This morning, for the fourth day in a row, I woke up in a ball of sweat. I had three dreams I can remember last night and in all three of them, someone was trying to kill me.
I’m not a particularly exceptional dreamer, I have the obvious stress dreams of needing to run but not being able to, driving in a car that’s out of control, shouting but no sound coming out – but more often than not, I don’t remember them well once I wake up and can fall right back asleep after a few deep breaths. This time, something is different.
Not only are the dreams more vivid than ever, I can remember them scene for scene. In my last one, I was at a dingy bar with my sisters, talking to the main character from Netflix’s Dare Me (?!) when we all heard loud crashing upstairs. I immediately knew someone was trying to kill everyone and ran to the toilets expecting my sisters to follow.
They didn’t, so I was in a cubicle alone when the killer entered the bathroom. I’m watching her walk towards the toilet mirrors through a crack in the door. I’m trying not to breathe too loudly, but she hears me anyway and starts to walk towards me slowly, knife in hand. I think to myself, ‘this is like a horror film’ as what feels like an hour passes. As she gets close, I decide to burst the door open and dive on her.
Except I don’t, the door just bursts open and I stand there. It’s a teenage girl, looking at me eyes wide and terrified. She knows police are coming for her and she doesn’t know whether to lunge or run. In the dream, I literally remember feeling sorry for her and saying ‘just give me the knife’, so she does and she runs. I throw it on the floor and realise I’m now a murder suspect for touching it. I wake up.
The dream wasn’t just weird for how eerily it resembled a movie in my head, but for how I can still remember the exact emotions I felt during. And I’m not the only one.
‘I’ve been having very vivid dreams every night since this coronavirus pandemic began to get serious in the UK,’ says Hannah, 31. ‘I went from dreaming a lot about my dad, who died five years ago, which were more calming, to now having strange anxiety dreams where I’m out of control. So last night, I dreamt my son’s finger fell off for example. They make no sense!’
‘Not long after things started to get more real I had my classic anxiety dream I get sometimes,’ says Emma, 29. ‘I turn up to exams day and realised I’ve not been to any of the classes for the whole term. I now recognise I get a variation on this dream whenever I’m stressed and it made me realise I was probably more worried than I’d thought. Now my dreams are just plain weird, which I think just signals my brain is a bit all over the place, like everyone else.’
Is that what it is? Are our sleeping brains just resembling the chaos of our everyday lives now, where we can’t possibly know what’s going to happen in our lives and whether we’ll (literally) survive it? Well, according to dream expert Lauri Loewenberg, yes.
Our dreams are a continuation of our thought stream from the day
‘Dreaming is a thinking process and our dreams are a continuation of our thought stream from the day,’ she tells Grazia. ‘But they are in symbolic form because, while in the dream state, the brain is working differently. The amygdala, the emotional centre of the brain, is highly active so any emotion felt during the day will be significantly amplified in our dreams.
‘When we are going through a stressful time in our life, our dreams will be a metaphor for the stress and magnify it,’ she continues. ‘But at the same time, our dreams will often offer advice on how to deal with it or just give us a better understanding of our situation so we can make better decisions in regard to it.’
According to Lauri, typical anxiety dreams usually involve tornados (which means ‘worry spinning out of control’), tidal waves (‘feeling overwhelmingly swept away from your normal routine’), flooding (‘a negative mindset that is getting increasingly worse’), house fires (frazzled nerves and being burnt out) or car breaks that don’t work (‘feeling a loss of control’).
And anecdotally from the dream sessions she has with clients, Lauri has noticed many more anxiety dreams being reported since the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic began. ‘More people have been reporting tidal wave and tornado dreams to me lately,’ she says. ‘And people have been dreaming of bugs and ants in particular - I believe this is due to being more irritable, for example things and other people like spouses or kids bugging us more than normal because of lockdown.
‘I have also found, and this includes me, people dreaming of their elderly parents more than normal,’ she continues. ‘Obviously, our seniors are at the greatest risk. What concerns us or affects us the most in real life is what we tend to dream about.’
So, what was my horror movie dream trying to tell me? Well, it goes deep, guys.
‘There are so many symbols relevant to what we are all dealing with,’ Lauri explains. ‘The bar likely symbolizes your need to numb yourself from reality of all of this. The crashing and the knowledge of a killer upstairs reflects how this all came "crashing" into our lives and it is upstairs in the dream because this is something hanging over all our heads. The idea that the killer was going to kill everyone is pretty self-explanatory.
‘You run into the bathroom because the bathroom represents cleansing and the ability to flush away negativity and frustrations,’ she continues. ‘But you wind up alone in the cubicle because we are all having to self-isolate. Your sense of time is prominent in the dream because we are all aware of time right now and, like in your dream, it really seems to be dragging!’
Explaining why the killer was a scared teenage girl, Lauri says she likely represents a part of myself – be it the fear I’m feeling causing me to revert back to being an uncertain teenager or my brain remembering something from my teenage years that feels eerily familiar now, like illness, loss or uncertainty that was overwhelming at the time - as those feelings are now.
The knife is a specific detail
‘You wind up taking the knife from her, that seems to reflect ownership and responsibility, which we are all trying to do right now,’ Lauri continues. ‘But also, the knife is a specific detail. Knives are used to cut and separate. We are all having to cut social activities out of our lives and separate from others in order to be responsible.
‘It is actually kind of funny that at the end you fear you may now be implicated in murder because you touched the knife. That is a perfect illustration of our collective fear of "don't touch anything in public or you may kill someone!"'
Overall, Lauri thinks my dream is teaching me that personal responsibility is the best way to deal with this and to try and stay in the part of my mind that is like a bathroom. ‘Keep flushing away those negative and anxious thoughts,’ she tells me. ‘They take up entirely too much mental space.’
And she encourages others dealing with anxiety dreams to do the same, particularly by journaling thoughts before bed. ‘I’ve found it very beneficial to a more peaceful mind and better dreams,’ she says. ‘Write out what you are worried about or what is troubling you the most right now. In the writing process, include the positive outcome you would like to see as well as something you can actively do to reach that outcome. This allows you to sort out all those jumbles stressful thoughts and it gets them out of your head and onto paper.
‘Take up as many pages in your journal as you need,’ she adds. ‘Get it all out! Then, as you drift off to sleep, don't think about what worries you, think about what you love, who you love, what you want to do in the future. You will be surprised how much this will change your dreams and - in turn - how much it changes your stress. Reprogramming. That's what you're doing.’
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