How to Celebrate When You Are Feeling the Birthday Blues 

A closeup photo of an ice cream cone swirl

At the beginning of the pandemic, two weeks after much of the world shut down, I celebrated my 22 birthday at home with my family. My mom cooked my favorite meal. We played a board game at the kitchen table. In the evening, we went for a walk around our neighborhood like many other families desperate for a breath of fresh air.

Throughout the day, I fought against feelings of sadness and loneliness. Even though it was my birthday.

Perhaps you also experienced a subdued birthday celebration this year and find yourself relating to that strange melancholy emotion that accompanies a quiet birthday. Although a low-key celebration is a small sacrifice to make in the midst of a pandemic, the “birthday blues” deserves our attention nevertheless. The urge to seek out life and joy in the midst of hard times is a part of what makes us human.

The urge to seek out life and joy in the midst of hard times is a part of what makes us human.

There are also many other circumstances that can impact how we feel about our birthdays. Perhaps by the stage of life you are in, you assumed that a relationship, a stable career or a family would be within your reach. Maybe your birthday falls near a big holiday, like Christmas, and it causes you to feel overlooked each year. Perhaps, you are feeling lonely or like you do not have a community to celebrate your birthday with.

In the midst of an uncertain, life-altering year, the quietness and simplicity of my birthday seemed to teach me more about the years behind and the years ahead than a big birthday bash surrounded by friends and loud music ever could. 

Here are a few of the things I discovered about the feelings of “the birthday blues:”

Lean into loved ones.

Oftentimes, my instincts tell me to isolate whenever I feel hurt or frustrated. Opening up to a close friend or family member might be the last thing you want to do when feeling down on your birthday. However, just as we came into this world through and beside other people, we also walk through our lives in community. 

The pandemic has certainly allowed me to hone in on my tribe—the people I love and experience life with on a daily basis. This year, I discovered the sweetness in celebrating my birthday with only the people closest to me. I learned to focus on quality over quantity—large groups, extravagant celebrations and shiny Instagram posts.

I learned to focus on quality over quantity—large groups, extravagant celebration and shiny Instagram posts.

Whether an hour-long Facetime call with friends far away or an intimate dinner with a few family members, one remedy to the birthday blues might be enhancing the time and space we spend with loved ones on our birthdays.

Reflect on the past year.   

Our birthdays often come and go without us giving much thought to how this year fits in with the rest of our lives. Devote some time on or around your birthday to acknowledge the highs, the lows and everything in between from the past year. Write about it in a journal, discuss it with a friend or think it over on a long walk.

Some prompts to consider are: What were some of my favorite moments from the past year? What were some of the hardest moments? What, if anything, would I like to change about this year? What are my dreams for this upcoming year?

Thoughtfully consider any texts, letters or kind words. For many of us, receiving an onslaught of “Happy birthday!” texts can feel like the mark of birthday success. In the age of social media likes and comments, it can be tempting to measure our worth based on the number of birthday texts or social media comments we receive.

It can be tempting to measure our worth based on the number of birthday texts or social media comments we receive.

One way to push back on this is to spend time reflecting on and responding to birthday texts, notes and social media shout-outs. If you tend to skim the card from your great aunt who you only see once every five years, then this year take some time to appreciate it. You might be surprised at how meaningful you find her words to be when you take the time to really consider them. 

Be kind to yourself.

Here is the bottom line: your life is worth celebrating. No missed milestone in life or forgotten birthday wish should tell you otherwise.

The birthday blues might be here today, but it lacks the power to define the other 364 days in the year. Another year is ahead of you—a year to fall and get up again, a year to laugh and cry, a year to discover more and more about this messy thing we call life.

This day is just the beginning.

Have you ever experienced the birthday blues? How can we choose joy and gratitude on our birthdays?

Image via Dana Hursey, Darling Issue No. 15

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