Anxiety dreams: why we have them and how to stop them
Dreams are widely accepted to be a natural expression of our imagination while we sleep and have fascinated mankind since the dawn of civilisation, inviting much speculation as to why we dream and what they mean.
Two of the most famous therapists of the twentieth century, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, were influential in the field of dream interpretation. Freud’s approach was retrospective, in that he supposed past events - usually located in childhood - shape the nightly wanderings of our mind. Jung, on the other hand, developed Freud’s ideas and focused on interpreting the symbolism of dreams - as influenced by our daily lives - from which we could achieve a balance between our conscious sense of self and our non-conscious mind.
Whichever school of thought you subscribe to, most people agree that it is when we feel anxious, when our worries and fears remain unresolved, that this balance within ourselves cannot be achieved and our dreams can turn into nightmares. These are some common anxiety dreams:
- Planes falling out of the sky
- Teeth falling out
- Being chased
- Being naked in public
- Unprepared for an exam
- Late for an appointment
- Being lost/can’t find your way home.
Occasionally, we may be troubled by a difficult dream which disturbs our sleep and leaves us feeling tired the next day. This is often nothing to worry about but ongoing sleep deprivation can lead to serious consequences and it is important to speak to your GP to rule out any medical cause.
Signs you may be sleep deprived include:
- Feeling tired all day
- Longing to take a nap
- Finding it hard to concentrate
- Falling asleep when you need to be alert
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Feeling stressed and irritable
- Putting on weight.
According to Layne Dalfen, founder of the Dream Interpretation Centre in Montreal, recurring dreams and nightmares happen because your [non]-conscious is trying to get your attention. If you are troubled by such dreams, and they are affecting your daily functioning and general well-being, a good therapist can help you to uncover and release the source of your anxiety from your non-conscious mind.
Here are two case studies:
- Client A is a retired gentleman who was sleep deprived after several months of recurring nightmares where he would find himself lost and unable to get home. He dreaded going to bed in the evenings, would wake up late in the mornings, and often found himself asleep on the sofa in the afternoons. Discussion revealed that he felt very guilty about letting his colleagues down during a long period of sickness which forced his early retirement. Therapy helped him to release this guilt and very quickly the bothersome dreams stopped and a normal, healthy sleep pattern resumed.
- Client B was suffering with frightening dreams of planes falling out the sky. She was experiencing these dreams four or five times a week and the impact was affecting every area of her life. She had presented for therapy to overcome her fear of heights, a fear so great that it had induced panic attacks in the past and had stopped her from going on the skiing trips she loved so dearly. After successfully resolving this fear the client was delighted to report that the anxiety dreams had stopped completely.
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