Anxiety dreams are unpleasant dreams that cause distress. They generally revolve around stressful things that a person is dealing with when awake. Anxiety dreams are very normal, however learning to manage the distress is important for the well-being of an individual. Our dreams are telling us something, and being able to identify what anxiety dreams are about can help us cope with them.
What Are Anxiety Dreams?
Anxiety dreams are dreams that cause immense fear in an individual. Many individuals cope with their anxieties by pushing them down and powering through the day. However, when they fall asleep their mind begins to process everything through anxiety dreams.
The main difference between anxiety dreams and nightmares is the intensity of the experience. Anxiety dreams are stressful, whereas nightmares are frightening. Sometimes there is an overlap where anxiety may be distressing enough to trigger a nightmare.
Can Anxiety Dreams be Beneficial?
Although anxiety dreams are distressing, they may also be beneficial. Distressing dreams are uncomfortable, and so a person may be more likely to deal with their daily stressors in order to get rid of these dreams. Anxiety dreams may also help a person heal from trauma. The dream forces them to rewatch the trauma that occurred, which can allow them to work through their trauma in therapy.
What Are the Types of Anxiety Dreams?
There are various types of anxiety dreams and various reasons for why they occur. There is no single correct way to interpret a dream, but recognizing the themes can provide insight into what stresses you the most now or figure out why you are dreaming about someone in your life. Being able to look at your dreams and try to manage them is important for your well-being.
Here are sixteen types of anxiety dreams and what they could mean:
1. Severe Storms
This dream is common for people with generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety can be similar to natural disasters: you can feel like the anxiety comes out of nowhere and destroys everything in its path. In order to work through this dream it is important for an individual to become aware of their anxiety. Like natural disasters, there are usually some warning signs that anxiety is creeping up on you. When these issues are ignored, they may wreck havoc in your dreams.
This dream is common for people struggling with panic attacks. Drowning can cause a feeling of pressure in the chest or difficulty breathing, similar to the effect panic attacks have on the body. You may even experience cold sweats while dreaming, which can happen when a panic attack is about to occur.
3. Being Chased
This dream is common for people with social anxiety disorder. When in a social interaction that causes anxiety, you may feel the need to run away from the current location or group of people. Usually it is not clear what or whom you are running away from in these dreams, but dealing with your social anxiety could make this clearer.
This dream is common for people with a lot of instability in their life. The instability can be physical, emotional, or both. When dreaming about an earthquake you may have a physical sensation of the earth moving. This can be symbolic of the instability in your life.
This dream is common for people who feel that they are losing control. You may be losing control at work, in your relationships, or finances. The gut-wrenching sensation you have when falling from a high place is similar to the feeling of not having control over the important things in your life.
This dream is common for people who are dealing with a lot of stress. The bigger the fire, the more stress you are under. This dream is also an indication of burnout. It is important to evaluate the stress you are dealing with and to create more balance in your life in order to prevent these dreams from reoccurring.
7. Being Naked in Public
This dream is common for people who are struggling with an inferiority complex. These feelings can make it hard for you to connect with others. Being naked in public can make you feeling inferior and prevent you from engaging with the people around you. Similar to being naked, feeling inferior can leave a person feeling vulnerable and alone.
8. Losing or Forgetting Important Things
This dream is common for people who are dealing with high-pressure events. Losing or forgetting something important can be symbolic of trying to manage a high-pressure situation that you may not feel confident about. It is important to remind yourself that you are a lot more capable and in control than the dream is depicting.
9. Uncomfortable School Situations
This dream is common for people who are dealing with uncomfortable situations in their life. Everyone has had an uncomfortable situation at school, which creates anxiety, embarrassment, and stress. Although you are not in school anymore, managing the uncomfortable situations in your life can bring up the same feelings as when you were in school.
10. Losing Teeth
This dream is common for people who are dealing with loss. The loss can be the death of someone close to you, the loss of a job or your home. Historically, losing teeth was associated with the loss of something important, which can create anxiety or depression about losing teeth. This is symbolic of the anxiety and depression connected to the concept of loss.
11. Tragic Accidents
This dream is common for people who are dealing with anxiety or depression. Dreaming about people you love being in a tragic accident can create the same anxiety and feelings of helplessness you are dealing with in your life, which can lead to depression.
This dream is common for people who are feeling overwhelmed by the daily grind of life. You cannot be in control of floods and dealing with the aftermath is overwhelming. This is symbolic of feeling overwhelmed and not in control in your life. Feeling like you have no control over your life can be a risk factor in developing mental health issues, such as generalized anxiety disorders.
13. Car Problems
This dream is common for people who are feeling a loss of control in their life. A car is an essential part of our daily lives. Dreaming about having car problems is associated with feeling out of control or not being able to steer in the direction you want to. The car is symbolic of your own body. When there are issues with your body it can be hard to focus and go in the direction you want to.
14. Running Late
This dream is common for people who are dealing with the pressures of a deadline. Punctuality is a very important part of being responsible and accountable. Similar to punctuality, being able to meet the expectations of a deadline is important in life.
15. Back to School
This dream is common for people who are dealing with stressors at a job. School is the first real job we all have had. When attending school, there are expectations, deadlines and graded outcomes. Dreaming about being back at school is associated with stressors that an individual might have with a job. Some individuals might be struggling to meet the expectations that are set forth, and this can cause stress and anxiety.
16. Being unable to Find a Place
This dream is common for people who feel that they don’t belong in a certain place. When you are unable to find a location in a dream, you are not where you belong. This is symbolic of not belonging at work, in your relationships or your home. Feeling that you don’t belong in a certain place can bring forth feelings of depression or anxiety.
Causes of Anxiety Dreams
Many individuals have a lot to deal with in their day, and anxiety can lead to distressing dreams. When dreaming, a person’s brain is patching together memories, thoughts, and emotions from their daytime activities.
Causes of anxiety dreams include:
- Life changes
- Recent loss
- Traumatic events
- Substance use
How to Cope With & Reduce Anxiety Dreams
Anxiety dreams create a vicious cycle, where a person is experiencing anxiety during the day, which creates anxiety dreams, which makes their daytime anxiety even worse. Coping with anxiety dreams is helpful in managing the effects it has on a person’s quality of sleep. Sleep impacts mental health, and when a person is not sleeping properly they will struggle with increased anxiety during the day. There is no way to control anxiety dreams, but there are ways to reduce stress and improve sleep. Furthermore, addressing the core causes of an anxiety dream can reduce the frequency or stop them entirely.
Tips for coping with anxiety dreams include:
- Write down the dream: Recalling the details of a dream is important for identifying what is at its core. Dreams can be easily forgotten, and being able to identify the details of what caused the distress is helpful.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can ground you and help with distressing emotions and thoughts.1 Breathwork is a mindfulness technique that can be particularly helpful in reducing stress.
- Talk to someone about the dream: Discussing your dream in detail with someone you trust can be helpful. Having a space to be heard can be helpful in letting go of the distress the dream has brought forth.
- Relaxation exercises: Relaxation exercises such as progressive muscle relaxation help to physically release distressing emotions.2
- Follow a regular bedtime routine: Having a consistent bedtime routine can alleviate the stressors of the day, which allows a person to fall asleep in a more relaxed mindset. This reduces the chances of experiencing anxiety dreams.
- Avoid heavy foods or alcohol before bed: Heavy foods and alcohol can create indigestion or other abdominal discomforts that affect a person’s quality of sleep.
- Keep your bedroom cool and quiet: Being in a comfortable environment allows a person to relax and enjoy being in bed. It is hard to sleep in a bedroom near loud noises or with uncomfortable temperatures.
- Avoid phone usage: It can be hard to put your phone down, but slowing down and reducing the stimulation to your brain is essential in being able to fall asleep.
- Make a plan: Creating a plan to manage your anxiety dreams is helpful, especially if they are interfering with your daytime activities.
- Practice self-care: Self-care is important! Doing something that makes you happy can be helpful in reducing distress.
- Get up and get active: Exercise and mental health are connected. The hormones released during physical activity can help you manage your emotions and reduce stress.4 Exercise gives a stress-reducing boost.
- Limit media that triggers anxiety: TV shows involving drama and action are popular, but these shows can create anxiety that exacerbates distressing thoughts and feelings.
- Ask for support from family and friends: Having emotional support from loved ones who you trust can help you feel less stressed.
- Talk to a mental health professional: It is important to address anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders that may be contributing to emotional distress and poor sleep.3 Acknowledging the big stressors in your life can help you find ways to deal with them.
- Reach out to a sleep specialist: You may find that you need support from a specialist to develop a plan on how to manage anxiety dreams.
When to Seek Professional Help
Occasional stress dreams can happen to anyone, but if these dreams happen frequently and begin to impact daily functioning, it may be time to seek professional help.5 Anxiety dreams may be a sign of an underlying mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression, and therapy can help. An online therapist directory can help you find a professional who meets your specific needs. Also, there are online therapist services that can help you reach your goals and begin to heal.
Even though anxiety dreams can be distressing, there are ways to manage the stress and potentially reduce or stop these dreams from occurring. Identifying triggers and managing stressors is the first step. Seeking support from loved ones or professional individuals can be helpful if you feel like you need the extra support.