Happy Un-Birthday – Why I hate my birthday, and 8 things I’m doing to survive it!
I don’t like birthdays. There. I said it. I’m fed up with people who think we should be overjoyed at turning another year older.
If you hate your birthday, you’re not alone.
There’s a huge amount of expectation around birthdays. What is it with all those supposed milestones?! Turning 10 and ‘being in double figures,’ 13 and ‘being a teenager,’ and 18 (or 21) and ‘being a legal drinker’. Every one of those headline ages comes with its own list of expectations.
People can be incredibly disturbed by their birthday. Research even found people were more likely to commit suicide around their birthday. The risk was heightened, even if the person had no previous mental health issues.
Japanese research, meanwhile, looked at over a million suicides between 1974 and 2014. It found that the milestone ages of 20, 30, 40, and 60 saw increased suicide rates. People are mentally disturbed by getting older, and it doesn’t surprise me at all.
Why Birthdays Feel Depressing
My depression and anxiety increase in the couple of weeks leading up to my birthday. I can’t even label exactly what I worry about, but I know that part of it is about looking backwards. When I sit and look back at what I’ve achieved over the last year, I feel sad.
We often forget good things that have happened, focussing on less successful things.
Expectations can be another reason for the feelings of anxiety for me. I build up hopes around, for example, how many people will wish me ‘happy birthday’. I’ll come up with a number that’s meaningless and not based on any kind of evidence. When I don’t get close to that number, I feel devastated. Instead of focussing on what did come to pass on my birthday, I focus on the idea that I’m not as loved as I want to be.
The expectations can also be put on us by others. How often do friends ask what you’re doing for your birthday, presuming you want to celebrate with them?
In the past, I’ve arranged celebrations more for the benefit of others than for myself! I didn’t want to celebrate but felt an obligation to those friends wanting to attend a party.
Birthdays can highlight difficult relationships you have with family because they’re about socialising. They force us into connecting with people we deliberately neglect the rest of the year. Sometimes even something as simple as a card from someone I no longer get along with can ruin my birthday. I don’t want to reminders of that person at the best of times, least of all my birthday.
I also get quite morbid around my birthday, despite still being relatively young. Another year older means, essentially, a year closer to death. We are reminded of how short our time on Earth is, and our time is always running out. Actually, this is true any day of the year, but for me, it becomes even more relevant on my birthday.
It would be possible to use this as a prompt to ‘make every second count’. Perhaps on a day other than my birthday, I could think like that, but on my birthday I focus on how fleeting our lives are.
The final thing that can shake me on my birthday is that I’m an introvert and highly sensitive person. This means that parties, gatherings, and big family meals are all difficult for me. It’s not that I don’t want to be more sociable, but in large groups, I feel anxious and out of place.
All these things have set me on the path of finding the best ways to manage that one day of the year that I wish didn’t exist! Here are eight things I now do to make my birthday as comfortable as possible.
Communicate Wishes in Advance
If your friends and family know what you want in advance, you’re less likely to be disappointed if they organise something you don’t want (or don’t organise anything at all!).
Your birthday can be planned out in advance so that there are no surprises. This takes being open and talking it through with those closest to you.
Avoid Social Media
Your birthday is not a secret on Facebook, and I bet you always count how many people wish you ‘happy birthday’ there. It’s a reminder of people who now only reach out to you on your birthday. That can be depressing if they were once people you were in regular contact with.
It doesn’t matter if you get presents from others on your birthday, it’s still nice to gift yourself with something. This might be a gift of self-care time or something material that you’ve been wanting for a while.
Gifting yourself is your way of thanking yourself for making it another year around the sun. We don’t show gratitude towards ourselves often enough.
If you’re not celebrating with others, it’s even more important to take time to gift and celebrate yourself.
Make Time to Be Present
Birthdays can be intense and chaotic, but it’s important to take some time out for you. Even a few minutes of mindfulness can change the day from being overwhelming to zen.
When you’re being present, you notice the downward spiralling feelings more easily. This means they’re easier to stop before they go too far.
Plan for Your Future Self
A piece of research from Cologne University, Germany, discusses physical and temporal landmarks. Just as a physical landmark can help us to find our way to a destination, a time-based one can help us plan for the future. The research discovered a birthday can be helpful for goal setting because we can think a year ahead.
We see our current and future selves as different people, with different characteristics. Using our birthday, we can imagine who we want to be in a year. We start making plans for that future person, rather than who we currently identify as.
Who do you want to be in a year? Maybe you want to be someone who exercises regularly. You don’t even need to like exercise now, but think about the character traits you’ll have this time next year.
Make Your Birthday About Someone Else
You could do something on your birthday to improve others’ lives, instead of focussing on you. It could be helping someone you know, making a charitable donation, or volunteering.
Not only will doing something for others take the focus off you, but it will also feel rewarding to have done it.
Have a Normal Day
Sticking to your usual routine will help distract you from the fact it’s your birthday.
We ruminate when we have time to do so, and keeping ourselves busy will avoid that.
Don’t Go OTT
Many of us enjoy a drink or two on our birthday. Excessive drinking however will make us miserable and regretful the following morning! Maybe your vice is smoking, recreational drugs, overeating, etc. Anything can become excessive.
I like to rely on a friend to help me stay accountable. I let them know in advance how much I intend to drink and ask if they can help me to stick to my plan. This prevents me ending up on the downward spiral that alcohol creates for me sometimes.
At the end of the day, there’s no point wishing your age was a different number. Was the day I turned 35 really any different to the day I turned 34 and 364 days? I get so hung up on the change of age that I start to see it as a massive change.
The truth is that it doesn’t matter what the age number is, it doesn’t change our life. Whenever I feel low, I remind myself that the birthday is no different from the day before.
We are going to have to go through a birthday every year, so we might as well make the best of it by using some of these tips.