Birthday Depression Is Real: Here’s Why You Don’t Have To Feel Ashamed
By Marie Miguel
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Patricia Corlew , LMFT, LPC,
Birthdays are often 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?
Birthday depression is also known as birthday blues or birthday sadness. But 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 it off.
But 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.
That's why it's so important to take birthday depression seriously and approach it with kindness and understanding.
Who Can Experience Birthday Depression?
For many individuals, birthdays are a time to celebrate. For others, birthdays are an anxiety-inducing affair. Here are certain individuals who can be more prone to this type of depression:
People with depression, or a family history of depression
If you currently struggle withchronic depression or have dealt with it in the past, birthday depression can have a significant impact on you. Similarly, if depression runs in your family, your genetics could contribute to feeling down on or around your birthday.
People with anxiety
Anxiety, whether it's social anxiety or otherwise, can increase your feelings of depression surrounding the big cake-and-icecream event. Depending on your triggers, a birthday celebration and all the attention you receive can make your birthday an exhausting and debilitating day.
Introverts are often labeled as anti-social people, but that is not necessarily true. Many introverts are social, just like anyone else; theysimply need less stimulation than extroverts do.
The problem with birthdays is that they usually come with more socializing than an introvert wants (and needs)!
People with other mental illnesses
If individual struggles with another form of mental illness throughout the year, it's possible for him or her to feel depressed around their birthday. So, if you or someone you know is already struggling, consider getting support from a licensed professional.
People with physical illness
Having a chronic illness is already a challenge without a birthday thrown in. So, you can just imagine how frustrating it can be when your birthday arrives, and you're unable to celebrate due to illness.
Why Do People Experience Birthday Depression?
Why would anyone feel depressed on their birthday? After all, with your birthday comes free presents, email promo codes and maybe a complimentary latte at your favorite café. But for people with birthday depression, these gifts and goodies don't cover up the causes of their depression.
Here Are Some Reasons Behind Birthday Sadness:
Denial about your age
The adage, "Age is just a number" isn't much help here. Age might be a number, but there's no denying the physical changes that come with getting older. And this is something we come face-to-face with on our birthdays, especially if we compare our bodies to our younger selves.
Societal expectations and pressure
There's quite a lot of freedom in creating a path for yourself, from career to family to finance. However, there is still a fair amount of pressure from society to accomplish and hit certain milestones by a specific time. A husband, a house, a family, and even a 401K are all things we "should" obtain by a specific age. If you don't, your birthday can be a source of sadness.
A feeling of failure
Many people make New Year's resolutions, but very few people stick to them. And if they do, it's not for very long. While people might not set resolutions on their birthdays the same way, they would for New Year's, a birthday is still a powerful way to track progress. While it can be a joyful time of remembrance, it can also be a disappointing review of your neglected bucket list.
Deferring decision-making and procrastinating
Maybe you want to go back to school, switch careers, or move to a new place. For whatever reason, you haven't done any of those things, and you feel like you're wasting precious time.
Expectations to have an epic "happy" birthday
When we feel happy, it's an easy and wonderful experience. But nothing's worse than being expected to have a happy time and then, having a miserable time. That goes for everything from birthdays, to parties, to milestones and important events - and it's easy to blame yourself and think there's something wrong with you for not feeling "happy."
Dysfunctional family dynamics
We choose our friends, but we don't choose our families. And sometimes, our family - our very first social setting - is a source of tension, stress, and sadness for us. This is something that usually gets highlighted during a birthday. How can you forget the very people who brought you into this world on a day like your birthday? This can stir up old hurts and lead to feelings of depression.
Not having many friends
As adults, it can be hard to make friends. And maybe you've lost close friends as time has moved on. Without close friends to celebrate with, our birthdays can be a time that highlights feelings of loneliness and isolation.
If you struggle with finding your life's purpose or meaning, a birthday can increase feelings of hopelessness or despondency. This experience can be heightened when you feel like you haven't hit certain expectations.
Not feeling loved and important
We don't usually refrain from showering love and affection onto children, but sometimes we hold back when it comes to adults. Perhaps we feel too vulnerable to express our love and deepest emotions. Or, sometimes we simply have fewer close and meaningful relationships as we grow older. This can lead to feeling unloved and unimportant on your birthday.
When you look back on your childhood and your birthdays, you might recall happy, carefree times. But nostalgia is often a blurry painting of our past, and we often long for something that didn't exist. Nonetheless, nostalgia can increase our feelings of birthday depression.
The Big Number
People can be scared to turn a certain age, like 25, 30, 40, 50, etc. And while birthdays are supposed to celebrate important arrival points in life, it can be a cause of anxiety, fear, and sadness. 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 complex reasons behind birthday depression. Nonetheless, people can feel ashamed of this psychological struggle. Here are some reasons why birthday depression is often experienced with shame.
You're not "supposed" to feel depression
Society expects you to be happy on your birthday; and, if you are not then there is something wrong with you. Nothing is further from the truth.
Why do people feel like something's wrong with them? Sometimes, it's because they're told they should be happy that they're alive. Or, that life isn't that bad. Or, that they have so much for which to be grateful.
Having birthday depression doesn't make you ungrateful or a social pariah. In fact, a lot of people who experience birthday depression live otherwise healthy, productive lives.
We feel bad for feeling bad
We're very good at pressuring and pushing ourselves to be and feel a certain way. And when we don't feel happy, we feel bad about feeling bad. But you don't experience emotions at random, nor are they superficial. Your emotions and your state of mind occur for a specific reason, and it's okay to both 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. And there's nothing wrong with that, except that they often cannot understand what you're going through. And to avoid rejection and judgment, we might pretend we're okay, or deny our depression experience.
Seven Ways To Deal With Birthday Depression
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 to ensure that you'll ride through this experience safely and responsibly. You might consider getting professional help from a licensed and certified professional in the months leading up to your birthday to help you prepare.
Take charge and be responsible for your happiness
Society has your birthday already planned: you should spend time with friends and family. You should receive gifts. You should eat lots of sugary treats, etc. But what will make you happy? Only you know this, and 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
Stick to your routine
As appealing as a break from routine is, the change can be unsettling and throw us off rather than relax us. If possible, stick to your routine, especially if it includes activities that make you feel good like 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 - be gentle with yourself. Things like yoga, a spa appointment, and a massage can be a wonderful gift for yourself.
Be kind and generous to yourself
You might want other people to pamper you and make you feel special, but why not do that yourself? Do you have a favorite cafe? Is there something you have on your wishlist? Now's the time to treat yourself to a little TLC.
Focus on what you accomplish
You might not have kept your resolutions, earned that promotion, or hit other milestones. But now's not the time to focus on that. Instead, focus on what you have done. Count them all, both big and small accomplishments, and feel proud of your strengths and capabilities.
Birthday depression is real, but it's nothing of which to be ashamed or embarrassed. By accepting it and learning healthy coping mechanisms, you can move through this experience and come out on the other side.
Always remember that it's okay to seek help when it's necessary and that the licensed professionals at Better Help are here to support you.