Always feel like crying on your birthday? There's a reason why.

I recently turned 42. It’s a bit of a blah number, sure. But for the most part, I'm not particularly bothered by getting older. Having unexpectedly lost a friend when we were both 39, every subsequent year feels like something to be especially grateful for, which I am.

Be that as it may, in the lead-up to my birthday this year I couldn't shake off what can only be described as an underlying sense of melancholy. It got worse as the day got closer and then on my actual birthday; I found myself continually fighting back tears for no apparent reason.

It was a nice day/weekend. My family made me feel special. I received lots of lovely messages. I was thankful for the privilege of completing another lap around the sun. Why so sad, then?

I'm not much of a crier so this all felt very strange. Stranger still, was the fact that the very next day after my birthday, I felt infinitely better. Similar to when you've been physically sick for days on end and you finally come good, there was a palpable sense of relief in my birthday being over this year.

As someone who is largely unfazed by birthdays, I had a hard time rationalising my feelings this year. That was until I came across the term 'birthday blues'.

What are the 'birthday blues'?

'Birthday blues', or 'birthday depression' as it's also known, refers to temporary feelings of sadness, anxiety, stress, loneliness, apathy, fatigue, or dread on or around one's birthday. Further symptoms may include:

Sally Youdale, Clinical Psychology Registrar at the OCD Clinic Brisbane elaborates further.


"'Birthday blues' refers to a psychological phenomenon where individuals experience transient and often self-limiting emotional distress surrounding their birthday," tells Mamamia.

"It's not a clinical diagnosis, but it's a common emotional experience that many individuals go through at some point in their lives. The symptoms and intensity of 'birthday blues' vary from person to person... and often subside after the birthday has passed."

Watch: Here are ways you can cope with birthday depression. Post continues after video.

Video via YouTube/Psych2Go.

'Birthday blues' is a somewhat controversial phenomenon, with some schools of thought dismissing it as a myth, while other studies have linked birthdays with greater feelings of depression and in some cases even higher rates of suicide.

It's my party and I'll...

Though this may have been my first notable experience with the 'birthday blues', TikTok is, of course, all over it. 

One video on the subject from @crobytes featuring the caption "Is it even your birthday if you don't cry?" has more than 800K views.


Another from @ay.amarant, with over 1.2 million views, features text that reads, "I feel like the saddest person during my birthdays… I am drowning in tears and anxieties for no reason."

Similarly, @aannaaoliviaa's TikTok on birthday blues, which sees the creator curling her hair while audio repeats, "Don't f**king cry" has amassed over 1.5 million views.

All this is to say, something seems to be seriously up with our special days.

So what's going on with our birthdays?

According to the experts, several factors may influence the likelihood of experiencing 'birthday blues' including the following:

Fear of death/ageing.

"Birthdays can elicit a sense of dread around ageing or getting older, which is often really just worrying about death and coming closer to it each year," Rachael Walden, Registered Psychologist, The Bondi Psychologist, tells Mamamia.

Unrealistic expectations.

"Some people have high expectations for their birthdays, anticipating that it will be a perfect day, filled with happiness and meaningful interactions. When reality doesn't align with these expectations, this can lead to feelings of disappointment," says Sally.

Existential stock-taking.

"Sometimes 'birthday blues' are about not feeling like the preceding year has been 'good' or you're not proud of what you've achieved or where you are in life. Birthdays are milestones for many people and a chance to check in and reflect and if we don't like what we see, it can make us feel down, ashamed, judgemental of ourselves, anxious or despairing," says Rachael.


Comparison culture.

"We all do it, but comparing your life to someone else's, especially on social media, where people often share only highlights and accomplishments, can contribute to feelings of inadequacy or dissatisfaction," says Sally.

Feelings of unworthiness.

"For some people, when it comes to their birthdays there can be a real reluctance to be the centre of attention because they don't feel worthy of it. This can play out like not wanting a fuss made because they feel like they're not important. The kind of mantra a person like this might carry around with them is that 'I don't matter, I'm insignificant or I don't deserve anything,'"says Rachael.

Unresolved issues/past trauma associated with birthdays.

"Some people have to manage unresolved issues (e.g. family or interpersonal tension) or negative memories associated with their birthdays, which may cause distressing emotions," adds Sally.

Feeling better about our birthdays.

While there's no one-size-fits-all solution to managing 'birthday blues', there are a few things the experts agree can help.

Accept it.

"Make room for the discomfort and let it be there," says Rachael. "Don't try to get rid of the feeling but acknowledge it and think of what you want to do with it. Last year might not have yielded all you want, but what can you do to ensure you feel better about your birthday next year? Think about intentional action that is value-guided."

Talk about your feelings with someone you trust.

"Don't hesitate to share your feelings with friends, family, or a trusted confidant," says Sally. "Having a support system can provide comfort and understanding. They may offer perspective, empathy, or even help plan a low-key celebration if that feels more manageable."


Practice gratitude.

"If the despair is about ageing for example, consider what you are happy about in your body. Can you feel grateful that it still gets you from A to B? If it's more about missing 'feeling young', can you be grateful for the fun memories from earlier times?" asks Rachael.

Create new traditions.

"If birthdays bring up painful childhood memories or other pain points, why not try celebrating on a different day? Or rewrite the rulebook and do something that is wholly you e.g., a solo trip, a bush walk, watching your favourite film with your favourite snacks. Take back how you feel about your birthday so that future years feel better," says Rachael.

Seek help.

"If feelings of sadness or distress persist and significantly impact your wellbeing, consider seeking support from a mental health professional. They can provide guidance, coping strategies, and a safe space to explore and address underlying concerns," adds Sally.

In any case, next time you find yourself irrationally tearing up on your special day, just remember that you’re absolutely not the only one. So go ahead, and cry, if you want to.

Emily McGrorey is a freelance writer with a special interest in health, wellness and personal growth. She lives on Awabakal Land/Newcastle. Find her on Instagram @emily_mcgrorey.

Feature Image: Getty.

Do you have kids aged under 13 years? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $50 gift voucher.