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We’ve all had them and we all hate them… anxiety dreams. There is not much worse than your dreams bringing up your worst fears. Anxiety dreams often leave you waking up stressed and not feeling well-rested.
Dreams are the mind's way of processing emotions and experiences. When we’re stressed (whether we know it or not), our dreams reflect that. Since we can’t control our dreams or fully stop them, we can use our anxiety dreams to help get to the bottom of issues that plague us in our waking life. Finding out what is causing your stress and anxiety is the key to interrupting your anxiety dreams.
Here’s a list of the most common anxiety dreams, their meaning, and advice on how to cope.
For more tips, skip to the infographic below.
Perhaps one of the most unpleasant dreams you can have is one where you are drowning. The meaning of this dream is self-explanatory––when we say “we’re drowning” it means we are stressed and overwhelmed by something.
According to Delphi Harris, a counselor, and dream expert, “Drowning in dreams can be a sign that at the time of the dream we may be feeling overwhelmed at work or at home. Drowning can also represent the feeling that we can’t catch our breath; this may also be a metaphor for not getting a moment to ourselves.”
This is one of the most common anxiety dreams, and one that has different interpretations. A 2018 study found that dreaming of your teeth falling out is one of the most commonly experienced anxiety dreams. According to Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, MD, Certified Psychiatrist, the most common interpretations of this dream include being worried about your appearance, jealousy, your self-esteem is suffering, or powerlessness.
Being chased by anything is a traumatic experience. It can be even worse when it’s in your dream and you can’t stop it! Being chased in a dream, like drowning, is easily explained by feeling like something, someone, or a feeling is “chasing” you. One of the most common meanings of this dream is avoidance. Many of us tend to avoid stressful situations and procrastinate things we don’t want to do.
Not everyone lives in an area where tornadoes regularly touch down each spring, but seeing one in your dreams can mean you’re experiencing some major stress and anxiety.
Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, the professional dream analyst, says about dreaming of tornadoes, “Emotions are the weather of the mind. Rain will represent sadness, and tornadoes tend to represent worry and anxiety, spinning out of control.”
An earthquake in your dreams symbolizes instability. Dreaming about earthquakes commonly occurs during times of crisis. Deirdre Barrett, the assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, has researched the impact of trauma on our dreams.
Recently, Barrett said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been reporting more anxiety dreams. “I see every other bad event possible being plugged in as a metaphor for the virus. There are tsunamis and tornadoes and hurricanes and earthquakes and fires breaking out and mass shooters in the streets. And I did see all of those after 9/11. But I think a somewhat higher proportion of these dreams are metaphoric, because we don’t have one clear image that automatically goes with the COVID-19 virus or the pandemic.”
Dreams about flooding and tidal waves symbolism being overwhelmed. According to famed psychologist Carl Jung, who was known for dream interpretation, “water is the commonest symbol for the unconscious”. The imagery of floods and waves in your dreams can mean that we’re in over our heads or trapped in a worsening situation.
Fires in your dreams, especially house fires, can symbolize general stress and anxiety. With all that stress and anxiety often comes anger and rage (hence a raging fire in your dreams). Fire in your dreams can also mean you’re feeling burnout from work or stress.
Another common stress dream, being naked in public, doesn’t mean you want to or fear literally being naked in public. Instead, dreaming you’re in your birthday suit in public can mean you’re feeling embarrassed about something or your self-esteem is lacking.
According to a study published in the International Journal of Dreaming, dreams about car trouble are common. The study found that dreaming about car trouble signifies that you are feeling out of control in life. The result is conclusive with noted dream analyst and researcher Patricia Garfield, PhD. who spent her career analyzing dreams and how they related to an individual’s waking life.
The school was a stressful time for many. After a long day at work, no one wants to go back to school in dreamland. Returning to school dreams are frequently related to job stress. School was our first job, and we learned responsibility. It makes sense that as adults our job stress would mimic our school days.
Like a school dream, sitting down to take a test only to find yourself unprepared is also related to work stress. Judy Willis M.D., M.Ed. a neurologist, concludes that having a dream where you’re not prepared for a test can mean low confidence about a future change, being worried about forgetting something, or regretting past procrastination.
Another school-themed dream, the inability to locate your classroom or locker, can also be related to work stress but with a more specific theme. Dreaming you can’t find your locker or classroom can imply you’re feeling lost in either your personal or professional life.
We've all experienced the debilitating worry when forgetting something important. This stressful situation in a dream points to you dealing with a high-pressure and stressful situation, mainly an event like a wedding, play, or presentation. Psychologist Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. advises “setting some boundaries” between yourself and the situation.
The uncomfortable and scary feeling of falling in a dream can jolt us awake, heart racing. These dreams can indicate that you’re holding a grudge, or “a falling dream indicates that you are hanging on too tightly to a particular situation in waking life. You need to relax and let go of it,” according to psychologist Ian Wallace. A dream where you are falling can also mean that you're losing control of a situation.
The last thing anyone wants is the stress of running late and the challenges that can bring in waking life, or even worse...when we’re in dreamland.
Similar to other situations mentioned above, running late in your dream can indicate stress or anxiety about something in your life or that you’re not prepared for an event in your life.
Carolyn Cole, LCPC, LMFT, NCC, a psychotherapist specializing in dreams says, “a dream about running late means you feel you are always one step behind, just missing that opportunity which you are desiring.”
The main cause of anxiety dreams are stress and everyday worries. Other things that can cause anxiety dreams include life changes like moving or starting a new job, traumatic events, disturbed sleep, insomnia, or alcohol and other substances. Anxiety dreams and nightmares are often one and the same although their definitions are different; nightmares cause feelings of terror more so than anxiety.
Science isn’t sure why exactly we dream. The link between stress and sleep is clear–stress leads to poor sleep and poor sleep can cause stress. It makes sense that stress/poor sleep would cause anxiety dreams.
There is no way to stop anxiety dreams entirely. We can’t control where our minds go at night when we’re dreaming, but we can manage our stress.
What we dream about is truly out of our control. Since our dreams reflect our innermost thoughts and worries, one way to help ease anxiety dreams is by altering our thoughts and thought patterns. Anyone can have anxiety dreams but adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are more likely to experience anxiety dreams on a regular basis.
Here are a few suggestions to help yourself relax and ease anxiety before bed:
Anxiety dreams, whether they occur now and then or frequently, can cause stress in your waking life and nighttime anxiety. These dreams are normal and are usually no cause for alarm but if they are exacerbating your anxiety and making it harder for you to sleep, see a doctor for medical advice. In the meantime, if you’re looking for additional sleep advice or mattress recommendations visit our website!