Birthday Depression: How to Cope With the Birthday Blues

Author Lisa Batten
Updated on October 24, 2021

Birthdays are usually associated with feelings of joy, excitement, and happiness. But for some people, it’s quite the opposite. Birthday depression, or birthday blues, refers to feeling sad, distressed, or disinterested in celebrating or even thinking about your birthday. Individuals with birthday depression may feel low energy, focus on the past, and get caught up in negative thoughts and emotions during the period surrounding their birthday.

sad looking birthday cake

Fortunately, there is plenty that you can do to better understand where your birthday depression might come from and how to better cope with it.

What Causes Birthday Depression?

There can be several contributing factors to the development of birthday depression. For some people, the birthday blues may develop in response to a bad birthday experience. This may be especially true for people who have experienced trauma in their lives, and their birthdays act as a trigger for those difficult feelings.

Other possible causes of birthday depression are:

  • Fear of getting old
  • Loneliness
  • Milestone birthdays[1]
  • Self-esteem issues

People with pre-existing conditions such as anxiety or depressive disorders may also be more at risk of experiencing birthday depression.

Symptoms of Birthday Depression

It is important to note that while depressive disorders are different than birthday depression, many of the symptoms overlap. The key difference is that the duration and onset of birthday depression are limited to the time period surrounding your actual birth date.

Here are some common symptoms you may experience with birthday depression:

  • Mood changes that persist several days surrounding your birthday
  • Feeling more down, low, and sad than usual
  • Bouts of crying
  • Low energy or motivation
  • Changes in sleep or appetite
  • Desire to be alone or isolate yourself
  • Desire to avoid anything related to your birthday
  • Ruminating over thoughts about past failures, missed goals, and unmet milestones
  • Difficulty paying attention or focusing
  • Feeling disinterested in activities you normally find interesting

Should You Be Concerned About Having the Birthday Blues?

In most cases, birthday blues are a challenging experience but also fairly common. By engaging in some self-care, gaining awareness, and having an action plan in place, it is possible to get through your birthday blues mostly unscathed.

However, if you find yourself having thoughts of death or self-harm, you should immediately reach out to a friend, family member, healthcare provider, or mental health crisis line.

How to Cope With the Birthday Blues

Creating an action plan to help relieve your birthday blues is imperative for easing the associated symptoms. It is important to try different coping mechanisms to determine what works best for you.

Here are techniques you can use to ease the birthday blues:

Make Space for Feelings

Allowing yourself to experience any type of emotion without judgement is an important step for dealing with birthday blues. Acknowledging these difficult emotions without engaging with them or fighting with them and giving yourself permission to be sad can actually help alleviate the feelings of sadness.

Engage in Self-Care

Symptoms of depression can make it especially challenging to engage in self-care. In spite of this, you should do your best to soothe yourself with a comforting activity such as a relaxing bath, buying your favorite book, a nature walk, or indulging in a great meal.

Finding ways to take care of yourself when you feel down may not eliminate the sadness, but it can help reduce your emotional load.

Celebrate Your Way

If the thought of celebrating your birthday is too overwhelming, do things your own way. Whether that means pushing past your negative feelings and joining loved ones or going to a movie by yourself at midnight, you should do whatever is best for you.

Plan Something Fun

Making a plan to do something fun or different on your birthday can turn things around for you mentally. You could take that pottery class you’ve always thought about, become a tourist in your own city, or take a fitness class you’ve been putting off. Going off the cuff and hitting a bucket list item is a great way to distract yourself and bring some potential excitement back to the day.

Use Techniques to Deal With Difficult Thoughts

Learning how to better manage difficult thoughts can bring a great deal of relief when you are in the throes of birthday depression. One technique used in acceptance and commitment therapy may be especially helpful if you find yourself ruminating over milestones or failures. Try doing the Leaves on a Stream exercise whenever you find yourself ruminating; it will help you disengage with these thoughts and move past them.[2]

Leaves on a Stream is a cognitive defusion exercise used to help people let go of negative thoughts. To get started, imagine you are sitting beside a gentle stream with leaves floating along the surface of the water. As thoughts appear in your mind, place them on a leaf and watch them float down the stream. Do this with every thought, no matter if they are pleasurable, painful, or neutral.

As thoughts continue to pop up, observe them, acknowledge they exist, then place them on a leaf and allow them to float down the stream. Do your best to acknowledge without judgement. You don’t have to like or approve of these thoughts and emotions; simply allow them to be and release them to float away.

Get Positive

Spending some time hyping yourself up before and on your birthday can do wonders to put things in perspective and boost your self-esteem. Try writing out what accomplishments you are proud of, your best three qualities, and what obstacles you’ve overcome in life to get where you are today. You can also try engaging in positive affirmations such as “I am a good person, and I deserve to be happy” or “I am loved.” Use these affirmations or create your own and repeat them in the mirror each morning on the week leading up to your birthday.

Talk to Someone You Trust

Confiding in a friend, family member or healthcare professional about what you are experiencing may also help relieve some of the symptoms. Sometimes talking it through is enough to make you feel considerably better.

Summary

Feeling the birthday blues can be a major detriment to what is meant to be a celebratory day. Gaining awareness that it is a common problem that occurs for numerous reasons may help ease some of the symptoms. It is also vital that you allow yourself permission to feel sad and be kind to yourself as you make space for that sadness.

You can help prevent some of the pain of birthday blues by engaging in techniques that can help ease or reduce the symptoms you feel. You can also do your best to engage in activities on your actual birthday that are out of the ordinary or even a little self-indulgent to offset some of these negative feelings.

If you find that your sadness is persistent or you are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, be sure to seek out the help of a mental health professional.


References

  1. Matsubayashi, T., Lee, M. J., & Ueda, M. (2019). Higher Risk of Suicide on Milestone Birthdays: Evidence from Japan. Scientific Reports, 9(1).
    https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-53203-4
  2. Schenck, L. (2017, February 22). “Leaves on a Stream” – Cognitive Defusion Exercise. Mindfulness Muse. https://www.mindfulnessmuse.com/acceptance-and-commitment-therapy/leaves-on-a-stream-cognitive-defusion-exercise
Author Lisa Batten

Dr. Lisa Batten has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology. She has over a decade of experience in clinical research and specializes in writing about mental health, wellness, nutrition, and fitness.