Birthday Depression Is Real: Here’s Why You Don’t Have To Feel Ashamed

By: Dylan Buckley

Updated October 21, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,

Birthdays are synonymous with cake, cards, presents, and parties. They're supposed to be a good time, but when they're not, it's easy to feel bad about yourself. Depression is a real thing and nothing to be ashamed about. Here's what you need to know about depression and how you can cope with it if you struggle with depression on what is supposed to be a happy day.

A joyful woman celebrates her birthday with her friends, surrounded by balloons, cake, and party favors.

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Birthday Depression

We sometimes call it the birthday blues or birthday sadness, but birthday depression is often caused by fear of uncertainty or fear of aging. Softer terms like these can undermine the difficult reality many people experience. What's more, the transient nature of sadness makes it even easier to brush off.
 
Regardless of whether sadness arises from that specific date or chronic depression, it is significant and can increase feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and other negative emotions, possibly evolving into a depressive episode. This is why it's important to take depression seriously and approach it with kindness and understanding. No matter the duration of your depression, we will touch upon some of the causes and concerns later in this article.

Risk Factors

Anyone can experience birthday depression. Some of the people who commonly experience this include:

Chronic Or Recurring Sadness Around Your Birthday

If you've ever struggled with chronic depression, it can have a significant impact. And if depression runs in your family, genetics could also be a factor for birthday depression.

Anxiety Can Increase Depression Around Your Birthday 

Anxiety, whether it's social anxiety or otherwise, can increase your feelings of sadness surrounding your birthday. Depending on your triggers, a celebration can make your birthday an exhausting day. This gives depression an opportunity to take hold.

Introversion 

Introverts are often labeled as anti-social, but that is not necessarily true. Many introverts are social, just like anyone else. They just have less of a capacity for stimulation than extroverts.

Birthdays usually come with more socializing than an introvert wants (and needs)! This can leave them feeling burnt out. The anxiety that may come with anticipating the birthday party can also be stressful.

Mental Illness

If an individual struggles with another mental illness, it's possible for them to feel depressed around their birthday. If you or someone you know is already struggling, consider getting support from a licensed professional to lessen the impact of any depressive symptoms.

Physical Illness

Having a chronic illness is already a challenge. So you can imagine how frustrating it can be when their birthday arrives and they're unable to celebrate in the way they want. While celebrating a birthday can still be possible, a little encouragement and compromise will be needed to avoid birthday depression.

Birthday Depression:

Reasons Birthday Depression Happens

Why would anyone feel depressed on their birthday? After all, with your birthday comes gifts, friends, and maybe a complimentary latte at your favorite café! But for people experiencing depression, a birthday doesn't compensate for the unpleasant reminders it can bring. Let's take a look at a few of the reasons why some people may feel birthday depression around their birthday.

 

Denial About Age On Your Birthday

The adage "age is just a number" isn't much help for those who experience depression. 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 birthday, 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 depression.
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.

Family Dynamics

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 depression. 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.

Existential Crisis

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 depression. This experience can be heightened when you feel you haven't hit certain expectations as well.

Feeling Unloved

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.

Nostalgia

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 depression if our current situation fails to bring happiness to our memories.

Milestones

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.

Birthday Depression:

Don't Feel Ashamed 

As you can see, many reasonable factors contribute to birthday depression. Still, people can feel ashamed of this psychological struggle. Here are some reasons why depression 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 depression doesn't make you ungrateful. In fact, a lot of people who experience depression 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.

It's Misunderstood

For better or worse, some people simply can't relate to feelings of depression 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 depression experience entirely.

Coping Skills 

Birthday depression can be a struggle for some. Fortunately, there are ways to live with your depression and cultivate positive experiences for yourself without denying or ignoring your authentic, true self. Here are some simple ways you can deal with depression:

Plan Ahead

If your birthday is usually a time of anxiety and depression, 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.

Socialize

As social creatures, interacting with other humans is vital to our happiness and allows us to work through issues with the right support and perspective. If you are feeling down during your birthday as well as before and after, make sure to schedule plans with friends and family to keep yourself looking forward to something as you overcome your sadness.

Reach Out To BetterHelp

The professional therapists at BetterHelp understand that sadness can be tough. If you feel as though you need support or expert guidance to help you navigate your sadness, you can easily reach out to connect to BetterHelp to receive the advice and tools you need to thrive. Using the BetterHelp online platform, you can avoid the hassle of having to research and find a therapist in your area. This allows you to connect with a counselor when it works best for you. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists.

Therapist Reviews

"I really enjoyed sharing my life with someone who could listen and understand. Daniel helped me gain perspective on my experiences and feelings. His feedback was very helpful and instrumental in my decision-making process, growth, and enlightenment. He has helped me take better care of my mental health, and I appreciate that a lot."
"Stacy has been so accommodating and helpful throughout my sessions. She has really helped me with the depression and anxiety issues that I have been having lately. I was in such a dark place and Stacy is helping me cope with all the issues in such a professional, yet considerate manner."
 

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