The Birthday Blues: Why Does Your Birthday Make You Sad?

Your birthday is different to any other day in the calendar. Others tend to compliment you, pay you more attention, and are more sensitive to your needs. This is usually positive. However, in some people, a birthday produces another series of effects that aren't so positive.
The Birthday Blues: Why Does Your Birthday Make You Sad?

Last update: 16 September, 2022

For many people, their birthday is the most special and magical day of the year. On this day, they receive attention, praise, and gifts from those around them. However, for others, it’s a sad and confusing day that they prefer to ignore if they can. Why does this happen? Here, we’ll tell you more about the birthday blues.

We should mention that you don’t have to fall into the camp of being either a birthday lover or hater. Furthermore, your reaction to birthdays may change from year to year. Nevertheless, if you’re one of those who feel anxious or depressed when your birthday comes around, here are some possible reasons why you might feel that way.

The birthday blues is characterized by a negative mood.

The birthday blues

The birthday blues (or birthday depression ) affect many people. It’s a negative state of mind and a set of symptoms that occur during the days before and after a birthday. The sufferer might feel apathetic, sad, and listless, but also anxious and restless.

If you’ve experienced this kind of situation, you may have felt lonely and strange. You ask yourself why you feel so unhappy on a day that should be so enjoyable. The truth is that you’re not alone. Indeed, there are many people who, like you, suffer from the following symptoms when their birthday approaches:

  • Negative, depressed, or anxious mood. These unpleasant sensations don’t go away and it’s likely that you’ll feel like crying for no apparent reason.
  • You might feel tired and listless, with no motivation and, of course, without any desire to plan or celebrate ‘your day’.
  • You may feel more introspective and reflective and prefer to isolate yourself. In fact, any social contact may not be to your liking at all.
  • You might experience appetite and sleep disturbances. For example, insomnia, waking up at night or sleeping excessively.
  • It’s likely that your mind won’t stop working and you’ll have unpleasant and intrusive thoughts about yourself or your life.
  • You also might suffer physical discomforts such as muscle pain or headaches.

Why does birthday depression occur?

You may find it really difficult to understand why you feel this way just before your birthday. There are several possible reasons.

Excessive pressure and expectations

The pressure that revolves around birthdays is no secret to anyone. They’re special days (like Christmas) when you might feel obliged to be happy and content. Indeed, others often expect you to be excited about your birthday or to throw a party. This pressure takes its toll.

Consequently, what should be an enjoyable time can become an imposition, as well as a disappointment at the same time. There might be friends who can’t/ don’t want to attend the celebration, relatives who forget, and a day that often turns out to be chaotic and complicated. Despite this, you’re forced to smile.

Major losses and absences

Your birthday is a time to gather your loved ones together, feel protected by them, and thank them for their presence in your life. However, what happens when some of them are gone? What if you’ve suffered significant losses? On this day (and the days before) you feel their absence more than ever which can fill you with feelings of nostalgia, sadness, and hopelessness.

Reflection on your identity and progress

One of the main reasons why you suffer the birthday blues is because the day of your birthday forces you to reflect on yourself. Symbolically, it represents the end of a cycle and invites you to take stock of your achievements and failures to date.

On the other hand, socially, there’s a strong pressure linked to age. For example, at certain points in your life, you’re expected to have completed your university education, have a successful job, get married, and have children. In addition, there are your personal goals, those you thought you would’ve achieved by now.

What happens if you haven’t yet met these expectations? What if your life is nothing like it ‘should be’ or how you’d like it to be? What if, at some point, it was, but you now feel that it’s fallen apart? When the results aren’t as you expected, the evaluation of who you are can be anything but pleasant.

Fear of getting old

Lastly, you mustn’t forget that having a birthday is a reminder that you’re getting older. Thus, the fear of growing older and the fear of death can rather suddenly appear. It’s particularly prevalent in the elderly and they tend to have difficulty in dealing with this reality that becomes so evident on the anniversary of their birth.

For many people, birthdays make them think of everything they haven’t achieved in their lives.

You can deal with the birthday blues

If the birthday blues affect you in a significant way, you must be flexible and compassionate with yourself. Remember that you have no obligation to feel happy just because it’s your birthday. You don’t have to celebrate or do anything you don’t want to. It’s your day and if you want to spend it on your own in quiet reflection, that’s your prerogative.

If negative feelings appear, don’t blame yourself, and don’t reject or hide them. Allow them to flow, feel them, and express them. It can be a great opportunity to get to know yourself better, connect with yourself, and give yourself the attention that you’ve been denying during the course of the year.

Finally, if you feel too uncomfortable, remember that you can ask for professional help. In fact, perhaps it’s time to attend to those fears, frustration, and hurt that you’ve been dragging around for so long. Indeed, the birthday blues can have important effects on your health, so it’s best to put yourself in the hands of experts.

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  • Alter, M. (2006). Birthday blues. Neurology67(2), E3-E4.
  • Barraclough, B. M., & Shepherd, D. M. (1976). Birthday blues: The association of birthday with self-inflicted death in the elderly. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 54(2), 146–149. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1600-0447.1976.tb00106.x