It’s your birthday and instead of feeling happy, you feel sad. Depressed, even. It’s normal to experience feelings of sadness and unhappiness at times – even on your birthday – but depression is a serious disorder. Let’s discuss how to distinguish between natural feelings of sadness or what’s known in mental health circles as Birthday Blues, aka genuine depression about a birthday.
When your emotions negatively impact your day-to-day life, you don’t necessarily have a mental disorder but rather some thought processes you need to address. Sadness is normal in many circumstances (e.g., death, relocation, the loss of something valuable). Depression, however, is more serious than sadness because it compromises your ability to function and to imagine a better future.
What Is Birthday Depression?
Birthday depression is a biological and emotional response to a heightened awareness that you are aging and getting closer to death. It also involves thoughts about having missed some goals, looking and feeling older, and, perhaps feeling resentful of people who invade your space. It’s natural to want privacy – and to even prefer to spend your birthday alone or with a select few. If someone insists on intruding into your life because of your birthday, it can make you miserable. If you’re considering suicide near the time of your birthday, for any of the reasons cited above or for another reason, you should seek immediate help from a trusted confidante or therapist. Crisis lines are available around the clock.
The sense of feeling ashamed is another issue. Shame is about feeling inferior or unworthy in your opinion or someone else’s. Feeling ashamed at your misery over a birthday is a multifaceted issue. Let’s see if we can take your sense of shame about a birthday out of your thinking processes, or at least minimize it.
How to Cope with the Birthday Blues
Birthday depression can be minimized and prevented. Consider spending time, well in advance of your birthday, thinking about your achievements in life. If your birthday is today or tomorrow, make a list of all your achievements, even if some of them seem smaller or less significant than others. Your brain will process the thinking involved as a pleasant experience all over again. Re-read the achievement list from time to time and keep updating it with more achievements.
On a separate piece of paper, or column, list the unexpected bonuses you’ve enjoyed since you were born, such as found money, job promotions, recoveries from some setback or other, the delight of hearing someone say “I love you,” and the like. Writing down all those positive life experiences will help you to internalize their positive impact. As with the list of accomplishments, keep updating these positive life events.
Of course, it’s natural to recall some unhappy events in the process of trying to achieve your goal. Put things into context: Was everything under your control? If some aspect of your path to the goal was not preventable, there’s no need to blame or to feel ashamed of yourself. It happened, and not because of you. Murphy’s Law is often a part of life: What can go wrong will, and usually at inconvenient moments. Consider yourself heroic for getting past the glitch(es). Maturity is all about forging on despite setbacks.
Spend time considering how you want to spend your birthday. Alone time with a good book or movie, maybe a meaningful person, could suit you well. A party with a few friends and/or relatives might be appealing. Perhaps getting a great massage or a facial will boost your mood. The choice is yours.
Spend your birthday in a way that leaves you smiling, content, and certain that you made a good choice. And if you decide to spend your birthday as you would any other day, that’s fine, too. Some of us simply don’t enjoy fussing over our own birthday. It can be a relief to leave it alone. If however, you feel that your birthday blues may actually be a sign of something more serious, such as clinical depression, be sure to consult with a mental health professional.