Isn’t the cycle of how stress affects our sleep a bit ironic? Being stressed can leave you sleepless or give you anxiety dreams, which can either have you staying up at 3 a.m. or make you feel extremely drained in the morning—and thus leave you feeling stressed once again. It almost feels never-ending, and during a pandemic that eats up so much of our energy and mental well-being, it’s the last thing we need.
“Stress impacts us physically. There is great data on stress impacting our blood pressure, our medical conditions, and pain. [Our bodies and minds] are very connected. So one of the places anxiety impacts us is in our sleep,” clinical psychologist Kevin Gilliland, PsyD tells Healthline.
The stress that we feel can then lead to hyperarousal, sleep disorders like insomnia and one of our literal nightmares: Anxiety dreams. Anxiety dreams are a manifestation of the stress and fears that we are experiencing, and they often come in common scenarios that leave us feeling unnerved.
We’ve talked about how the current pandemic has been filling our mind with fears and anxieties that make vivid dreams occur more often. Now, here are some common anxiety dreams that you might also be experiencing, along with what they could say about your current state of mind.
Being naked in public
We’ve all probably had this type of dream at a point in our life, and it often happens when we feel a fear of being vulnerable or exposed to others in a negative way. Clinical psychologist Dr. Arooj Najmussaqib also tells SheKnows that this could “mean that you feel embarrassed about something, or that you feel like you cannot conceal anything about yourself.”
Forgetting something important
When I was a student, I’d keep on getting dreams of forgetting to study—or even wake up on time—for an exam. Gilliland associates this with a fear of disappointment or failure, while Najmussaqib also denotes it as lack of motivation.
Falling from somewhere
Have you ever dreamed of falling from a building, the sky or somewhere you can’t properly see? Najmussaqib says that this could be due to your fear of something bad happening or anxiety about a certain situation, which both stem from a feeling of lack of control.
Missing your trip
This scenario might be pretty common for those feeling job-related anxiety, as it roots from the fear of missing something important due to being too busy.
Drowning or being chased
These dreams often occur when you’re feeling overwhelmed, according to Gilliland. Najmussaqib says that this can signify you literally running away from something or someone in your life.
Of course, the meanings of these anxiety dreams are still subjective since we (and our fears) are different from each other, after all. While we can’t completely get rid of stress from our lives (is that even possible?) in order to put an end to our anxiety dreams, we can still do something to decrease its frequency and improve our sleep quality. Here are some ideas.
Have a “buffer time” before going to sleep
Give your mind time to clear itself of worries by destressing through activities like reading, meditating or even watching aquarium live cams before heading to bed.
Schedule a “worry time”
Yes, it means dedicating a specific time of the day to worry about things. While doing so, you can write down the things that concern you and think about the solutions for it. Afterward, do an activity that makes you happy or feel relaxed, such as watching television or baking, in order to keep a balance in your mood.
Acknowledge your stress
Stress is unavoidable and pretending not to feel it can just make it worse. Always acknowledge how you feel and keep in mind that stressful situations won’t last forever. You can also use your anxiety dreams as a starting point in identifying which points in your life you need to target—and what’s causing you much stress and fear.
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