birthday anxiety sucks, how to have your cake and enjoy it, too

Birthday-fearing people share advice on how to tackle birthday beasties

Hero image in post
Hero image in post

Birthday-fearing people share advice on how to tackle birthday beasties

By Darshita Goyal15 Jun 2023
7 mins read time
7 mins read time

Like clockwork, every year as summer sets in, astro-enthusiasts take over my social media, screaming about chaotic Gemini szn. For ages, the cheeky ‘June-is-here’ markers have brought me a strange kind of anxiety because being an airy-fairy twin sign myself, it means my birthday is right around the corner.

What am I going to wear? Who should I invite? Where should we go? What’s my annual birthday dump caption going to be? Should there be a caption? Should there even be a dump? By the time I reach this last question, I’m in full-blown Birthday Anxiety mode. From here on, it’s all about sweaty palms, nervous “are you still coming?” texts and rummaging through the internet for a dress that doesn’t make my boobs look too big, but still embodies ~main character energy~ without making me seem like a try-hard. Just. So. Simple.

For many of us birthdays are our favourite day of the year. After all, it’s a 24-hour marathon celebration of all things you. But for others, birthdays can really suck. Maybe you’re socially awkward and being the centre of attention feels unnerving. Maybe it’s scary that you don’t have enough people wishing you happy birthday to make the reposted stories look like little dots instead of dashes.

Eloise Skinner, a London-based psychotherapist explains that birthday blues and anxiety are actually (awfully) normal. “Research shows that social and cultural markers like birthdays can bring on a bout of sadness, especially when we're thinking about projecting a certain image on social media,” she says. “Birthdays can also bring up a strong sense of nostalgia, which often come with feelings of regret, grief or disappointment.”

But some of us have developed our own hacks to have a happy birthday, despite the anxiety we feel. As I count down the days to my full frontal lobe development and being too old for Leo DiCaprio (or however else we say 25 now), I spoke to a bunch of birthday haters who've crafted coping mechanisms to get through the day. Ahead, they share their tips.

Shift the spotlight away from you

There are times when I get nightmares about the grand cake-cutting endeavour; to have too many people (or too few) clapping and singing and cheering feels great but also…not? For 21-year-old publicist Adele Cardani, the idea of throwing a big party where she’s the absolute centre of the universe feels exhausting. To escape this, she literally escapes. “I try to travel on my birthday with someone I love…I find going to a place fun and exciting on its own, so there’s already a feeling of occasion. And then anything exceptional that happens on the trip on my actual birthday is a bonus to an already wonderful getaway,” she says.

And in case you’re unable to get out of the city, there are other ways to leave the spotlight. At 29, Su Choi has accepted that she hates birthdays but she loves planning events. “As opposed to making it a spectacle with people focusing on me, I find a fun experience for my close friends and I to do together,” she says. Whether it’s an immersive exhibit or just darts, having a central activity takes the weight off her.

Don’t invite more people than you want to

The golden rule of truly having a happy birthday is that you don’t have to do anything. If you want to invite two friends and not the third, that’s okay (as long as you’re prepared to deal with any backlash from people who feel like they “should” have been invited). For Masters student Avani Thakkar, 24, birthday planning became more stressful when she had to integrate her friend groups from different places. “I felt so much pressure to make sure everyone’s having a good time and it meets people’s expectations that in the end I wasn’t having any fun,” she explains. So now, Thakkar celebrates her birthday with a more selective group of friends and family. Try the same and don’t worry, it’s not your responsibility to call all 32 people on your close friends list.

Say no to surprises

Last year, for beauty editor Chanelle Ho’s birthday, her partner planned a surprise party and while he got an A+ for intention, the night felt like a flop. “I’m not a very spontaneous person so not knowing exactly how to dress up or who I was meeting only stressed me out more.” She explains. “For context, I was in heels at a pub and it felt ridiculous, the majority of the people were his friends and I felt like an imposter at my own birthday.” So this year, Ho made it clear that there’s no space for any jump scares and took the party planning in her own hands. As someone who also has terrorising expectations, I like to do the same for my birthday. In the iconic words of Kit De Luca, “We say who, we say when, we say how much.”

Put your phone on do not disturb

Birthdays are a little like waiting for A Level results, except this time it’s not Maths that’s being rated, but your clout. You know, “X number of people wished me Happy Birthday at 12am so Y is how popular I am”. “It’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling validated by the number of happy birthday texts you receive or counting how many people wish you a happy birthday on their Instagram stories. So now I consciously keep my phone on sleep mode and try my best to not look at it as soon as I wake up,” says 29-year-old Ho.

On the other hand, Shaila Ankolekar, a graphic designer, likes to mute her group chats on her birthday to avoid uncomfortable conversations. “On one of my birthdays, my aunt tried to wish me and the first thing she said was that I had put on weight! I was so upset the whole day because of that, so now I just archive and mute controversial chats,” she says.

Lean into the self reflection

A good slice of the anxiety comes from the big bad outside. Sarah Chia, a 27-year-old product marketer, deals with this uncertainty by making time for self reflection on her birthday eve. “I do a short little lookback and then have categories - like important events, people, places I travelled to, things I’m interested in. I’ve done this since I was probably 10, and obviously as I got older they have more meaning,” she says. Doing this year after year, helps her feel grounded and close to herself irrespective of what happens the day after. It’s like a reminder that no matter who shows up, you still have you and all of this stuff from last year.

It’s completely okay to do nothing

For people who hate birthdays, the ever looming question “so, what’s the plan for the big day?” serves as an annoying trigger. There have been times when I’ve watched my phone ring on obnoxiously, just to avoid having a conversation with my cousin who wouldn’t shy away from expressing his distaste over my choices. Let’s please normalise doing nothing on birthdays, if it is actually my day shouldn’t I be able to decide if I want to sit in bed and order tacos?