A surprise to no one, our anxiety levels are at their absolute highest. And how we each handle our anxiety might differ, but our subconscious minds often cope through dreams. Lately, there’s been a huge uptick in vivid dreams.
“Many people have shared this has been like a ‘waking nightmare’ for them and are having more bizarre dreams than ever before,” says Linda H. Mastrangelo MA, LMFT, a psychologist and professor of Consciousness & Transformative Studies at John F. Kennedy University and Board Director of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD). The “dramatic shifts from our everyday routines, not being able to reach for our usual ‘non-essential’ distractions as well as experiencing more sleep and /or erratic sleeping patterns is a perfect recipe for more dream recall, as well as nightmares and recurring dreams,” Mastrangelo, shared.
And while anxiety, lack of sleep, and the massive disruption in our routines are all contributing to our crazy stress dreams, how and why our subconscious psyches are in overdrive is a bit more complex. As it turns out, our anxiety dreams might actually be trying to protect our conscious minds. To understand why, we need to turn to the field of dream studies.
How Anxiety Impacts Your Dreams
With this huge increase in everyday stress, our anxiety dreams are taking on an entirely different character. Themes of intruders in your home, or feeling terrified that someone is trying to hug you, or the very literal fear of actually contracting the virus are all popping up in dream studies right now.
And although dream analysis isn’t a “hard science,” the field of dream studies can offer some interesting explanations for this phenomenon. Dreams help us integrate what happened during the day, what we watched before going to bed, along with our conscious and unconscious realities; so, dreams are integrating the part of you that is totally stressed out about bills piling up, and the part of you that is just outside your awareness— the subconscious one that is desperately afraid of not being in control of your life.
The originator of modern dream analysis, Carl G. Jung, saw dreams as integral to our nature, speaking to us in a language we intuitively understand—symbols—and ultimately leading to a process he called “individuation,” or the pursuit of the psyche to become whole and self-actualized, rather than fragmented. Our anxiety dreams, then, are a method for our subconscious to integrate with the conscious mind. In a very real way, your subconscious is taking the weight off of your conscious mind, helping you process your anxiety while you sleep.
Think of it this way. We live two lives: a waking life and a dreaming life. Dreams work in service of integrating our two worlds and creating wholeness in our psyches. So even though anxiety dreams can unnerve, even carrying over into the day as this uneasy groggy feeling, they are working toward a greater goal of psychological wholeness.
Use “Active Imagination” To Uncover Your Emotions
Marriage and Family Therapist, Isadora Alman, suggests delving into the emotions of our dreams for greater insight into ourselves. However bizarre the dream (why are my teeth always falling outttt), it is the feeling underneath the scene that reflects the real core of how you’re feeling.
“I have found working with dreams can be a gentle yet powerful gateway for healing, especially when it comes to identifying and working with emotions,” states Mastrangelo. She recommends the practice of “active imagination,” which entails assuming that your dreams hold emotional wisdom for you to uncover, and then picking something from your dream to “dialogue” with it. This is best done right when you wake up while the dream is still fresh, and you’re still in a restful state.
Here’s how it works:
Write down everything you can remember about your dream in as much detail as you can. Note the parts that held the most emotion.
Next, select the part that was the most emotional and write about it, imagining that you can give it a voice. So, for instance, if you dreamt of a menacing animal lurking outside your home, you’d imagine that animal could speak to you and tell you why it’s there, what it wants, and what it has to say to you.
Whereas Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist who created psychoanalysis, thought all dreams represented suppressed desires (Freud had a slanted view of sexuality, as witnessed in his Oedipal Complex), Jung saw dreams as representing parts of ourselves seeking fuller development.
Jung suggested that each symbol in our dreams represents an aspect of ourselves. So, by giving a voice to these dream symbols, we are actually talking to different parts of ourselves. Working with your dreams through active imagining is a deeper way into self-awareness.
Four Ways To Ease Anxiety Before Bed
As much as we can use our dreams as tools for self-knowledge, we also want to be able to sleep soundly without waking up in terror-sweats 15 times nightly. So try these 4 strategies for a more peaceful sleep:
Decompress: Give yourself time to decompress before getting in bed an hour or so before bed, have some quiet time, take a soothing bath or a hot shower, read, use a gua sha, watch something soothing.
Write out your worries: during your decompression time, you can also write down all your worries until you feel that you’ve got them all out. (I know this has worked for me when my mind stops generating worries and starts wandering and futurizing.)
Make your bedroom a “Worry Free Zone”: Dedicate your bedroom to sleep, sex, and other pleasant activities, so that just walking into your bedroom puts your mind at ease. That means PUT DOWN FACEBOOK when in your bedroom.
Try out different relaxation methods: Listen to a guided meditation, or a relaxation app (ASMR and binaural beats are hugely popular in helping people relax), do some light stretching, or restorative yoga, or try progressive relaxation exercises.
Carl G. Jung coined the phrase the “collective unconscious.” He used it to describe how we are intimately interconnected through myths and symbols, and how these themes show up in the dreams of people across the globe. We all share the interconnected experience of our psyches being impacted by the coronavirus. This pandemic is a global collective experience. And we’re all dreaming through it, together.
[Article first published by The Candidly.]
Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.
Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.
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