Seasonal Affective Disorder and Infertility



Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is responsive to changes in the season. Usually it is associated with the beginning of autumn or winter, and people often attribute it to the winter “blues”. Although we don’t know the specific causes of SAD, several theories attribute its cause to the decrease in sunlight, which may disrupt your body’s internal clock/circadian rhythms. Decreased sunlight may also cause a drop in serotonin, a chemical produced by the body’s nerve cells, which helps regulate mood. Seasonal changes may also unbalance the body’s level of melatonin, which can affect sleep and mood. All of these can be a trigger for depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of winter SAD are:

Irritability

Tiredness or low energy

Problems getting along with other people

Hypersensitivity to rejection

Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs

Oversleeping

Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

Weight gain

How Do SAD and Infertility Affect Each Other?

There are many risks that contribute to the development of depression, including hormonal, genetic vulnerability, social stressors, work stresses, relationship stresses, coping styles and reproductive events among many others. Do any of these risks look to you like they may worsen with going through infertility and treatment? Although there are no published studies about SAD and infertility, it stands to reason that there may be a bi-directional impact of infertility on SAD symptoms and SAD symptoms on the experience of coping with infertility.

Stay alert to monitoring your own mood as you are going through the roller coaster ride of infertility, and be particularly attuned to how the change of seasons may exacerbate any challenges you may have. Consider talking to your provider, or a mental health professional, for strategies to manage your symptoms – there is no need to suffer, and strategies are very effective at reducing the burden of SAD, as well as the infertility journey.

Dr. Andrea Braverman is a renowned health psychologist specializing in medical health management, infertility counseling, third party reproduction issues, and diabetes care. She is a Clinical Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Thomas Jefferson University, and is Associate Director of the Educational Core in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology