I don’t know about you, but I am the type of person who almost always dreams about precisely what is going on in my in life, particularly if I’m going through a rough patch. If I’m worried about money, I dream about money. If I’m dating someone new, I have dreams about my exes. If I’ve got a looming deadline, well, I dream about being chased by a murderer or something remarkably unpleasant like that. But that’s what stress dreams are, friends. They aren’t all that fun, but they are pretty darn common. But if it’s something that you deal with, and it makes sleeping more of a chore than a time of restoration, rest assured, ahem, there are things you can do about it.
As sleep science coach and founder of Tuck.com, Bill Fish, explains to Elite Daily, stress dreams more or less happen to everyone, and really, it makes sense as to why that is. What you’re dealing with in the daytime hours is of course going to affect what is rolling through your mind while you sleep.
"All of our dreams are just mash-ups of our previous experiences, whether good or bad," Fish tells Elite Daily. "Our brains never shut down per se; when we are sleeping, they are flushing our thoughts and experiences through our dreams."
So, if you happen to be going through a rough or stressful time, Fish explains, you’re apt to have those negative experiences come out in your dreams, which could create a vicious cycle. Ugh, I’ve totally been there. There is nothing quite as bad as being stressed out, wanting to curl up in bed and fall deep asleep, and then having a whole night littered with dreams that cause just as much, if not more anxiety.
"Some common stress dreams are the feeling of falling, feeling of being chased, feeling of being late, etc.," says Fish. "I have my own personal stress dream that I have experienced since childhood. I happened to play baseball through college, and to this day I have a dream, probably once a week, where I need to go on the field and I either can’t find my glove, my hat, bat, or one of those things are broken, and people are waiting for me to get out there!"
It’s the same type of dream he’s had for over 30 years, Fish tells me, and he says it usually indicates that there’s something bugging him
For the most part, the dream expert shares, stress dreams are just re-alerting you that there is something on your mind, or even prodding you to acknowledge what you are feeling (and maybe ignoring by scrolling through Instagram or watching 10 episodes of Game of Thrones).
Arlene Englander, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist based in Florida, tells me she often talks about dreams with her clients for this very reason: because they can be a window into what’s going on inside.
"The beauty of recalling our dreams and understanding them lies in the fact that they often have helpful messages to share," Englander tells Elite Daily. "When we’re going through a time of conflict, growth, or change, we often find our dreams are more intense and memorable. They are reflective of strong feelings we are having consciously and pre-consciously during the day."
Bringing these inner struggles into awareness can help us better understand ourselves and our challenges, and overcome them, the therapist shares.
In fact, Englander describes a client who was concerned about getting back in the dating scene after a divorce, and how the client dreamed of her sister falling off a dock into the water. Her sister, with whom she felt very close, could not swim. She awoke feeling fearful about her sister’s survival, but once Englander and her client explored the dream, the client realized that the fear for survival was similar to her feelings about dating again. She had often mentioned in sessions that she was afraid to “jump in," knowing she’d have to “sink or swim.”
"Examining the dream, she was able to see that it visually presented a part of herself that wanted to ‘jump in’ but was afraid," Englander explains. "We were then also able to help her look more closely at issues regarding her self-esteem and the fact that she had much to value about herself as a person, whether or not she was with a man."
As for how to cope with stress dreams? Well, the first step is certainly to identify what’s stressing you out in the daylight hours, whatever that issue might be, even if it’s just anxiety that doesn’t seem attached to any particular issue, and address that accordingly.
Luckily, Bill Fish also has some routine advice to share for right before bedtime, which can also help to alleviate your stress dreams. First rule of thumb? Don’t do things that stress you out before you go to bed, says Fish. In other words, maybe right before you tuck in for the night is not the best time to check your bank statement, or take a peek at your ex’s new SO’s Instagram. Just sayin’.
"Read a book, listen to a relaxing podcast, or even meditate to clear your mind as you start the process of getting to sleep," Fish suggests. Do things before bed that help your body and mind relax and let go of your worries, even if just for a while.
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