Birthday Depression Is Real, But Why Does It Happen?

While we naturally associate birthdays with joy, celebrations, and parties, some may also have experienced feelings of melancholy and discomfort when the date of their entrance to the world rolls around. Sometimes referred to as the birthday blues, this happening is not uncommon and is typically accompanied by feelings of anxiousness, fear, and sadness. It could be why some like to keep their upcoming birthday quiet or shy away from attention and gifts.


But why do we sometimes experience birthday depression? It could be due to past disappointment and unmet hopes for a birthday celebration, childhood trauma, fear of aging, or frustration around what has yet to be accomplished in your life. It could also be a sign of the discomfort around the natural changes that occur within our lives as we grow. The anniversary of our birth can bring looming feelings of anxiety days or even weeks before we officially turn another year older. Here's a closer look at why birthday depression might occur and what you can do about it.

Feeling let down around birthday expectations

If you've felt disappointed by your birthday experience in the past, due to anticlimactic celebrations or friends who didn't show up like you thought they might, it's possible that birthday depression may creep in. If you've put effort into making sure the birthdays of your loved ones are special occasions to remember, but haven't experienced an outpouring of love in return, try not to let the disappointment steer the mood of your birthday.


Honor your feelings, set any energetic boundaries you feel called to put in place, and treat yourself in the ways you are able on your special day. It's important to remember that when we give to others, it should be from a place of love and generosity, not necessarily to get something in return. Birthdays can be a good opportunity to find gratitude and appreciation for the ones who do show up for us and in the blessings — both big and small — of being alive.

Resurfacing of difficult childhood memories

It's possible that birthdays can signal old memories from childhood to resurface that we have yet to work through and heal. If you do feel these tender emotions arise surrounding your birthday, be gentle and allow yourself to celebrate in a manner that feels nurturing and supportive of your inner child. Perhaps that looks like something different than a rowdy night out. Maybe booking yourself a massage, ordering your favorite take-out, and watching a familiar movie or series will assist you in working through the birthday blues.


If you feel you need further assistance working through the feelings around your birthday depression and childhood experiences, meeting with a therapist may be a wise next step. "If the person feels ready to delve into these underlying reasons why they may experience birthday depression, then I would recommend giving therapy a try," Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a licensed clinical psychologist and member of the media advisory group at the Hope for Depression Research Foundation, told Verywell Mind. "Others may want to explore their experiences of sadness during their birthdays and could also benefit from talking with a therapist as they explore these experiences."

Fear of aging

Another cycle around the sun does, of course, mean we are getting older and while aging is a blessing, it can also be a bit disconcerting to see those first few gray hairs in the mirror, to notice signs of aging on your hands, or feel your joints creaking a bit more than they used to. Sometimes it's uncomfortable to step into new roles as we age and embrace our evolving identities in life. From energy levels to health and appearance, accepting the changes we go through as we age takes effort and self-love.


It's possible that a phobia of getting older could contribute to birthday depression and if you're finding that's the case for you, it may be helpful to talk with a professional. There is even a term for the fear of aging: gerascophobia (via BetterHelp). The condition — which is more intense than the typical discomfort that can accompany getting older — can affect both children and adults who struggle with the concept of aging.

Stress around lack of perceived accomplishments

If you aren't where you thought you'd be in life by a certain age, it's understandable that birthdays would bring up complicated feelings. The pressure to have achieved set goals and have a particular sort of success by a given age is something we've all likely felt at one point or another. If your plan was to start a family or own a business, but you aren't there yet, then birthdays might just feel like a harsh reminder of those unmet milestones.


But as most of us no doubt come to realize, success can look different for each individual, and with more of a conversation growing around the validity of chasing a brand of success we may not actually want, hopefully, this stressor doesn't create much of a hamper on the anniversary of the day you came into the world. We've all heard that age is just a number and while that concept may seem invalidating to conflicting feelings that arise on your birthday, it could also be the rope you need for a shift of perception.

How to reframe sadness around birthday depression

In order to have a more positive experience, it may be wise to plan the day ahead of time and observe your birthday in a comforting, predictable way. If you don't want much attention, consider booking a mellow, weekend road trip out of town to a cute inn. Or if you do want to celebrate with your loved ones, try working through the difficult emotions and sharing your feelings with a trusted friend so you feel less alone in your experience.


If keeping your normal routine will bring you ease, then go right ahead and plan for that. Maybe taking matters into your own hands to feel a sense of predictability on your birthday will bring you comfort and if so, treat yourself in whatever way sparks your enthusiasm for the day. Self-love and compassion are also key for coping with birthday blues. Don't feel guilty for prioritizing self-care. And while it's easier said than done, embracing your body and your accomplishments  – as they are — will open the door to transformation far quicker than being harsh with yourself for simply aging.