Simple Tips For Overcoming The Birthday Blues

This feature contains descriptions of mental health issues. 

Another year, another birthday. For many, this is a joyous and reflective occasion to celebrate another milestone with friends and family. However, there are some who are afflicted with the dreaded birthday blues, also known as birthday depression. Ash King, a psychologist, described the symptoms to Refinery29, explaining, "People who have birthday depression often spend their birthdays with a low sense of energy and feel gloomy, with thoughts that often focus on their past."

There has been very little research into the birthday blues, but experts do have some theories on what might be causing us to feel sad, anxious, or passive on our birthdays. For one, pre-existing anxiety or depressive disorders can play a part, making it difficult to feel celebratory on days full of expectation, like Christmas, which can also lead to the holiday blues. Other reasons could have to do with concerns about getting older, feeling like you haven't achieved enough, having nobody to celebrate with, or unpleasant experiences around your birthday during your childhood.

You might feel pressure to force a smile and get on with your day, as if you aren't feeling the weight of your woes, or you might want to pass on the celebrations altogether. But luckily, there are some reliable and simple tips for overcoming the birthday blues that you can try out on your next b-day.

Manage your expectations by being realistic

This probably sounds easier said than done and granted, it might take some practice and patience. When you manage your expectations, you're much less likely to be let down or stressed out when things don't go to plan. If you're anticipating feeling the birthday blues, any further disappointments can feel like being kicked when you're already down, so aim to keep a cautiously optimistic stance when making your plans.

Think of what you'd like your birthday to look like, keeping in mind that you might be feeling low throughout the day. Then, reason whether the anticipated outcome is realistic. Will you have enough time to tick everything off your list, or have you overscheduled? Do your plans rely on somebody else's dependability, and if so, can you count on this person? Are you comparing your celebratory plans to someone else's on social media?

Having unrealistic expectations for your birthday can make you feel worse when the day doesn't pan out as you'd hoped, and you might miss out on the positive aspects of the day. A 2018 study published by the University of Jaén in Spain suggests that those who practice gratitude and savor moments are more likely to have improved feelings of satisfaction and happiness. If you have realistic expectations and they still aren't met, try to relish the little moments that make your day special.

Plan in advance

The best way to keep the birthday stress under control is by making your plans well in advance. By getting concert or theater tickets, booking a spa day, or making reservations at your favorite restaurant ahead of time, you'll avoid disappointment and can plan the rest of your birthday around these activities. If you're a birthday party kind of person, you'll want to plan your bash at least a month in advance, giving yourself plenty of time to decide on the venue, guest list, and every detail in between. Asking a close friend or family member to help with the planning will give you less to worry about if the blues hit.

If you want to keep things more relaxed, there's an abundance of birthday freebies you can sign up for ahead of time, then collect without a second thought on the day. A free scoop of ice cream from Baskin Robbins, a birthday mini-set from Sephora, or a free coffee from Starbucks gives you less to plan and more to enjoy.

Also, be sure to remind people that your birthday is coming up before the actual day. This way they can keep their schedules free for your party or dinner, or at least remember to send a "happy birthday" text. There is little more disheartening than your friends forgetting your birthday.

Make backup plans

Don't expect to be disappointed — that only feeds into the birthday blues — but having a backup plan for your special day can keep you from feeling defeated if something falls through. Make two reservations at restaurants that don't charge for cancellations, invite more than a couple of friends, and stock the fridge up with your favorite foods. All of these are great backup plans that ensure you'll still have a great time despite any potential changes.

You might feel let down if there's a hiccup in your day, but you have to accept that you can't plan for absolutely everything. That's why it's important to also learn how to cope when things don't go as planned, so as to not let the birthday blues win. When something goes wrong, pay attention to your reaction to the situation. You might feel upset or angry, but take a moment to breathe and think logically rather than emotionally. Is it the end of the world if so-and-so wasn't able to attend? Or, you might have been looking forward to a delicious meal at your favorite restaurant — but, maybe the one down the road will become your new favorite?

Try to avoid blaming others or being hard on yourself for feeling disappointed. These things happen, which is why a backup plan coupled with the ability to cope with change can truly save the day.

Don't overdo it

Keeping it simple goes hand in hand with managing realistic expectations, because as many things as you might want to fit into your day, not having time for everything can be disappointing and anxiety-inducing. Not to mention, running around all day without a chance to stop and enjoy the company, food, and activities is more trouble than it's worth. When you're already feeling vulnerable with the birthday blues, keep your schedule manageable and realistic.

Make a list of all of the things you want to do with your day. Whether it's hitting a coffee shop for breakfast or dancing the night away at the club with your friends, write it all down. Then, assign each item an allotted amount of time. Think: how long will this take me to do, including commute time or any potential delays? Finally, prioritize each event based on how important it is to you. If your list is still super long, you might need to rethink some of your plans.

Anna Dearmon Kormick, a time management coach and the host of the "It's About Time" podcast, suggests reaching out to a friend for help when you're feeling the burden of an overbooked schedule. She says, "Leaning on others when you're overwhelmed doesn't make you weak. It makes you human, and it makes you determined." If you've overloaded your schedule, reaching out to a trusted friend can help you get through the day and support you through your birthday blues.

Begin your day with a positive outlook

If you've ever experienced the birthday blues before, you're probably anticipating the negative feelings before the day even arrives. One simple tip to combat those birthday blues is by starting your day with a positive outlook. This doesn't mean you should wake up and just magically "be positive." There are some techniques you can use to ease yourself into a better mindset from the get-go, so you can start the day right and give yourself a better chance at enjoying your birthday.

When you wake up, practice some mindfulness and gratitude. This can be done by meditating or by listing the things you feel grateful for, positive interactions you've had this week, or any events and activities you're looking forward to, either mentally or in a journal. Studies show that practicing gratitude has proven to make people happier, so it's a beneficial way to start the day — especially if you're preparing for a difficult birthday.

Another way to begin your day positively is by stretching. Moving the body has been well-documented as a beneficial activity for a healthy body and a healthy mind. Dr. Simon Floreani, the Ambassador for Allied Health and Prevention, told the Southern California Health Institute, "Stretching releases dopamine which helps you feel happier and more positive about the world." Afterward, take some time to have your favorite breakfast, put on your favorite outfit, and prepare for a happy, positive day ahead.

Do what makes you feel special

Whether you like your birthday or not, it's your day and you deserve to do what makes you feel special. The "look good feel good" mentality can really work here. For example, by dressing up in a brightly-colored outfit or taking extra time to do your hair or makeup, you're more likely to exude confidence, which can make you feel more positive.

When it comes to how you want to spend your day, you should do the things that are bound to cheer you up. You're well within your right to stay home, watch movies, and eat junk food as you wait for the birthday blues to pass. Or, you can splash out a little on something you've been waiting to buy until you had a good enough excuse to. And you should too because while long-term goals are often met through discipline, treating yourself occasionally is good for your mental health, according to a 2020 study published by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Treating yourself to a new pair of shoes, a fancy brunch, or a mani-pedi day can boost your mood and contribute to a healthy mental state. So if it makes you feel special and it's within your means, have at it.

Surround yourself with the right people

When you're feeling down, it's tempting to want to isolate yourself from everyone. Others might want to cling to negative or pessimistic people because, as the old saying goes, misery loves company. However, a 2008 study published by BMJ appeared to show that surrounding yourself with happy people can benefit your mental health. This is because positivity is infectious, so when you have the birthday blues getting you down, having a happy, supportive group of friends and family nearby is one of the best remedies around.

By making plans on your birthday with the right people, rather than those who are negative and might make you feel worse, you are more likely to have a good day and could even be more inclined to share your feelings with them. Per Psychology Today, several studies have proven that putting names on our emotions can put a halt to our fight-or-flight response, helping us become more analytically aware and less reactive. So next time you're feeling the birthday blues, try sharing how you feel with a close, trusted friend or family member and putting those emotions into words. It's not always easy to support a friend with depression and they might not always know the right thing to say, but the benefits of simply vocalizing how you're feeling to a loved one may surprise you.

Be a little bit selfish

It's your party and you can cry if you want to. Today is your day, so feel free to be a little bit selfish. Do what you love, plan what you want to do with your day, and take control of your own birthday. The birthday blues can bring feelings of sadness, guilt, or anxiety, and this might make it difficult to put yourself first. If you have friends or family offering to plan your activities or insisting you meet up for a meal, it can be especially hard to say no, even if you really want to.

But prioritizing your needs when you have the blues can also be a good introduction to becoming more selfish in all of the right ways, as setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and putting yourself first sometimes is great for your mental health. While selfish behavior is often frowned upon, there's a distinct difference between healthy selfishness and unhealthy selfishness.

Examples of healthy selfishness could be when you advocate for yourself and your needs, allow yourself to recharge or take space, and practice self-care. Unhealthy selfishness tends to be motivated by pride, greed, and narcissism, which often interferes with others' well-being. As long as you aren't hurting anyone else in the process, being a little bit selfish allows you to benefit from an improved quality of life and can be just what you need to feel better on your birthday.

Keep yourself busy

As revealed in a 2010 study published by Psychological Science, we're happiest when we are busy. While there is the risk of this behavior devolving into an unhealthy coping mechanism if used every time we're trying to escape or numb our emotions (which will make us feel worse in the long run), it might be a good way to get through your birthday. By ensuring you still take time to address your feelings first and giving yourself some time to cope, you can then use busyness as a helpful tool to distract yourself from the birthday blues.

Fill your day with positive plans, whether it's spending time with the people you love, running a couple of errands, booking a salon appointment, or reading the latest issue of your favorite magazine. By keeping your brain occupied and your body busy, you won't have as much time to stop and think about feeling miserable. That's not to say you shouldn't acknowledge your feelings when they come up, but after you've given yourself permission to feel them for a while, it's okay to let them go for some time and indulge yourself in a fun activity.

Be kind to yourself

Acknowledging your birthday blues can be extremely validating. By practicing self-compassion, you have a higher chance of reaching a happier mindset. As pointed out by a 2018 study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, being accepting of your negative feelings can prove beneficial. The research states, "These results suggest that individuals who accept rather than judge their mental experiences may attain better psychological health, in part because acceptance helps them experience less negative emotion in response to stressors."

Remember that everyone has their own personal struggles, and the birthday blues just happens to be one of yours. Self-compassion involves mindfulness and a lack of judgment, as being self-critical at a sensitive time could only make matters worse. It can be helpful to treat yourself as you would treat a good friend. Would you get mad or annoyed with a friend who was feeling upset? Of course not. You would be patient and kind to them as they work through their emotions, giving them time to work it out. Give yourself that same courtesy, because you are just as deserving. We are typically much harder on ourselves than we are on anyone else, so being kind to yourself might be the trick you need to overcome the birthday blues.

Engage in healthy activities

It's well known that eating a healthy, well-rounded diet, participating in physical activity, and getting sufficient sleep are three of the main staples that benefit your mental health. Continuing these healthy practices should be no different on or around your birthday, as they can ease the symptoms of your birthday blues. Try to get an early night the day before and aim for at least eight hours of restful sleep. On the day of your birthday, make a healthy smoothie or enjoy a nutritious salad at lunch. You can also try going for a run, doing some yoga, or hitting the gym for a dopamine hit, which can alleviate some of those negative feelings.

When celebrating, alcoholic drinks can often lead to one too many. If you're experiencing the birthday blues, it's important to exercise caution when drinking. Alcohol is a depressant, which interrupts brain function, leading to that relaxed, buzzed feeling. However, these positive feelings are often short-lived, as drinking in excess can lead to feelings of anger, sadness, and anxiety. Hangovers can also have a detrimental effect on your mental health, so if you're feeling unhappy on your special day, opting for a soda, or a virgin cocktail, or limiting yourself to just a drink or two might be a good idea.

End the day on a positive note

Like beginning your day positively, it can be equally important to end it on a good note. This can be done in any number of ways, so you can find which method works best for you. Mindfulness is one beneficial technique you can use to wrap your day up positively, so with another birthday behind you, take a moment to reflect. Was it as bad of a day as you thought it would be? And if so, what can be done to make your next birthday better?

Journaling or practicing gratitude are other great ways to reflect on your day and try to spin it into a constructive, positive light. Journaling about what you experienced during the day, or making a list of what you feel grateful for, can help your brain process your thoughts and feelings. Afterward, you can rest easy knowing another day is around the corner.

Consider professional help

Is it just the birthday blues, or is it something more serious? Be mindful that there may come a time when you will need to discuss some of these feelings with a therapist or other mental health professional, as the birthday blues could be the beginning of a more serious form of depression. Many of the depressive symptoms associated with the birthday blues are closely related to anxiety and depression disorders, and whether these feelings persist or not, it can be beneficial to seek counseling to get to the root of your annual blues.

Keep tabs on your emotional and mental state in the weeks following your birthday. If you feel sad, anxious, especially sensitive, or notice changes in your appetite or sleep, for a period of longer than two weeks, you might be battling clinical depression and should seek help. When the birthday blues turn out to be more than you can handle on your own, the best way to get help is by reaching out.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.