Jennifer is a school psychologist working with children from kindergarten to high school. She enjoys hiking, backpacking, and yoga.
It's Your Birthday . . . but You Feel Like Crying
Everyone knows what birthdays are supposed to look like, right? Maybe something like this: Having a good time with a bunch of friends, or a romantic dinner with someone special. Feeling secure and happy that your life is on track and you're right where you're supposed to be. Relishing in how young, vibrant, and beautiful you feel!
If that's what it's supposed to look like . . . then why is it that when my birthday rolls around I find myself lying in bed all day with the covers over my head and my phone turned off? Or spending the day crying into my pillow? Or drowning my blues in multiple bowls of ice cream? Sound familiar to you?
You may not even understand why birthdays seem to make you want to curl up in a ball and toss obscenities at the world.
There's one big, nasty word that has everything to do with why birthdays end up being exactly the opposite of what we think they should be: expectations. Sometimes, perhaps even most of the time, our expectations aren't met. This can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and sadness.
Read on to learn more about how this all works—and how to turn things around so you can have an enjoyable birthday this year!
That Nasty Word: Expectations
There are two kinds of expectations that can cause even the best of us to hole up in our barricaded bedroom eating birthday cake in the dark (come on, don't tell me I'm the only one).
- Where we are in our lives, and what we think our lives should look like at this point.
- How we'd like the birthday celebration itself to to unfold.
All too often, birthdays become a reminder of all the things we haven't accomplished, all the ways we are behind our peers, or all the things we are lacking. Birthdays represent a milestone marker for all the expectations we have.
When my best friend turned 30, she was devastated. She cried for days. She had always thought that by the time she turned 30, she would be married with kids, living in her own home, complete with a garden and chickens in the back. Instead, when 30 rolled around, she was single, with no current prospects, and renting a room in a house with two other women. She mourned that picture-perfect life that she didn't have.
As for me, for the past decade I've been deluding myself into thinking that I'm still 21. I feel young and in my mind; 30-somethings are so old! (Apologies to those of you who are in your 30s or older. You are not old.) So when those birthdays come around, reminding me that I am a 30-something, I feel the loss of all that time with little to show for it. Where did a decade go?
Of course, as we age, it seems that there should be changes in terms of how we feel or where we are in our lives. I should finally be confident and disciplined, I tell myself. Instead, the illusion of continuity makes it seem as though I am the same person that I was back when I was 21. The growth is so gradual that sometimes it's easy to feel as if it has never happened. That's not true, of course—a lot of growth has happened. Don't let social media, society, and other influences dictate what your life "should" be like.
Remember, always live in the present, and know that probably everyone in the world experiences these feelings, at least sometimes. We all ruminate over unmet expectations. Focus on the positives, on all the things that you have accomplished, and on all the things that do make you happy.
Read on for more tips to help with your expectations on or around your birthday, or just in general.
Read More From Remedygrove
When I was growing up, my family always celebrated "birthday week." Not a day, and not just a birthday dinner—a whole week! When it's your birthday week, no one better be asking you to do the dishes. Dinner is always your choice. You get taken out to eat for your birthday at least one day, and you get your favorite homemade meal another day. You get the restaurant birthday cake and the homemade birthday cake. You get a party with friends, a party with family, and if you have a significant other, you get a romantic birthday celebration as well. Presents trickle in throughout the week, and there are always plenty of additional surprises.
As I got older, birthday week started to fizzle out and turned into just one day. However, the expectation that birthdays should be a week of wonderfulness was still there. So after having to do the dishes on my birthday (can you imagine?!), and then marking the day with just dinner and a small gift, I felt neglected and unloved.
As a child, it's so easy to feel that birthdays and holidays are magical, but carrying those expectations into adulthood often leads to post-celebration blues. We focus so much on what things should be that we can't enjoy what is. A birthday dinner can be an absolutely lovely event, but if we use birthday week or any other expectation as a comparison, we ruin what could have been a great time.
8 Ways to Tackle Birthday Blues
So what's a person in birthday-blues recovery to do? Here are some ways to tackle or prevent the birthday blues:
1. Lower Your Expectations
Easier said than done, but try to lower your expectations. Don't expect anyone to do anything for you. Or expect that your birthday party will be a flop. This way, anything good that happens will be an unexpected and pleasant surprise!
2. Keep Busy
Don't wait around for someone else to do something for your birthday. Sitting around the house just gives you an opportunity to mull over the passage of time and be sad. You know what you'd like to do on your birthday, so schedule it! Get a birthday massage. Go on a birthday shopping spree. Go to the movies and watch whatever you want.
3. Remember All That You Have Accomplished
It's easy to gloss over everything that you have accomplished and end up feeling like time has passed with nothing to show for it. Try to focus on the positives because, remember, you are a rock star! So prove it to yourself. Go through old pictures of good times (warning: some people may become more depressed doing this, you know who you are), make a list of accomplishments, or even get a friend to remind you of your victories.
I have a friend who lists all her major "wins" from the previous year on her birthday. Sometimes they are things that are only meaningful to her—like getting into the habit of flossing. Other times, they are big life events—like running a marathon.
Spending time thinking about what you have done will keep you from thinking about all the things you haven't yet accomplished or that you think you should have accomplished. You've already accomplished a lot. Focus on that. Be proud.
4. Don't Wait for Someone Else to Make You Happy
Every year, for as long as I can remember, my mom has bought herself flowers for her birthday. She had always been disappointed when my dad didn't. So one year she bought flowers for herself, and she's been doing it ever since. She stopped waiting for someone else to make her happy. (They're still happily married, by the way.)
Remember, no one can read your mind, and no one is perfect. If you're waiting for someone else to make things special, you'll be disappointed. If there's something that will make you happy, then make it happen yourself!
5. Make a Plan to Make This Year Special
One of my coworkers told me that on her 50th birthday, she was afraid she would be depressed. So, she decided to make it an "adventure year." That year, she made it her goal to write 50 letters letting people know how much she loved them, try 50 new restaurants, vacation just 50 miles from her home, and complete 50 random acts of kindness. Try something like this for yourself!
6. Let Your Friends Know
While there are many who don't want any attention on their birthday, there are others who make it a point to mention it or who would like to be lavished with attention. If you're one of those people, don't be embarrassed to make a point of mentioning your birthday to friends and family.
You can be coy about it, too: "So I think I might schedule a massage for my birthday next week." That's all it takes. I've even seen my more blunt friends post on Facebook that they'll be having a birthday next week, as well. Go for it!
7. Know It's Okay to Mourn
Sometimes, we just need some time to be sad about what isn't, and what might not be. That's okay. You deserve that process and will feel better afterwards. Let yourself cry about the house that you don't own, the corporate position you haven't landed yet, and the significant other you may not have found yet. Then, get over it. You've got life ahead of you to live—don't waste more time than you need to in worrying about what isn't.
8. Learn From It
You may want to punch me in the face for saying so, but know that pain is there to teach you something. Maybe your birthday makes you feel lonely—that's true for many of us. However, you can also use that feeling to help motivate you to make an effort to get out more and meet people.
Perhaps you feel sad that you haven't accomplished as much as you feel you should. This might be a sign you need to be easier on yourself or give yourself more credit than you do.
Ask yourself, "How can I be better because of this moment?" instead of letting yourself sink into a dark hole of inactivity and depression. Also, find ways to be more compassionate and loving to yourself. Self-care is crucial, and you deserve it—especially on your birthday.
Be Kind to Yourself
Remember, it's normal to feel sad on your birthday. This isn't a sign that you're a failure or unloved. Think of someone you love and admire—it's likely they've felt some birthday sadness at one time or another, too. If you could tell that person something in that moment of sadness, what would you say? Now, tell yourself those same words.
Happy birthday! You're a rock star!
You're a Rock Star!
Seinfeld: "Happy Birthday, No Such Thing"
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 JenBarn
It's me again on June 01, 2020:
I never liked birthdays. I just don't like that attention people gives me for just one day.
No good birthdays on April 09, 2020:
My birthday is a week away, I’ll be 18. My last few birthdays I’ve gotten depressed for various reasons. In 2016 my grandmother who I was very close to passed away. And every birthday since has been hard. I’ve always baked my own cake and had family over one day and gone out with friends another day, but it’s been hard, I just tried to stay happy and know that my grandmother I still there for me even if she’s passed on. This year, for my 18th birthday, I’d planned a week long Universal studios Orlando trip, as I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. But with the coronavirus stuff, I can’t go on my vacation, I can’t even go out for lunch with friends, and I certainly can’t have my family over. And to make matters worse, I’m way behind my friends. My bestie is a year older than me, and at 18 had already earned her associates degree in psychology. I’m struggling to graduate high school and have no plan for my future...
1!!1111111!!!!!!!!!!! on February 02, 2018:
Im tired though i never wanted a birthday with o many people aroung i just want to be with my mom but shes so far away overseas i am surrounded by people feel lonely inside................anyways people around me think that im attention seeking but im not
hero on February 02, 2018:
i feel like nobody's giving a heck about my existance i'm a good person and i always try my best to make people happy yet here i am on my birthday and not a single wish i kept wondering if it's hard for someone to make u happy with two words i'm not even expecting gifts or cakes all i want is a single i'm glad that you're born
bethany kelly on January 15, 2018:
i am sad because it is my grandmas birthday this thursday and then a week on wednesday it is my grandmas -g's birthday
Caileigh on January 01, 2018:
Yeah um, both of my siblings are gone for the day and so is my mum. My dad has his own friends over and I've gotten minimal acknowledgement from friends and family. I REALLY just wanted to feel loved and appreciated but instead, I'm just alone. (1st of Jan)
Jack on December 11, 2017:
Well.. I'm here cuz it's my birthday and I feel empty.. it would have been nice if I was sad or happy or at least feel something but I just feel empty..
Me again on December 05, 2017:
You don't need to post my story about NY, I just needed to vent
Nobody Cares on December 05, 2017:
Tomorrow is my birthday.
I moved to New York from 3,000 miles away a few months ago and it's taken me forever to make friends. I finally made some and a week ago told them I wanted to go get tacos for my birthday. At that time, they told me they were already going to be busy Wednesday night. So I moved on to the next friend, or person I thought was a friend, who stopped replying to my texts recently. So I left a hand written note on Sunday night: "My birthday is Wednesday. Would you like to get tacos with me? Please let me know." They let me know by never responding.
My co-workers are all New Yorkers and have their lives full of family and friends; there's no time or need for me so I didn't even mention my birthday was coming up. I already called in sick tomorrow because I would just be crying all day.
I turned 18 in New York on a high school field trip and it was wonderful! I'll be 37 tomorrow and not a single person will tell me happy birthday in person. Sure, my parents will FaceTime me and my grandparents already called me tonight, but it's not the same. It won't be the same tomorrow when I sit alone eating tacos, trying to hold back tears, and buying myself a little cupcake and singing to myself in my head on the street thinking how 20 years ago my teacher and friends did the same thing for me and made me feel special in Chinatown.
I've never really had a significant other, nor do I feel that I've accomplished a anything substantial in my career. I have no children or house. Just a few college degrees and student loan debt to show for my "success."
So, it's not even about the gifts (I've had birthdays before with no gifts). It's about having company and not being alone and somebody to look you in the eye and tell you "Happy Birthday" with love and to mean it. Am I selfish for wanting that?
Firefly7 on October 26, 2017:
these tips are cute but mostly your lifes story. In the real world sometimes some of us are on fixed incomes and can't run to a mall to go on shopping sprees which wouldn't make anyone happy anyway. I am single with a 9yr daughter. My family is a not what you'd call supportive friendly or kind so they don't call or come around unless there's something in it for them. I don't have any friends. I am truly alone. It's ok sometimes just on holidays and birthday is when it bothers me the most. I don't have the funds to take a mini vacation or go to nice resturants. I am open to any suggestions though because I dam sure in desperate need of pampering or something just for me. Everything I do or get is always for or about my daughter. Being a single parent is extremely difficult but I get by without complaining. Calgon please take me away! Just saying all that stuff you talked about really only works for the working people, what about everyone else? I may not be employed but I do have stable income.
Anonymous on October 26, 2017:
My birthday use to be very special. After my husband passed away, they have become harder to deal with. I thought maybe this year would be better. I finally found someone special and thought we were going to spend time together.
Today he pulls the rug out from under me by telling me the plans have changed and his daughter will be visiting from out of town.
I told him to just spend the time with her, even though I'm upset.
Bottom line is I shouldn't plan anything on my so called "special day" because it never pans out the way I imagine.
I've decided this year to spend it alone, watching sad movies and a box of kleenex!
Anonymous on October 14, 2017:
Next birthday, YOU get your engagement ring fixed. Put it in a box, wrap it, and label it, "From Your Adoring Husband." Buy a special gift that you really want, like a warm, soft bathrobe. Wrap it up in pretty paper, and label it, "From Your Adoring Boyfriend." haha. Just kidding. ;)
I don't have a husband. No kids. And all I get is texts, if that. Last birthday, no one called me and I spent the entire day (and night) in tears. Today, I got a few texts. I really would have appreciated a phone call. (This virtual, electronic, facebook world, is so impersonal.) So, I called someone dear to me and we had a nice chat.
All day, the thought went through my head that I didn't have to spend the day alone, but I wanted to rest. So, I'm telling myself, "Tomorrow is my birthday"...when I'm meeting with family to celebrate.
This isn't my eternity. I won't feel this way forever. It's just one day in my life. Tomorrow will be better. And next year, I'll make my day special, hanging out with at least one dear friend.
Shannon on September 29, 2017:
Today is my 36th birthday. This morning, I found the receipt for what my husband got me for my birthday. It is a small kitchen appliance, he only spent $20. It's not even something that I've ever asked for, or would even want. It has kind of made my day pretty shitty so far. When I open my gift tonight, it's going to be hard to feign gratefulness. We have been together for 18 years, and it just makes me really sad that he couldn't possibly realize that I would want something different for my birthday, like a manicure or a facial or a massage, or a gift card to go by myself some clothes or something. My engagement ring has been broken for several years, And every birthday, Christmas, and anniversary that he asks what I want, I say that I want my engagement ring fixed so I can wear it again. But he just doesn't do it. The only people to even egg knowledge my birthday so far has been my husband, my sister in a text, and my mom in a text. This really is the most depressing birthday ever.
me on September 11, 2017:
IT'S MY PARTY
AND I CRY IF I WANT TO
is a Melanie Martinez reference
Rose on September 05, 2017:
When I was very young we didn't celebrate my birthday because my mother was Jehova's witness and she said my birthday wasn't important because I wasn't important. Yet all my classmates and even my brother got parties and presents. (My brother couldn't help it, being born in Christmas Eve, but I didn't understand that as a child.) Later, she left her faith but I still never had birthday parties, either because my mother said so, or, on some sad occasions, I would plan everything out carefully and lovingly, only to learn that everybody invited was on vacation. Still, my brother and my little sister lways got parties and gifts. For my last birthday, my mother actively tried everything in her power to ruin it for me. I usually spend my birthday alone, and trying to do something nice for myself will only make me feel more lonely.
No one on August 30, 2017:
Im 52 today. Im a lil depressed; for about a week. Married to a man who loves me but its strained after30+ together. Ive accomplished a few things in my life but feel empty too. Coulda woulda but no self motivation. I seek the communication now that is somewhat lacking at home. Anyways popped online..read the article... im treating myself to some shopping and a nice dinner at home. Just now got a text from hiubby wishing me HB..this lifted me a lil. Life goes on...this is just one day..i have much to be grateful and thankful for. Health; Life & Love
Little_Owl on August 30, 2017:
It's my 18th birthday today, and it's terrible. My parents are the unsentimental type so, beyond the "Oh yeah Happy Birthday" there's not much there. I tried talking to my dad about the depression I've been struggling with for 7 years now and his response was to just move on past it. My friend cancelled our plans, my brother made ones to go out with friends and it feels like there's no one on this earth who cares. And that's hard because the people you expect to love you are the ones who don't think im worth their time. I've been given lectures about the 'parasite' and 'failure' I am. I hate that I'm turning 18 and everyone keeps telling me and reminding me it's a big deal but at the same times I feel so alone and uncared about.
EC on August 11, 2017:
Yes always ! My birthday always sad that'ts why i dont celebrate my birthday
18 teenage on August 05, 2017:
yesterday was my 18th birthday. But instead of receiving gifts, i received lecture from my parents. It was very painful, and depressing. They don't care if it was 18th birth day or whatsoever. Those giving me blues until now. I admit that i expected too much, but those are beyond of my worst expectation, It is 18th or debut, one of the most special celebration for a teenager, and that became my worst day/part of my life. All I did was to cry and cry and cry all over again.. I have no on to talk to about it..
paul on August 02, 2017:
This is interesting reading but what gets me people are false birthdays and xmas nice or extra nice to you .but nasty or not pleasant the rest of the year or on the odd day .perhaps its my fault. just be nice all year.
L on July 28, 2017:
Monday is gonna be my birthday......but I'm not gonna even acknowledge it. My mother said some pretty cruel things to me this morning only to later try to cover it up with a half-assed apology that was clearly an effort to justify her shittiness.
I know when Monday rolls around she's gonna try to act like she cares only so she can make HERSELF feel good.
I won't be celebrating anything......instead I'll be in mourning. fml
Jr on July 22, 2017:
Thank you! ♥️
summertime4ever on July 12, 2017:
Im 31 in two days. I thought 30 was bad...
I enjoyed the article and cried a little at my desk at work.
Reading the other comment made me feel neutral.
Im a single mom to a 4yo boy.
I work part time retail. Seeing my other friends more established somehow still doesnt motivate me to do better. I dont know why i justify myself being ok. I have 6$ to my name and dont get paid till tuesday. Not sure how my birthday will pan out. My bf has never got me a present in 3 years and doesnt plan on it. Even though ive bought him countless expensive gifts. he says ur a mom u dont need anything. my parents always make a fuss because im their only child. so i will have that to count on. I just want my friends and bf to care as much as my parents...
Thank You For this post. I really enjoyed it
Sam. on July 06, 2017:
Today is my 13th birthday. Me my twin sister and my parents were gonna go bowling. My mom had to leave to take my papa to a doctors appointment, my dad went to get a haircut, when he got home he took a shower and watched tv.
Dad: I took the whole day off to spend time with u
Roxanne on June 25, 2017:
Its my birthday at the moment and people are just talking with each other besides me. They're even gonna sleep here while all they're doing is talk about weird stuff. I'm fucking sad. They don't fucking care if I'm against it.
Chris Tiernan on June 21, 2017:
in two days I will have existed for two decades. It sounds depressing but my plan is -Going to see Ricky Gervais Live(Stand up comedy) alone. Then go straight home jump into bed and play a few records. It's all I ever want to do on my bday and granted still feel sad on my birthdays but the I've been doing the bed n record player routine for a handful of birthdays and slowly but surely, I always feel a little happier every time I do it. But anyway thank you for this article :)
Noelle on June 21, 2017:
It's my birthday today. 18. Thank you for writing this :-)
Noelle on June 21, 2017:
abutterflyloves on June 17, 2017:
I wonder how many lives you have saved with this post? Thank you. 45 today. Very sad.
Hannah on June 13, 2017:
You made me cry more
Lois on May 29, 2017:
The last words my mum said to me were on my 46th birthday - "oh dear, is it your birthday today?" She was in her last moments of leaving me after 10 years of fighting Leukaemia and I was by her bedside in a hospice. She went to sleep after those words with all kinds of exhaustion, so I went home (also emotionally exhausted) that evening, intending to see her the next day and received a call at 4.16am the next day, saying she had passed on. Since then, the run up to my birthday has been unbearable - I cant stand to feel all those feelings again. I am an emotional wreck a few days before the day, on the day and the day after. I'm now 55 (today) and would like to choose another 'secret' birthday and just avoid May and my birthday...:( oh well. xx
Kanika on May 18, 2017:
I thank you so much for this, my birthday is very close and that is exactly how I feel I thank u soo very much!
Caelina on May 07, 2017:
Not my birthday yet but I managed to cry beforehand just thinking about it, haha... But I'm glad I found this article, some of those tips are definitely worth trying.
Maria on May 06, 2017:
Thanks for the wonderful article!! I always thought I was alone on this but now I can see that I'm not. That in itself will make me feel better on my birthday :-)
DD on April 24, 2017:
I'm turning 40 tomorrow, April 25th. I have been feeling really down and bad about myself all day. I have a twin, so we share the birthday. This year we were supposed to take a big trip to celebrate. Well, that went down the tube. None of my friends have time to celebrate, which makes me sad. It's all very anticlimactic! Thanks for writing this article. It helps me out and that world, "expectation," is very accurate!
Jewel on April 15, 2017:
Yes today is my birthday, and it was a big disappointment in many ways. The person whom I thought might show they care, forgot it was my birthday, and I had to remind them. Eventually showed up with some broken free things he got, and I got a small card. Heard from a couple family members. Whoop dee ding. I love this article though, cheered me up. Thanks Jen.
Tikz on March 31, 2017:
Thanks a lot. My birthday is coming in a few weeks and I had started to getting depressed from the past few weeks. Iam really glad I came across this website.
TGB on March 21, 2017:
Thank you, I really needed these words today.
Mecca on March 01, 2017:
Today I turned 15 and I wish I would've seen this post earlier... :(
A on February 01, 2017:
Thank you for the post. Yesterday it was my 18th birthday and I was very depressed because I feel like nothing has changed for about 5 years and that I'm not living the life I'd like to live. But at the same time I feel like I should be happy because I have a family, a house, a dog... and that makes me even more depressed. I feel as if I don't have 'real friends', all I have is people I know. I don't have close friends, because all friends are just douchebags. They do things I don't like, they talk behind my back, they complain all the time... It's awful... What's more, I'm very stressed because of exams... I have study almost every day and it's horrible... Also, I feel rejected from new people I meet for the first time... I'm very bad at socialising, actually. I've been thinking about killing myself many times over the last 2 years but I haven't had guts...
Noah Nowicki on January 29, 2017:
My 12th birthday party was not that bad.But, only 1 friend came and I only got 1 present.The reason it was depressing is because it was the last year before I become a teen.
hailey on January 26, 2017:
i am 9 today and people in my 4rth grade class are trying to give me things for a extra cup cake.it