In today’s article we understand a peculiar, but common phenomena of ‘Depression around Birthdays’. We start by understanding the concept of birthday blues, followed by the signs of birthday depression.After this we take into consideration the different reasons for the occurrence of depression around birthdays and then the type of people most prone to birthday depression. Lastly we discuss ways in which the depression around the time of birthdays can be dealt with.
Depression Around Birthdays
Some people experience excitement, happiness, joy and thrill at the time when their birthdays are around the corner. It is a day for celebrations, being spoilt by friends and family and is full of positive experiences. For some, birthdays may not be as exciting. In certain conditions, people may also experience depression or depressive symptoms around the time of their birthday. For them, birthdays can be hard, filled with sadness, pressurising and full of anxiety.
The Birthday Blues:
The Urban Dictionary defines birthday blues or birthday depression as a general sense of sadness or a sense of feeling low that is experienced by the person on or around the time of his or her birthday.
It is a very common occurrence and studies show that the birthday blues usually occur in the elderly, around the age of 75 years. This is because they are likely to spend their birthdays alone. Research has suggested that they are likely to experience birthday blues 30 days before and after the birthday and this is also the time when the rates of self-inflicted harm increases.
However, the occurrence of this phenomena is not restricted to the elderly. People of any age group can experience birthday blues. Several people experiencing the blues draw its comparisons with it being similar to an existential crisis. Some people use distraction as a common modus operandi.
Further, because birthday depression or birthday blues are not a continuous phenomena, it is often easily brushed off as just feeling ‘low’ or ‘nervous.
Signs of Birthday Depression:
Although these signs are similar to the signs seen during a regular depression episode, it has to be noted that the signs of birthday depression follow a timeline.
- Feeling tired and unenthusiastic as the birthday approaches.
- Feeling sad, but unable to understand ways to overcome the sadness.
- Feeling anxious and nervous just a day before the birthday.
- Lowering of confidence and self-esteem.
- Difficulty in concentrating and inability to stop thinking about the birthday that’s approaching and being nervous about it.
- Desire to lower social interaction and staying away from friends, family and acquaintances.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Loss of appetite and experiencing physical pains and aches.
- Thoughts about running away, escapism and self-harm around the time of the birthday
Why does Birthday Depression occur?
There can be several reasons for people to feel depressed just right around their birthday and this experience is different from the usual depressive episode.
Birthdays often come as a reminder that the person is growing older. A fair percentage of people would prefer staying young forever, however, that certainly does not happen. As the person ages, several physical and cognitive changes also take place such as appearance of wrinkles, bodily changes, lowered level of physical and mental activities etc.
Further, specific age milestones such as 25, 40, 50 can be stressful for people as they indicate a clear sign that the person’s age is increasing.
Attention given by others on one’s birthday significantly decreases as the person grows older. Lack of attention and appreciation by people can also make the person feel low. However, there can also be situations where the individuals lose the excitement of their birthdays and the significance of the birthday as a milestone gets lost.
- Lack of achievement:
For some, birthdays often are the reminders of their purpose in life. When the individual feels that he or she has not achieved anything significant in life or has not been able to find a purpose in life, birthdays can often be times of existential crisis and depressive symptoms.
Feelings of disappointment and worthlessness start to surface, as the person feels lost and agitated over the non-fulfilment of one’s own expectations.
If the individual has had a history of a childhood trauma or an unresolved trauma that centres around birthdays, or if the person has lost a significant other, birthdays can often trigger feelings of depression. This is because birthdays come to serve as reminders of the trauma that the person may have not been able to resolve.
This may lead him or her to isolate themselves, to experience paranoia, anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares and signs similar to PTSD.
- Having too many expectations:
Birthdays that are depicted in books and movies often are extravagant affairs with expensive gifts and parties. In reality though, birthdays may not always be celebrated with such pomp and show.
The discrepancy in the expectations of the people and the current reality can lead them to experience depressive symptoms.
- Dysfunctional family dynamics:
When the functioning in the family is disturbed and marked by conflict, anger, resentment and lack of trust, love and support, birthdays, might not be a very happy day for these individuals.
This can also be the case for people who come from single parent families, abusive and toxic families and orphans. Such people may find it difficult to celebrate their birthdays amidst the fights and manipulations. They may also feel unloved and uncared for, in addition may also experience feelings of inadequacy, insecurity and fear of abandonment.
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Who is more likely to experience birthday depression?
- People with anxiety:
People who experience anxiety, be it social anxiety or any other form of anxiety, are likely to find birthdays and a lot of people to be exhausting. Living up to the expectations of family, pretending to be excited about the birthday and being triggered because of birthdays can often be a ground for birthday depression for these people.
- People with family history of depression:
For some, depression runs in the family, making the person more prone to depression in general, which can get aggravated at the time of birthdays. The genetic predisposition to depression makes these people likely candidates for experiencing birthday blues as well.
There are many misconceptions around introverts. They are often labelled as asocial, which may be incorrect. Introverts do like interactions, but have lower threshold for stimulation and require frequent breaks to integrate what has been learnt. They are likely to experience birthday blues if they spend too much time in interaction and may thus have the need to avoid social interaction and isolate.
- People with other mental illnesses:
Depression often occurs as a comorbid condition with other mental health conditions. This may be the reason why people with mental illnesses may experience heightened levels of depressive symptoms as the celebrations and expectations around birthdays can be overwhelming for them. Also owing to their conditions, they may not be able to function adequately, increasing their depressive symptoms.
- People with physical conditions:
Accidents, chronic medical conditions or the illness of a significant other can also induce feelings of depression, especially at the time of birthdays as they may not be able to celebrate it as per their wishes owing to their physical limitations. They may feel helpless and inadequate.
How to deal with Birthday Depression?
While addressing birthday depression, it is important to understand that it is alright and perfectly normal for people to not be excited for one’s birthdays. We need to understand that it is not something to be ashamed of and one should not be judgemental of the self as well as others.
Here are a few ways of addressing birthday depression:
- Plan ahead:
The best way to address the issue is to have an insight about it. When the person realised that he or she is experiencing birthday depression, one can plan ahead in terms of planning things to do on the birthday so that the person does not feel overwhelmed. Further, it is also important to communicate one’s needs to the family and friends to avoid any unwarranted surprises.
- Avoiding getting pressured by societal expectations:
It is important for the person to understand that they need not have to conform to societal expectations and the ways to celebrate birthdays. Each person has their own choice and ideas about birthday celebrations. It is important for the person to set clear boundaries about what may be an acceptable behaviour or way of celebration for them.
- Making a routine:
Birthday blues are likely to affect most when the person has nothing to do. Negative emotions and rumination is likely to come up when the mind is not occupied. Having a fixed schedule, keeping oneself busy and having regular meals and sleeping times can help in coping with the birthday.
- Being kind to oneself:
Especially when the person experiences a loss of purpose on birthdays and it may turn into a potential existential crisis, the person may become harsh with themselves. In such a situation, it is important to be kind to one self and not judge oneself for feeling.
Engaging in self care activities such as yoga, journaling, reading or cooking can also be helpful. It is necessary for the person to realise that they need not figure their life at that very moment.
- Remind yourself of the past accomplishments:
When birthdays become a source of depression and anxiety which issues meaning and purpose in life, the rumination can be countered by taking an account of past accomplishments. The person can go back to the memoirs of the accomplishments to help them remember the efforts and persistence they had to achieve it.
Acknowledging the past achievements helps the person remind themselves that they may not have lost purpose and meaning in life or that they may not have lost their abilities just because they have aged.
- Talking about the birthday:
People are likely to wish a person generally when they come to know of his or her birthday. One way to avoid the overwhelm of the wishes is to limit talking about one’s birthday on social media platforms. It is advisable to share the details of one’s birthday with only a few significant people in one’s life.
On the contrary, if the person feels depressed due to the lack of a social circle on a birthday, then some significant people can be gently reminded about the same.
- Visit an NGO
To avoid getting overwhelmed by people on the birthday, the person can donate for a cause or visit an NGO and spend a day with them. This would not only prevent them from being alone, but also would keep them away from the extravagance of the celebrations.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Is it normal to cry on your birthday?
Crying on birthdays is quite normal as it signifies the passing of time. It may also be a sign of having missed out on achieving a few goals in life or taking advantage or certain opportunities.
Why are birthdays so important?
Birthdays are a special time of year. When we celebrate someone’s birthday we celebrate the length of their life and we celebrate how much they’ve grown in the past year.
Is it normal to not like your birthday?
While there may be many reasons someone may not like their birthday, some of the most common reasons are that birthdays remind us that we are aging another year. It’s the “official” day that we are one year older.
What Birthdays are the most important?
Usually, the 16th, 18th, 21st, 50th birthdays are considered most important.
Is it OK not to celebrate your birthday?
As people age, usually the scale of birthday celebrations reduces. Therefore, after a point if a person does not wish to celebrate their birthday, it is absolutely normal and acceptable.
In today’s article we understood a peculiar, but common phenomena of ‘Depression around Birthdays’. We started by understanding the concept of birthday blues, followed by the signs of birthday depression.After this we took into consideration the different reasons for the occurrence of depression around birthdays and then the type of people most prone to birthday depression. Lastly we discussed ways in which the depression around the time of birthdays can be dealt with.
What we recommend for depression
If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.