Birthday Depression (“Birthday Blues”)
Your birthday is supposed to be a time of fun and celebration. Many people look forward to celebrating their birthday all year, but what about those who don’t?
Some people feel sad or down not only on their actual birthday but also leading up to it. It’s more common than you might even realize, having led to the names “birthday depression” or “the birthday blues”.
What is it about birthdays for some people that lead to feelings of sadness?
What Is Birthday Depression?
Birthday depression or the birthday blues is fairly common, and your feelings are valid. You shouldn’t feel ashamed if your birthday doesn’t make you want to celebrate. Birthday depression can include feelings of anxiety, irritability and social withdrawal.
Birthday depression isn’t an actual mental health diagnosis. Instead, it’s a way to describe what you might feel around your birth anniversary.
The birthday blues are real, but not everyone experiences them the same way or with the same intensity. The feelings can affect you no matter your age, and there are both internal and external contributors that can leave you feeling like something is off around your birthday. These feelings can impact your emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Research has even linked distress regarding one’s birthday with an increased risk of stroke.
Unlike depression, a formal mental health diagnosis, when we talk about the birthday blues, it’s a temporary situation rather than a formal condition.
If you’re experiencing certain symptoms for two or more weeks, you might have diagnosable depression rather than the temporary blues.
Birthday Blues vs. Depression
There is a set of diagnostic criteria for depression. Depression is a mental health condition that requires treatment.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), you have to experience at least five of the following symptoms for a minimum of two weeks to receive a diagnosis of major depressive disorder:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness
- Reduced interest in things you once enjoyed
- Changes in your sleep routines
- Eating or appetite changes
- Problems focusing and concentrating
- Feeling irritable
- Aches or fatigue
- Feeling anxious
- Thinking about self-harm, suicide, or death
If you have five or more of the above symptoms, it’s important to talk to a health care provider because this probably isn’t a fleeting case of the birthday blues.
The birthday blues happen very close to the date, and your symptoms should subside shortly after it passes without formal treatment.
Potential Causes of Birthday Depression
Everyone’s different, and you may not even be able to pinpoint exactly why your birthday makes you feel sad or empty, but some of the more common reasons for the blues around this time include:
Fear of Aging
It’s hard to think about yourself as getting older, even though it’s happening to all of us. For some people, thinking about aging can fill them with a sense of anxiety and worry. You may feel sad because you think you’re leaving things behind as you’re getting older.
Birthdays can also lead us to think about our own mortality and how short life can be, which is hard to cope with sometimes.
High Expectations or Pressure
Holidays and big events always come with buzz, expectation, and pressure. Then, once the day comes and goes, if it didn’t live up to the expectations, that can be deflating. That can lead you to start dreading big events because you feel like it never goes according to plan or as you hope it would.
You might also put so much pressure on an event that it ends up being disappointing even if it goes perfectly, simply because nothing could live up to your expectations.
Feelings of Failure
Birthdays and other anniversaries tend to be a time of reflection. You can evaluate where you’ve come from and where you’re going. You might feel disappointed or like you haven’t achieved what you expected to by a certain age. For example, maybe you thought you’d have more money saved up, own a house, or have a different job by this time in your life, and your birthday can be a reminder that you aren’t there yet.
Birthdays and holidays tend to bring families together. That can be great if you get along with your family, but if you have a less than perfect relationship with some or all of your family, your birthday can force you into situations with them.
It may be that you feel judged by your family, have a history of not getting along, or just generally butt heads.
Whatever the specifics of your family dynamic, it can certainly be why you feel sad around the time of your birthday.
Not everyone has someone to celebrate their birthday with; if you don’t, that can feed your sense of dread and depression about the day. Having events pass by without people to share them with is hard.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that for a lot of people. They went through birthdays and major life events without being able to share them with friends and family, which contributed to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.
You might associate your birthday specifically with trauma. There are also situations where it’s not your birthday, but maybe your family relationships relate to trauma in your life. When your birthday comes each year, you might spend time with people who contributed to your trauma in the past.
How to Cope with Birthday Depression
If you’re experiencing birthday depression, realize first that you aren’t alone. There are certain things you can do to help yourself feel better when you’re in the slump of the birthday blues.
Allow Yourself to Feel Your Emotions
It will make you feel worse if you’re telling yourself that your feelings are wrong and that you should be excited or happy about your birthday even when you aren’t. You don’t “have” to feel any certain way about anything, including your birthday.
Let yourself feel whatever your emotions genuinely are, and don’t get mad or frustrated with yourself for having them. Your feelings are valid.
Try to Identify What Causes You to Feel Sad or Anxious About Your Birthday
If you don’t fully know what’s causing you to feel sad about your birthday, give yourself some time to sit in whatever it is you’re feeling and try to unpack those deeper reasons. When you can get to the root cause of what you’re feeling, it can help you find solutions.
Reframe Your Thinking
Let your expectations about what a birthday should or shouldn’t go out the window. When you break away from those expectations, you can enjoy whatever you do on your birthday without any other pressure on yourself or other people.
Take Charge of How You Want to Celebrate Your Birthday
Your birthday is just that—yours. If you have friends and family who expect you to celebrate it a certain way, but that doesn’t bring you joy, then don’t do it. You don’t have to keep repeating patterns that make you unhappy. You can make new traditions for yourself on your birthday, reshaping and redefining what it means to you.
You don’t have to celebrate your birthday at all if you don’t want to. It’s entirely up to you. You get to decide what you do in regards to your birthday.
Start Thinking Positively About Aging
Sure, there are some parts of aging that we might not love, but many great things come with getting older. You’re at a different place in your life, have many experiences to build on, and are probably a stronger, more confident person than your younger self. Embrace aging and all the benefits it brings to your life.
Find Professional Help
Some things you probably can’t work past on your own. This may mean you’ll need professional help. If you have past trauma that’s preventing you from enjoying your birthday, or you have toxic family dynamics, these are situations that you can work through with a therapist. If your birthday blues last longer than a few weeks, it could be a symptom of depression or a co-occurring mental health condition.
If you’d like to get help now, check out Nobu. The Nobu app was created by The Recovery Village, a leading physician-led behavioral treatment facility. You can access free-to-use features like clinical videos, journaling, goal-tracking and assessments, or pay a fee to get online therapy sessions with a licensed therapist. Download it today in the Google Play store or Apple Store.
Edited by – Melissa Carmona
As the content manager at Advanced Recovery Systems, Melissa Carmona puts years of writing and editing experience to work helping people understand substance abuse, addiction and mental health disorders. Melissa is a Florida State University graduate… Read more.
Written by – Taylor Cameron, LPC
Taylor Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor and mental health copywriter from North Texas. She has worked in crisis services for the past decade in various settings, including a domestic violence and sexual assault emergency shelter, university and local school district. As a copywriter, she has written content for mobile apps, websites, blogs, manuals and print materials… Read More
Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips
Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.
- NIH National Institute of Mental Health. “Depression.” Accessed July 8, 2022.
- Department of Veterans Affairs. “Depression vs. Blues: Know the Difference.” May 4, 2021. Accessed July 8, 2022.
- Saposnik G., et al. “Does a Birthday Predispose to Vascular Events?” Neurology, July 25, 2006. Accessed July 15, 2022.