Birthday Depression Is Real: Here’s Why You Don’t Have To Feel Ashamed
Updated November 07, 2019
Reviewer 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. But birthday depression is a real thing and nothing to be ashamed about. Here's what you need to know about it and how you can cope with it if you struggle with feeling blue on your birthday.
What Is Birthday Depression?
We sometimes call it the birthday blues or birthday sadness, and it's 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 birthday depression makes it even easier to brush off.
Regardless of whether birthday depression 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 birthday depression seriously and approach it with kindness and understanding. No matter the duration of your sadness, we will touch upon some of the causes and concerns later in this article.
Who Can Experience Birthday Depression?
Anyone can experience birthday depression. Some of the people who commonly experience birthday depression include:
People with Depression or Those with a Family History of Depression
If you've ever struggled with chronic depression, birthday depression can have a significant impact. And if depression runs in your family, your genetics could also be a factor.
People with Anxiety
Anxiety, whether it's social anxiety or otherwise, can increase your feelings of depression surrounding the big cake-and-ice cream event. Depending on your triggers, a birthday celebration can make your birthday an exhausting day. This gives depression an opportunity to take hold.
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.
People with Other Mental Illnesses
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.
People with Physical Illnesses
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 can still be possible, a little encouragement and compromise will be needed.
Why Do People Experience Birthday Depression?
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 with birthday depression, these celebrations don't compensate for the unpleasant reminders a birthday can bring. Let's take a look at a few of the reasons why some people may feel down around their birthday.
Denial about Your Age
The adage "age is just a number" isn't much help for those who have birthday depression. 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.
Societal 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, your birthday may be a source of sadness.
A Feeling 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.
Expectations to Have an "Epic" Birthday
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 birthdays as well as other milestones and important events. If you wanted something much better than what you received, it can be easy to get down about your birthday celebration.
Dysfunctional 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 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 having 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.
Not Feeling Loved and Important
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 birthday depression if our current situation fails to bring the happiness in 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, it 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.
Why Is There Shame around Birthday Depression?
As you can see, there are many reasonable factors that contribute to birthday depression. Still, people can feel ashamed of this psychological struggle. Here are some reasons why birthday depression is often accompanied by shame:
You're Not "Supposed to Feel Depressed"
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 birthday depression doesn't make you ungrateful. In fact, a lot of people who experience birthday 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.
Birthday Depression Is Misunderstood
For better or worse, some people simply can't relate to feelings of depression on or around their birthday. There's nothing wrong with that, but those who do not get birthday depression 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.
Seven Ways to Deal with Birthday Depression
Birthday depression can be a struggle for some. Fortunately, there are ways to live with your birthday depression and cultivate positive experiences for yourself without denying or ignoring your authentic, true self. Here are some simple ways you can deal with birthday depression:
If your birthday is usually a time of anxiety and depression, plan ahead 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.
Take Charge and Be Responsible for Your Happiness
Society has already laid out its expectations of what your birthday should be, but what will make you happy? What will make your birthday something worth looking forward to rather than something you wish you could skip? Only you know the answer to this. It's up to you to create opportunities for positive emotions.
Keep Your Birthday to Yourself
This one's a bit tricky if you use social media, but if all the birthday attention stirs up feelings of depression, 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 up and who are going to make an effort to let you know you are loved and appreciated.
Stick to Your Routine
As appealing as a break from routine is, the change can be hard to cope with and may throw us off rather than relax us. If possible, stick to your routine, especially if it includes activities that make you feel good, such as regular mealtimes, sleep patterns, and exercise.
Be Gentle and Compassionate with Yourself
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 and Generous 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 birthday depression.
Focus on What You Have Accomplished
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 for Your Depression at Home
Birthday depression 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 depression from gaining traction once your mood changes.
1. Exercise and Eat a Healthy Diet
Many of us know that exercise is one of the best ways to battle depression but will skip our daily workout due to lack of time or motivation. When you are fighting depression, however, 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.
2. Make Sure to Schedule Plenty of Social Time with Friends and Family
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 birthday depression.
3. Engage in Activities That Make You Happy
Depression can take the enjoyment out of activities you love, but you cannot let that discourage you when you are facing a potential episode. Do your best to keep engaging in activities that typically bring you joy, even if it takes a little more effort.
4. When You Need a Little Extra Support, Reach Out to BetterHelp
The professional therapists at BetterHelp understand that birthday depression can be tough. If you feel as though you need support or expert guidance to help you navigate your birthday depression, you can easily reach out to connect to a 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 counselors.
"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 my 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."
Experiencing depression around your birthday is not uncommon and certainly not untreatable. Once you figure out the cause of your negative emotions and develop the right plan to tackle them, you are certain to dispel your depression and change the way you look at your birthday! Take the first step today.