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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Birthdays can be exciting, fun occasions, whether you opt for the traditional card, presents, cake and a party or a more laid back dinner with your partner, close friends and family.
However, for some people, going through a birthday can be a stressful, upsetting experience as a result of birthday depression.
Birthday depression, which is also referred to as the birthday blues, is a common issue in which you might feel sad, disappointed, lacking in energy or uninterested in your usual activities during your birthday.
Although it isn’t a recognized medical condition, birthday depression is a very real thing that can affect people of all ages and backgrounds.
Below, we’ve discussed what birthday depression is, as well as why you might start to feel upset or disappointed before and during your birthday.
We’ve also covered how you can deal with birthday depression, from simple but effective habits and lifestyle changes to medications and forms of therapy for boosting your mood and assisting you in recovery.
There’s a common social expectation that birthdays should be joyous occasions. However, for many people, celebrating getting older is a mixed affair that combines the happiness of seeing friends and family with concerns about the future.
These concerns can turn what should be a happy birthday into an event that leaves you with a range of emotions, including negative feelings.
It’s far from uncommon to feel anxious or experience the birthday blues before and during your birthday. Potential causes of birthday depression include:
Worries about getting older. As a child, getting older is something to celebrate. But as an adult, knowing that an additional year has passed might be a depressing experience that affects the way you feel.
Feeling let down by yourself. It’s easy to feel like you aren’t yet where you want to be in life, especially on your birthday. If you feel like you haven’t quite achieved your goals, this could cause you to feel dejected and disappointed with yourself.
These feelings of disappointment or frustration about your everyday life might be more common on a milestone birthday.
Social anxiety. This is a type of anxiety disorder that occurs in social and performance situations. If you have social anxiety disorder, you might feel worried about needing to spend time around other people at your birthday party or other events.
Recent negative life events. Sudden, negative changes in your life — such as the loss of a loved one or severe stress — are known risk factors for depression. If you’ve been through a tough time recently, it may cause you to feel depressed on your birthday.
A feeling of being left out. Thanks to social media, it’s easy to assume that every other person’s birthday is an incredible event. This can make planning your own birthday more stressful and may hurt your feelings if it doesn’t compare to others.
Unrealistic expectations. If you’ve booked a large venue for your birthday and planned for big crowds, you may feel disappointed if fewer people show up than you had planned for originally.
Family disputes. Sometimes, family gatherings can descend into arguments. You might feel depressed, anxious or simply uncomfortable if it creates the potential for your family members to fight and argue with each other.
A history of traumatic experiences. Although birthdays are supposed to be fun, there’s a risk that your birthday may potentially turn into an uncomfortable, depressing occasion if you have a history of traumatic experiences on birthdays or other special occasions.
Most symptoms of birthday depression are similar to the symptoms of major depressive disorder — a common form of clinical depression. You may notice symptoms developing during the week leading up to your birthday, or or your birthday itself.
Common signs and symptoms of depression include:
Feeling hopeless and/or pessimistic
A persistent sad and/or anxious mood
Feelings of guilt, emptiness and worthlessness
Irritability and a shorter-than-normal temper
Slowed movement and/or speech
The perception that you can’t be helped
Difficulty sitting still and a feeling of restlessness
Finding it difficult to focus or remember things
Difficulty thinking clearly and making decisions
Reduced sleep and changes in your sleep patterns
Changes in your appetite, eating habits and weight
Cramps, aches, headaches and other forms of pain
Suicidal ideation (thoughts involving suicide) and behavior
It’s normal to experience occasional negative emotions, especially when you’re busy planning a stressful event such as a birthday. It’s also common to have some birthday nerves when you’ve got a major celebration approaching.
While there’s no reason to worry about minor feelings of sadness or nervousness, it’s important to pay attention if you have persistent or severe depression symptoms that develop around your birthday and don’t improve over time.
Sometimes, simple things like talking to your family and making changes to your birthday plans can help to alleviate birthday sadness and make preparing for and celebrating your birthday an enjoyable experience.
Try the following techniques to minimize birthday sadness and make your birthday a memorable event for all the right reasons.
Whether you have clinical depression or you’re simply feeling down, your family and friends can serve as a valuable support network.
If you often feel depressed before or during your birthday, don’t isolate yourself. Instead, talk to your friends and family members about how you feel, as well as the specific problems you think are fuelling your emotions.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to let your friends or family members help you to take action and feel better, whether this means spending time together doing things you enjoy or seeking help from a mental health professional.
It’s far from uncommon to feel depressed before and during your birthday due to a perception that you’ve failed to achieve your goals in life.
One easy way to remedy this is to spend the days before your birthday looking back on all of your accomplishments for the year.
Starting from 12 months ago, take a look back at everything you’ve done and make notes of your major accomplishments, unique experiences, fun memories and other events that have filled you with joy or helped you improve your life.
You may realize that far from being a disappointing, wasted year, you’ve actually achieved a great deal more than you initially thought.
If you look back on the previous year and find it difficult to identify any major accomplishments, try using your upcoming birthday as a source of motivation to set new goals for yourself.
We all have less than ideal years, and the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have left a lot of people with unfulfilling, unexciting memories of 2020 and 2021, respectively. As such, if you think that you didn’t quite do what you wanted to over the last few years, you’re definitely not alone.
Instead of using your birthday as an opportunity to feel unhappy about what you’ve missed out on, try inspiring yourself by making a list of personal goals you’d like to achieve in the next year of your life.
Not only can this change your mindset and encourage action now, but it’ll also give you a list to look back on when your next birthday comes around.
Sometimes, making simple changes to the way you celebrate your birthday can change it from a stressful, depressing experience into a comforting one. Try the techniques below to reduce your birthday depression and have a fun, memorable experience with the people you care about:
Plan a small event, not a big party. There’s no rule saying that you need a huge party for your birthday, even if you’re celebrating a major milestone such as turning 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or older.
If you feel depressed or uncomfortable around large groups of people, avoid massive birthday celebrations and instead plan a small event for your close friends and family.
If you don’t like being the center of attention, let people know. Aside from blowing out your candles, there’s no need for you to be the center of attention all the time, even on your birthday.
If you feel more comfortable blending into the background, make sure to let your friends know and plan a birthday that limits your time as the center of attention.
Consider staying at home for some self-care time. If you’re feeling really depressed, or just don’t feel like celebrating your birthday, don’t feel like you have to. Instead, enjoy a self-care night at home with a warm bath, a good book or your favorite movie.
If you’re concerned that people might forget about your birthday, don’t feel afraid to send them a friendly reminder a few days in advance.
Planning a birthday can be a stressful experience, and it often becomes a depressing one if you end up with fewer guests than expected. Try asking people to RSVP a day or two before the big event so that you know what to expect if you’re organizing a party, dinner or other event.
If you still feel depressed after your birthday, try the following techniques to improve your moods and reduce the severity of other depression symptoms:
Regular exercise. Exercise doesn’t just improve your physical health — it also improves your mental health and relieves depression by releasing endorphins (a form of feel-good chemicals) and improving brain function.
Furthermore, exercise can help to distract you from negative thoughts that may develop before and during your birthday. Try to get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise, like brisk walking or bike riding, per week, as well as two strength-focused workouts.
Consistent, healthy sleep. Regular sleep is essential for optimal health, including good mental health. Stick to a consistent bedtime and try to reach the CDC’s recommendation of at least seven hours of sleep per night.
If you find it difficult to fall asleep, consider using a natural sleep aid before you go to bed to prevent insomnia and nighttime waking.
Mindfulness meditation. This form of meditation involves focusing on what’s happening in the present moment, then accepting your feelings and sensations without passing any judgments. It’s often effective at reducing stress, anxiety and depression.
Our guide to practicing mindfulness shares more information about how you can use this type of meditation to calm your mind and reduce the severity of depression.
Goal-setting. If you’ve been feeling depressed for a long time, getting better may not be an overnight process. Try to set realistic goals to help you as you work toward recovery, such as spending a certain amount of time on social activities or hobbies.
Remember that over time, small steps and changes to your lifestyle can often have a big impact on your mental health and wellbeing.
Avoiding alcohol. While alcohol may help to relieve the symptoms of depression in the short term, over the long term, it’s far more likely to make your feelings worse and stand in the way of your progress.
When you’re feeling depressed, try to either limit your alcohol intake or avoid consuming alcohol altogether. Opt for non-alcohol drinks and consider avoiding situations that could involve pressure to drink alcoholic beverages.
Our guide to dealing with depression shares more techniques that you can use to deal with low moods and situational depression, such as depression that occurs on your birthday.
Sometimes, the feelings of sadness that can occur before and during your birthday aren’t solely caused by your birthday. In some cases, they may be symptoms of depression that slowly grow more severe as your actual birthday approaches.
When depression symptoms occur on a daily basis and persist for at least two weeks, they can often signal that you have clinical depression.
If you’re worried about your mental health in the wake of your birthday, it’s always best to talk to a mental health provider. They may ask you about your symptoms and, if appropriate, diagnose you with a mental health condition such as depression.
You can get help by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, or from home using our online psychiatry service.
Don’t ever feel ashamed to reach out for help, especially if you’re feeling down. By working with a mental health provider, you’ll receive an accurate diagnosis and learn more about your options for overcoming depression and improving your quality of life.
Depression is a serious mental illness, and it’s not unheard of for the stress of a major birthday to lead to the development of depression symptoms.
If you recently felt down before, during or after your birthday, try the techniques above to make yourself feel better. If your symptoms are persistent, don’t hesitate to seek help locally or using hers’ online mental health services.
Depression is beatable, and with the right mix of healthy habits, therapy and medication, you’ll be able to overcome your current situation and look forward to future birthdays that are defined by good friends and positive experiences.
Interested in finding out more about dealing with depression? Hers’ free mental health resources share strategies that you can use in combination with treatment to cope with difficult situations, build resilience and take care of yourself when you’re not feeling your best.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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