The birthday blues: Why birthdays can trigger mental health issues
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Many people view their birthdays as a joyous celebration, a time to connect with family and friends. Others struggle with birthday anxiety or depression. Some just don’t get what all the hoopla is about. The reactions people have to their birthdays are varying and often dependent on the individual’s past experiences and current circumstances. The understanding that birthdays can be a source of depression or anxiety can be helpful to family and loved ones of an individual struggling to cope with what others might see as a celebratory occasion.

Birthdays are often a time at which individuals examine their lives and compare where they are with where they want to be. For this reason, birthdays are often a motivation for people to change what they are doing in their careers, relationships or other lifestyle choices. In this way, birthdays are similar to New Year’s Eve. People examine their past year, decide what they want to be different next year and develop resolutions to implement these changes. However, a 1988 study conducted by the University of Scranton examined the psychology behind New Year’s resolutions and how long people follow through with them. Researchers found that 77 percent of the participants kept their resolutions one week following New Year’s Day, and that only 19 percent kept them after two years. It can be inferred that similar statistics are true regarding goals and resolutions made for birthdays, though little research has been conducted on the matter.

Birthday depression is a very real issue with which many struggle. This is more common among individuals already struggling with mental health issues, though anyone is susceptible to the birthday blues. A women who writes under the pseudonym Adrienne McGill and regularly blogs about her social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and more, explains her birthday depression in detail. She explains, “The feeling lingers and hardens on the actual day, continuing into the evening, regardless of how I choose to spend the day. The following morning, I wake up and the horror has fled. Life feels normal, even a bit dulled and numb in a comfortable, comforting way.” This is a relatively extreme depiction of birthday depression, but the fact remains that many individuals can identify with these feelings on some level.

An individual’s denial over the fact that he or she is aging can contribute to birthday anxiety. Self-acceptance aids mental health, and denial of something over which an individual has no control can lead to the development of anxiety. In some cases, it is the fact that an individual has no control over aging that is the source of birthday anxiety in the first place. Isadora Alman, LMFT, notes the differences between the reactions of children and older populations to celebrating their birthdays, stating, “My granddaughter, whose age is still in single digits, still marks her half and three-quarter birthdays … while I am several years into a decade I am still not used to claiming as my own.”

Everyone reacts to their birthdays differently and there is nothing wrong with individuals being sentimental or taking it as a time to look for ways to better their lives. However, when these feelings turn to anxiety or depression, professional help is available. Sovereign Health Group strives to help individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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