Published On: February 3, 2023
Reviewed On: February 3, 2022
Updated On: November 2, 2023
Not everyone feels happy on their birthday. For some people, birthdays can be a source of sadness, anxiety, and dread. Also known as birthday blues or the birthday effect, birthday depression can cause you to experience intense, negative feelings in the weeks and days leading up to and on your birthday.
What is birthday depression, how does it differ from other types of depression, what are the symptoms, and most importantly, how can you avoid the birthday blues?
Read on to learn everything you need to know about birthday depression. We’re defining what depression on birthdays truly means and how it differs from clinical depression. We’re also addressing symptoms to be aware of and what the causes might be. Once you understand this, you can learn to be mindful of and avoid or manage triggers, so your depression doesn’t take over your birthday.
Finally, we’ll also share how to get help if you struggle during the time surrounding your birthday. Keep reading to get started.
Birthday depression isn’t a formal diagnosis, but it describes something that many people go through. It’s relatively common to feel depressed on birthdays. Negative feelings and depressing emotions can crop up in the days leading up to a birthday. They might continue for several days after your birthday has passed.
In addition to feelings of depression, you may experience various other emotions in the days surrounding your birth anniversary. For example, maybe you’re a bit more irritable, apathetic, or paranoid than usual. You also might feel emotionally drained or become fixated on past events.
While these feelings usually pass within a few weeks, birthday sadness can signify a more serious problem. Life events like birthdays can trigger depressive episodes. In addition, research shows an increased risk of dying by suicide on birthdays, especially for people 35 or over.
Expert Insight“Those who have a diagnosis of depression or anxiety may be more likely to experience sadness on their birthday. Major life events or holidays can trigger anxious feelings or emptiness. It’s important to address this with a counselor.”
Unlike the birthday blues, depression is a clinical condition with specific diagnostic criteria. Someone feeling the blues on their birthday may experience symptoms associated with depression, including low mood or sleep disturbances. The difference is that genuine birthday depression symptoms only occur on the days around a birthday.
That said, birthday depression can be more common in people with other forms of depression or anxiety. If you experience depression on birthdays, and those symptoms pass within 2 weeks, you’re likely dealing with birthday depression. However, if symptoms last longer, you may be dealing with clinical depression or another mental health condition.
While some birthday depression symptoms are similar to clinical depression symptoms, others are related to the passage of time. Symptoms of birthday depression may include, but aren’t limited to, the following:
These symptoms generally occur leading up to and through the date of a birthday. Sometimes, you may even feel anxious or depressed when you’re even reminded of birthdays.
Even though birthdays are typically associated with happiness, by now you should know, it’s not uncommon to feel stressed or anxious about this day that’s supposed to be a joyous celebration. Many factors can cause depression on birthdays, such as:
Birthdays mark the passage of time. The anniversary of your birth can be a reminder of what you’ve yet to accomplish. As your birthday draws near, reflecting on where you are in life is normal.
We often feel pressured to reach important life milestones by a certain age. If you haven’t achieved your goals or lived up to expectations (whether societal or self-imposed), birthdays can make you feel like you’re running out of time or, worse, failing.
Significant dates like birthdays can bring up all kinds of memories. While some may be positive, other memories can be painful or unpleasant. Even if your thoughts of the past aren’t particularly traumatic, they might be upsetting. Research demonstrates it’s common to experience psychological distress on birthdays.
Birthdays can be a time of togetherness but can also make you feel lonely or isolated. Since they’re often spent with friends and families, if you don’t have a support system to celebrate with, it can lead to depression.
It’s understandable if you find it hard to be alone on your birthday. As the day draws near, it’s also normal if you find yourself reflecting on birthday celebrations in the past. If those dates are marked with feelings of loneliness, anticipating an upcoming birthday can cause you to become depressed.
Aging is a normal part of life, but this doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone to come to terms with it. One study found that 87% of adults in the United States fear growing older. It makes sense if your birthdays cause you to think about the aging process and your own mortality.
Expert Insight“The birthday can bring up feelings of our mortality, which is not something we think of normally. Fear of death or loss can bring feelings of sadness instead of the expected joyful expressions of a birthday celebration.”
We know that these fears tend to be more common as people age. A birthday reminds us all, especially as we get older, just how quickly time passes. This may make you anxious or paranoid about your health and the impending phases of life.
Birthdays can be a significant source of stress, especially if you’re expected to plan (or attend!) a birthday celebration. As a result, you may feel pressure to feign excitement or throw a big party you’re not interested in.
Some people find their birthdays generally to be overwhelming occasions. The stress of the celebration alone can cause you to dread your birthdays. These feelings can be especially prevalent around milestone birthdays, which tend to be big affairs.
It’s not unusual to feel depressed on a birthday, but thankfully, there are plenty of ways to cope with your negative emotions and learn how to get through a depressive episode on this special day. If your birthday is a source of discomfort, try turning to these tips:
If your birthday is causing you significant distress, or if your symptoms persist long after your birthday passes, consider talking to a mental health professional. Therapy can help you learn to understand and manage your feelings.
If you know your birthday tends to make you depressed or anxious, it’s important to understand you’re not alone. People of all ages struggle with similar feelings. With the help of a therapist, though, you can figure out why you’re always sad on your birthday.
Getting help is essential because while your emotions might be the birthday blues, they could also be a symptom of clinical depression. A therapist at Talkspace can talk to you about your feelings and provide effective treatment including therapy for depression.
Talkspace simplifies the process of getting mental health care in an affordable, accessible way. Our therapists are experienced, qualified, and available when and how you need them. Check out Talkspace today if you’re looking for ways to get a handle on your birthday depression.
Carr, Deborah et al. The journals of gerontology. Series B, Psychological sciences and social sciences vol. 69,1 (2014): 113-22. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbt061.
Williams, Alyson et al. Crisis vol. 32,3 (2011): 134-42. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000067. Accessed November 13, 2022.
Pfizer. Published July 16, 2014. Accessed November 13, 2022.
Dr. Karmen Smith is a board-certified Clinical Social Worker in the state of Nevada. She has worked over 20 years for Clark County Family Services with abused and neglected children in the shelter, adolescents in juvenile detention, and adults who have suffered severe trauma. Dr. Smith is a shamanic teacher and minister of metaphysics and her doctorate is in Pastoral Counseling.