Have you ever had a nightmare that leaves you gasping awake? It can be running away from someone, natural disasters, falling, etc. These dreams can feel very real, and that’s not only because of the realism of our dreams. These types of dreams can be a projection of your anxiety.
It is shown in several studies that “everyday life impacts dreaming (e.g. anxiety in life leads to dreams with negative affect),” . Your brain is active when you are sleeping, which means that subconscious thought is still going when we are dreaming. These dreams, however, may not always tell us what the root of the problem is. For example, you may be dreaming about things that can cause you anxiety, like “missing a final exam, or your partner cheating,” . This does not necessarily mean that these events will take place, but it does show that your subconscious does worry about the possibility.
Not everyone who has anxiety or anxious thoughts will experience frequent nightmares, “but research does suggest anxiety can play a significant part in nighttime distress,” . So, what can we do once we identify anxiety within our dreams? Usually, the first thing you want to try is something relaxing. This can be something along the lines of:
1. Drinking tea or another warm drink
2. Listening to a podcast or soft music
3. Doing breathing exercises to slow your heart rate
If you do feel the need to get up, you can try some other things like:
1. Taking a walk around your house
2. Taking a warm bath
3. Drinking water
The most important thing is not to look at the clock. When you look at the clock, you become more anxious seeing how much sleep you are losing. Looking at the clock can also make you feel more frustrated about not being able to sleep, as well as bring up thoughts about the upcoming day.
To avoid these anxious dreams, try to eliminate stressful situations in your waking life. The less you have to dwell on in the nighttime, the better sleep that you will get. Meditation, yoga, time outside, social interaction, etc. can considerably help those struggling with anxiety and depression. Check-in on your mental health, and if the problem grows, don’t be afraid to seek help from a therapist or doctor.
So, if you are having a lot of anxiety and nightmares, try some of these techniques to go back to sleep. Also, try to eliminate any stressful situations in your waking life to sleep better. If these techniques don’t work, then maybe it’s time to seek professional help to sleep well again.
1. Fogli, Alessandro, Maria Aiello, Luca, & Quercia, Daniele (2020). Our dreams, our selves: automatic analysis of dream reports. Soc. open sci.7192080192080. http://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.192080
2. Raypole, C. (2020, May 28). Anxiety dreams: Causes, meaning, and tips. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety-dreams#going-back-to-sleep
Author: Kayjah Taylor
Editor: Terin Buckley
Health scientist: Jonn’ea Williams