How Stress and Anxiety Affect Our Dreams

How Stress and Anxiety Affect Our Dreams

It’s no secret that stress and anxiety can greatly impact our waking lives. Constant worry, dread, and tense moments can weigh on our minds and bodies.

However, what you may not realize is that stress and anxiety don’t always stop when you fall asleep. These negative emotions can also permeate into our dreams. in this blog post, we will share and discuss about the link between sleep,  stress and anxiety and causes and tips for better sleeping.

Understanding The Link Between Stress, Anxiety, and Dreams

To understand how stress and anxiety can show up in our dreams, it helps to first understand the link between emotions and dreams in general. Dreams are a window into our subconscious mind.

They often deal with the thoughts, emotions, memories, worries, desires and more that float just under the surface, but that we aren’t always consciously tuned into during our waking hours.

Times of high stress and worry in particular can take up a lot of mental energy and bandwidth during the day. As a mind’s way of processing information, this unresolved emotion often then plays out in the dream state.

Essentially, dreams can become a platform for the mind to work through stressful scenarios that can’t always be neatly resolved during the day.

man suffering from stress in mid night

Common Types of Stress Dreams

When stress and anxiety do infiltrate dreams, they can take many forms, depending on exactly what someone tends to worry about the most or find stressful in waking life:

1. Work stress dreams: For someone who feels overwhelmed, micromanaged or insecure at work, this could show up as dreams about missing a big presentation, messing up on an important project, repeatedly hitting the snooze button and missing work completely, realizing you are unprepared for a big meeting, finding out your workload has tripled overnight, etc.

2. Time stress / feeling behind dreams: If days feel like a race against the clock full of competing priorities, dreams may deal with chronically running late, a car that won’t start so you miss your flight, trying to pack for a trip but keep having to start over, or being back in school but missing class after class.

3. Financial stress dreams: Money worries seem to have a special knack for invading dreams. Some common financial anxiety dream themes include realizing your bank account is at zero (or way negative), trying to pay bills but forgetting your PIN number, suddenly having your home taken away, being chased to pay back debts, and being completely unprepared for retirement.

4. Health & mortality stress dreams: Few things cause more worry than health issues, especially more severe diagnoses. It’s not uncommon for health-related stress dreams to deal literally with death like having terminal cancer, watching loved ones pass away or even one’s own death.

Other versions may show failing health through chronic injuries, rotting teeth falling out, or a diagnosis like Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Relationship stress dreams: For those suffering relationship stress, break-ups and infidelity often show up. Some relationship anxiety dreams involve a partner calling to end it unexpectedly, walking in on a partner cheating, having a horrible fight where things are said that you can’t take back, realizing your partner has been lying to you, or feeling unable to connect emotionally with your significant other no matter what you try.

man ssleeping on work desk laptop open because of less sleep

Parenting stress dreams

For parents feeling extremely overburdened or doubtful in their abilities, parenting stress nightmares may include themes like forgetting to pick up a child from school, losing track of them at the store, and making major mistakes that negatively influence them like missing major milestones or not nurturing them enough.

Even parents who feel like they are doing fine can sometimes have stressful dreams about their kids being hurt and not being able to help or protect them.

Effects of Stress Dreams

No doubt about it – bad dreams take a toll even once we shake off the nighttime anxieties upon waking. Studies find that the majority of people (around 80%) don’t feel well-rested after distressing dreams.

The number of stressful dreams someone has per week is also linked to poorer daily mood and productivity, more health issues and feeling generally more psychologically distressed when awake.

Research has uncovered several ways frequent nightmares can negatively impact someone’s waking health:

  • Increased inflammation which over long periods raise disease risk
  • Elevated blood pressure and heart rate upon waking
  • Greater risk of mood disorders like anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder
  • Amplified perception and sensitivity to real life stressors
  • Poorer memory consolidation and cognitive performance
  • Increased suicidal thoughts

sleep affected by stress and anxiety

Coping With Stressful & Anxious Dreams

Luckily, there are constructive things you can do if plagued by frequent bad dreams and nightmares related to feeling stressed and worried:

Keep a dream journal: Recording dream details helps you process anxieties and may reveal useful patterns. If any themes demand a lifestyle change, use that insight towards positive growth rather than feeling guilty.

Consider talking to a therapist: A professional can help you pinpoint sources of stress and anxiety you may not be fully aware drag you down, equip you with healthy coping tools, and aid you in getting to the root of reoccurring stressful dream themes.

Practice good sleep habits: Getting enough sleep ensures you spend enough time in restorative dream stages instead of shallow sleep. Developing healthy routines like limiting nighttime electronics, avoiding late meals, establishing a calming bedtime routine and insulating your room for darkness and quiet all support restful sleep.

Use relaxation techniques: Winding down stress levels before bed with things like deep breathing, meditation, soothing music, warm baths, positive visualization and muscle relaxation therapy makes it less likely worries invade dreamland quite as much.

Consider medications if prescribed: If anxiety has become severe and pervasive enough to greatly interfere with sleep and daily life, consulting a doctor about medication options may be helpful for more difficult cases.

The Takeaway

Dreams can be powerful messengers, bringing uncomfortable emotions that are bubbling under the surface during waking hours to light. Paying attention to just what specific scenarios tend to play out again and again in your dreams offers insight into areas of life causing you the most worry, distress, and feelings of lacking control or support.

Rather than futilely trying to banish stressful dreams forever, leverage them. Let them illuminate exactly which types of stressors currently weigh on you most so that you can thoughtfully address their root causes and craft targeted coping strategies.

A few purposeful lifestyle adjustments paired with determination to build emotional resilience skills can go a long way towards laying anxious thoughts to rest for good – both at night and during the day ahead.