How are you celebrating today? Aren’t you excited? What should we do to celebrate?”
I have been asked these questions on every birthday, and more often than usual, they make me feel overwhelmed. Your birthday marks your existence in this world. The general notion about birthdays (according to most societies and cultures) today is that they are to be celebrated. The expectation from you is to feel excited, happy and experience other such positive emotions. Some people however feel quite the opposite. Birthdays can be a time where some people can also end up feeling...gloomy.
What might make you feel not so happy about your birthday then?
Expectations from self: You might feel this way because you're not meeting your expectations that you set for yourself. For example - If you are operating on the expectation that you to have a house, car, PhD, be on the top of your career, and (also) travel half of the world by a certain age but only a little of that is met, a reminder of you turning a year older and not having met those expectations might explain the blues around your birthday.
Living in nostalgia: You might be reminiscing about the happy times in the past and comparing those with the present, which might make you end up wanting to go back to the past which is improbable.
Loneliness: Feeling that you don’t have a support system or even if you do have one, feeling lonely because you can’t share your feelings with them, or that you believe they don’t care enough.
Expectations from the day: Pressure to make your birthday the happiest day of the year and show other people how excited and happy you are might stop you from feeling truly happy.
Passage of time: The truth about birthdays is that you are getting older, and sometimes, life can seem ephemeral which might want us to stop the ageing (and the eventual passage of time) which isn’t in your control.
Well, worry not. Let’s break down what you can do about the birthday blues instead.
Awareness: Ask yourself what turning a year older means to you. For some, it might mean more responsibility, expectations from self and other things. Being aware of what you want from yourself and other people might give you more insight into your reasons for feeling gloomy as well as reframing birthdays for self-compassion.
Action: Once you draw awareness about what’s making you feel bummed out, it gives you a chance to act and change something about it to your liking. If you're feeling lonely, you can make the effort to reach out to people and see how that makes you feel. In this way you can see what it means for you to be celebrating birthdays authentically.
Reasoning with the expectations: Expectations come with a lot of pressure; leaving no wiggle room for anything but the feeling of being stuck. Reasoning with them and drawing a realistic view (without minimising both the good and bad of your experiences) might actually help you be kinder to yourself!
A yearly story of you: Think of it as a recollection of what happened the past year. List the challenges, moments of resilience, things you did and experienced last year, and the way you felt about celebrating birthdays authentically. This might end up giving you perspective on how your life has been and all the ways you’ve grown over the last 365 days!