What Is Birthday Depression?

Why Some People Feel Sad On Their Birthdays

Birthday in isolation

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Birthday depression, or the birthday blues, refers to feeling sad, apathetic, or disinterested in celebrating or thinking about your birthday.

In addition to experiencing sadness, birthday depression can also include a sense of low energy or focusing on the past, including everything that you may or may not have accomplished so far. These feelings may arise in the days leading up to a person’s birthday, on the actual day, and for some time after as well.

This article explores some possible causes and signs of birthday depression, and offers ways to cope with feelings of sadness on and around your birthday.

Birthday Depression and Other Mental Health Conditions

Is birthday depression associated with a mental health condition, or is it situational? “Our diagnostic manual (DSM-5) does not recognize birthday depression as a mental health disorder,” says Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and member of the media advisory group at the Hope for Depression Research Foundation.

However, he notes that this does not mean that individuals don’t experience depression or sadness during a birthday.

"It [birthday depression] could be associated with other mental health disorders, such as depression or anxiety. For individuals who have a history of depression, it would not be uncommon for them to experience sadness around their birthdays as well."

Potential Causes and Reasons

“For some, it could be tied to previous negative experiences with birthdays. Others may reflect on their lives and may not feel they are where they wanted to be by that specific age,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa. “For others, birthdays can come during times when they are going through something difficult.”

He adds that if someone has experienced trauma in their lives, they may experience their birthday as a trigger, depending on the context and duration of when they experienced the trauma.

There could be several reasons why somebody may experience birthday depression. Other potential causes as to why someone may feel down around their birthday may include:

“All of these and many other reasons can contribute to feeling sad during a birthday,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa, who notes that all of these reasons are normal and valid as well. 

Symptoms

Dr. Lira de la Rosa says many of the symptoms related to birthday depression are similar to symptoms of regular depression. So, how can you know if you have birthday depression?

Certain signs may alert you that you are experiencing the birthday blues, including but not limited to the following:

  • A change in your mood that persists and lasts for several days surrounding your birthday
  • Feeling more low, down, or sad than usual
  • Crying more often than usual
  • Ruminating on the past and goals unaccomplished (e.g., not getting married or having kids yet)
  • Stressing about how much time you have left to live
  • Not having much energy or motivation to do things
  • Lack of interest in doing what you typically enjoy
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Physical aches or pains
  • Wanting to avoid the actual day of your birthday
  • Disinterest in celebrating your birthday (e.g., rejecting or refusing plans to celebrate with friends or family)
  • Desire to isolate yourself

How to Cope With Birthday Depression

There are different treatments and coping mechanisms to choose from that may help to heal your birthday blues and simply ease any negative feelings.

To alleviate your birthday blues and better understand where they come from, you may benefit from trying any of these strategies outlined below.

Allow Your Emotions to Arise

“We tend to associate birthdays with celebrations and positive experiences, and that may not be the case for everyone. So, if you are not feeling excited or happy during this time, allow yourself permission to sit with the sadness,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa.

Allowing yourself to feel your emotions without judgment can enable you to process the deeper meaning behind it and maybe relieve some of the sadness you feel.

Practice Awareness and Self-Compassion

Becoming aware of your experience and being kind to yourself during the process is important. Dr. Lira de la Rosa recommends turning inward to take inventory of your feelings, thoughts, and where you hold tension in your body to better understand what you may be going through.

“If we increase our awareness about our feelings, we can approach these feelings with compassion. We can self-soothe and remind ourselves that we are human beings and that when we feel a range of emotions, that is okay,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa.

“When we try to avoid the emotions, we may be increasing the intensity of the emotion and we will continue to feel it until we process it.”

Talk About Your Experience With Someone You Trust

Express your feelings to a friend or family member. Someone you know may go through the same thing during their birthday, which can be validating and affirming to hear. Others may be able to listen and help you feel better.

Either way, being open and vulnerable about how you feel with someone who is willing to hold space for you to vent can provide relief.

Celebrate However You Feel Comfortable

“Some people may feel guilty for feeling this way when loved ones or friends want to celebrate and plan festivities, when the birthday person may just want to avoid these kinds of celebrations,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa.

He encourages people who feel this way to vocalize their feelings, wants, and needs regarding their birthday and not do anything that makes them feel worse or guilty.

It’s your day, so do whatever you feel comfortable with, whether that’s pushing past your negative feelings to celebrate with loved ones or staying home to take care of yourself.

Prepare for Your Birthday With Healthy Activities

“Others may benefit from acknowledging that they may experience sadness during a birthday and put some things in place to help alleviate or lessen the intensity of the sadness. It could be something like preparing for the upcoming birthday and doing things that will help you feel connected to others or yourself.”

However you choose to prepare, prioritize doing activities that make you feel good and lead to improved emotional, physical, and mental health.

Speak to a Therapist

If you would like to find the root cause(s) for feeling sad on your birthday, practice deeper self-reflection with the help of a therapist.

“If the person feels ready to delve into these underlying reasons why they may experience birthday depression, then I would recommend giving therapy a try,” says Dr. Lira de la Rosa. “Others may want to explore their experiences of sadness during their birthdays and could also benefit from talking with a therapist as they explore these experiences.”

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can cope with uncomfortable emotions.

A Word From Verywell

Although birthdays are typically associated with happy feelings and positive experiences, this may not be the case for everybody.

If you experience birthday depression, please don’t feel ashamed. It’s very common and normal for people to feel sad around their birthday. However, if your birthday depression leads to extreme feelings of sadness, anxiety, or isolation, you may want to consult a mental health professional for help.

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