No, you’re not imagining it: Your dreams really have been more vivid and intense since the coronavirus pandemic began.
You’re not alone, either. Google searches of the question “Why am I having weird dreams lately?” have quadrupled in the United States in the past week as all of us struggle to understand why the pandemic and being on lockdown have seeped into our subconscious.
Poor sleep quality is partly to blame. According to a recent survey of 1,014 Americans conducted by SleepStandards, a site that reviews mattresses, 76.8% admitted their sleep has been affected.
We have dreams every night, but the better we sleep, the less likely we are to remember them in the morning. Stress fragments sleep and increases our ability to recall our dreams.
Research has shown that increased anxiety during the day can lead to more negative content in dreams ― especially during a global crisis like this. After 9/11, researchers found that the collective trauma made our dreams more intense and memorable in the days following the attacks. (You’re not alone if you recall having a plane crash dream back then.)
In this case, all those pent-up thoughts you have about you or your loved ones catching COVID-19 are bound to make it into your nightmares.
“We dream at night what we can’t think or feel during the day ― and there is a lot of unthinkable shit happening right now,” said Emily Anhalt, a clinical psychologist and co-founder of Coa, a “gym for mental fitness.”
“Add to that the guilt we feel for complaining while people are dying, and our emotions have nowhere to go,” she said. “So where do those thoughts go? They present themselves in our dreams, disguised by symbol and metaphor.”
Interestingly, the symbols and metaphors that pop up in our own respective dreams are pretty universal. When we recently asked readers to share some of their most vivid dreams, many of them touched on the same themes.
To better understand our coronavirus dreams, we asked dream experts to decode some of the most common themes readers sent us. Read their analysis below.
Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.
Dreams About Public Gatherings
1. “I’ve been having coronavirus dreams every night. Mostly they involve me out in public places that we used to visit. Disneyland, Las Vegas, movie theaters. My three young kids are running around in crowds of people, touching everything while I chase after them, crying.”
2. “In one dream, my husband threw a surprise birthday party for a friend (and I had no idea who this friend was). Guests started to arrive and I was horrified, thinking about how many of them will then die from COVID-19. In another dream, it was our wedding day (at a venue I didn’t recognize), and I yelled in my dream, ‘This wedding can’t happen, lots of people will die!’”
3. “I had a dream I went to Disneyland and realized I forgot to wear pants. I rushed to a store in Downtown Disney to buy something to put on, then realized I forgot to wear a mask. And then I realized I really shouldn’t be at Disneyland at all, anyway. I chalked it up to my fears of being unprepared for a pandemic.”
Weddings and birthdays are milestone events that usually involve a plurality of people. Dreams about them suggest the dreamer is preoccupied with how COVID-19 will affect people en mass, said psychologist Anjhula Mya Singh Bais.
“They’re thinking not individualistically, as they would be if it were a dream about a job promotion, but rather, events that involve love and community like birthdays and weddings,” Singh Bais told HuffPost.
Both events also embody ideas around life and death.
“Birthdays are when you came into the world, which means an automatic countdown has begun toward when we will die, and wedding vows involve ideas like ‘until death do us part,’” she said.
As for the Disneyland dreams, “Disney is quite often synonymous with innocence, fun and good memories, back in the day when things were good,” Singh Bais said. “Running around there in your dream suggests you miss the freedoms that we maybe took for granted. Now there’s a new world order where no place feels safe.”
As for the missing pants in the last dream? “Forgetting to wear pants as opposed to a shirt or cap symbolizes the naked truth that you feel vulnerable,” she said.
Survivalist, Pop Culture-Inspired Dreams
1. “I’m having survivalist dreams. I’m buying the kind of stuff I know they wished they had on ‘The Walking Dead.’ There are multiple tornadoes coming from [all directions]. I’m trying to keep everyone safe but there’s too many people, so I have to make choices.”
2. “I had a dream a few nights ago where life was a combo of ’1984’ and ‘Hunger Games.’ The 10 richest families in the world released the virus as a ‘Hunger Games’-type contest to see which nation found a cure first. My dream had media coverage, too, but it appeared to be gameshow hosts instead of news anchors on air. Life was very much like ‘1984’ in observation. It was really weird.”
Tornadoes often symbolize destruction and life upended, Singh Bais said.
“The world as we knew it has come to an end like it did in ‘The Walking Dead,’” she said. “COVID throws up many questions. Your dreams are playing out survival scenarios in a bid to maintain hope, preparedness and stability.”
In the case of the “Hunger Games” dream, seeing the pandemic as a game likely helps this person step away from her emotions and take a more objective view, said dream analyst Jane Teresa Anderson.
“One strategy for surviving and even thriving in crisis is to switch into cool, objective mode,” she said. “The dreamer might be exploring a ‘cure’ for losing her job, a cure for issues around her relationship that are heightened due to self-isolation, or a cure for any number of personal challenges.”
1. “In my dream, Stormtroopers (wearing yellow armor instead of white) from the CDC were raiding houses and confiscating everyone’s personal hoards of Crystal Pepsi, as it was a needed ingredient for the COVID-19 vaccine. They were pounding on the door to my house, which I found weird because I only drank Coca-Cola Clear back in the day, and had neither since 1980-something.”
2. “I’m in my 38th day of isolation because I had experienced symptoms. I really just dream about snacks. I ran out of snacks in week one!”
Dreams about missing snacks are related to feelings of being deprived, depleted and unrewarded, said Carla Marie Manly, author of “Joy from Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend.”
“Having one’s snacks taken away reflects the fear of being robbed or deprived of what we want and need in life,” she said. “The Stormtrooper dream also reflects anger and irritation at the government-imposed restrictions which may feel overreaching and invasive.”
A Mysterious Figure
1. “I’ve had dreams about the coronavirus a few times, each of them different. The most memorable one was when I was patting my 2-year old to sleep one night and begin to doze myself. I was in an auditorium that had a deep red curtain. It was fairly dark there. A few people were in there, none of whom I noticed nor did I really recognize. What I noticed was, in the far corner, a slender human body with an ominous, giant black rabbit head was just silently watching in the back. It was wearing a vertical black and white striped outfit. It made me incredibly uneasy. I knew what it was in my dream; it was a visual manifestation of this virus that’s currently lurking everywhere. The dream was brief but left me uneasy for days. It was early on in the stay-at-home order. I just felt its presence and like it was silently calculating who to come after, no one else aware of its presence. I’ve always been weirded out by artwork or displays of human bodies with mascot heads on, but this was pretty out of the ordinary for me, in terms of dreams. Even weeks later, I still feel uneasy when recalling it.”
2. “I dreamt I was in my living room when something broke into my home right through the wall. I was running from this beast with a loud roar. I hid in the bushes outside while it stomped around my yard threatening everyone and everything I loved. I’m guessing my mind was processing the virus and gave it a visible form.”
3. “Every night, I dream that I’m sheltering in place in a run-down, abandoned mansion with some faceless man that I don’t know. At first I have fun exploring the house and finding secret rooms and passageways. Toward the end of the dream, furniture starts moving around by itself, doors slam shut on their own, and the piano starts playing by itself. I wake up right as I’m about to run out of the house and just take my chances with the virus. Each night, I dream about this same house. Sometimes, I show the man the different rooms that I have found in previous nights’ dreams. For some reason, the faceless man is only wearing a towel around his waist, like he just got out of the shower. He never has clothes on. Awkward. Glad to see that I’m not the only one having weird dreams right now!”
In the first, the auditorium setting is meaningful, said Lauri Loewenberg, author of “Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life.” The dreamer may feel like our current situation is more like a show, not real life.
“The dreamer, like all of us, may be eager for this show to be over, to close the curtains on this nightmare,” she said. “Also, the dream was dark. Whenever a dream takes place in the dark, it is often because the dreamer’s emotions are dark at the time or the dreamer is uncertain or ‘in the dark’ about a certain issue in his or her life. Both of these could certainly apply.”
The dreamer’s subconscious is using imagery that has always creeped her out to give form to the virus, Loewenberg said. “And the rabbit head may be a reference to how this virus is multiplying like rabbits are known to do.”
In the second dream, the dreamer is right on the money in their interpretation: The virus has taken visible form in the beast.
“The beast ― or the virus ― broke into the dreamer’s living room,” Loewenberg said. “The living room represents that which do on a daily basis, our day-to-day lives. The dreamer ran out of her living room because her daily, living routine has been vastly disrupted.”
“COVID throws up many questions. Your dreams are playing out survival scenarios in a bid to maintain hope, preparedness and stability.”
The house is incredibly significant in the last dream. Houses ― whether they’re our actual home or imagined ones ― tend to represent the self, Loewenberg said. The type of house and the condition of it says a lot about the dreamer’s current state of mind.
“Mansions often symbolize a big part of the dreamer, a part of the self the dreamer is proud of,” she said. “Since the mansion is abandoned and she is excited to explore the rooms, this may be a part of the dreamer that she has neglected but is excited to get back to now that quarantine has likely given her tons of extra time.”
Despite the dreamer’s good intentions, the more difficult parts of quarantine are likely starting “to haunt” her since the mansion becomes so creepy she wants to make a run for it.
“I think the man is a part of herself as well and is most likely her male energy: the part of her that is no-nonsense, with assertive energy. On the other hand, unknown women in dreams tend to represent creative, emotional and nurturing energy,” Loewenberg explained. “Just as the man seemed to have just gotten out of the shower, her no-nonsense, ‘get-er done’ side is telling her to cleanse herself of her frustrations and negativity and get back to what she was originally excited about.”
A Return To Childhood
“I’ve been dreaming of my childhood home at the age my son is now (9) and of my deceased father. In my dreams, my parents are both alive, healthy and strong, and I feel cocooned by their mere presence. I interpret my subconscious returning to that time in my life as the antithesis of the anxiety and fear I feel now. My nearly 74-year-old mother lives alone, in the Bronx, and I am terrified of her becoming ill. I am no longer the child, but the parent who must provide love, stability and calm. I awake feeling alarmed and winded, as if I have literally traveled through time and space. Despite my fears, however, I know I am among the lucky and for that, I am grateful.”
This dreamer is looking for a solution to the problem of her anxiety and finds just that in her memory of being cocooned by her parents, Anderson said. The dreamer is taking comfort in an era when her mother was healthy, strong and capable of protecting her daughter. It’s interesting that the dreamer is thinking of her 9-year-old son; when our children reach specific ages that resonate with our own childhood, we often dream of being that age again, Anderson said.
“There may be something around being 9 in her own childhood that she needs to revisit,” Anderson said, “It’s helpful to look at everyone and everything in a dream as representing something about the dreamer: her ‘alive, healthy, strong’ parents in the dream may represent her own healthy parenting abilities, and the child, in the dream, is the part of herself that needs cocooning even though now she’s the mother.”
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