BetterHelp
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