Are anxieties manifesting in your dreams?
I had a bad dream the other night that there was an albino scorpion in my bedroom. It was feasting on a mass of spiders that were trying to overtake the bed and had started to make a nest out of my silk ties.
A cloud of mosquitoes swarmed in and that’s when I really started to panic. I tried to shake the scorpion out of my tie but it dug in tight. I swatted at the spiders and mosquitoes but they just doubled in numbers. I was stuck in bed with poisonous and disease carrying insects with a taste for expensive silk.
It was truly the stuff of nightmares and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I woke up in a sweat and a panic, and resisted every urge in my body to get up, flip on the lights, and tear the bedroom apart searching for bugs. I did check on my ties in the morning, though, just in case.
Evolutionary theory posits that bad dreams served as an ancient defense system designed to keep us on our toes. Essentially, if you dreamt about a tough situation, you’d be ready to act appropriately should it happen in real life. I have to say I’m not sure that I’m ready for the next bug apocalypse but I’ll sure have a story to tell if it happens.
What Causes Nightmares?
Nightmares are caused by a number of different factors. Stress, anxiety and life-altering changes are major contributors. In fact, psychologists have already noted a trend in nightmares related to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The first wave of nightmares are about how people react to their anxieties and fears. Okay, perhaps I’m a little more frightened of insects than my pride allows me to admit.
Other triggers could be trauma or PTSD, insomnia or an irregular sleep schedule, medications, substance abuse, or other mental or physical conditions like depression or heart disease. Sometimes it’s as simple as watching a horror movie before bed (personally I can assure you I haven’t watched Arachnophobia in years).
“They’ve promised that dreams can come true –
but forgot to mention that nightmares are dreams, too.” – Oscar Wilde
Bad dreams also run in families who have a history of suffering nightmares or other parasomnias (other sleep disorders like sleepwalking or talking).
Bad Dreams, Nightmares, and Nightmare Disorders
Dreams usually happen in the second half of our sleep during rapid eye movement (REM), which is why dreams seem to occur in the wee hours. A bad dream is an isolated incident that doesn’t leave you with an emotional impact. A nightmare, however, leads to strong feelings in the dreamer that wakes them up and causes them distress. I can tell you from personal experience that nightmares can be bad enough to leave you shaken in the morning. The occasional nightmare is common.
Men’s nightmares are more likely to be about chases, disasters or insects. – Mental Floss
How to Treat Nightmares
I’m chalking my recent nightmare up to my brain needing to release some pandemic-induced stress. Thankfully since that night I’ve been sleeping like a baby, no bugs have invaded the room AND my ties remain uninfested.
But if bad dreams are impacting your mood, ability to fall asleep, energy levels, work or life, there is help available. The first step is determining the cause. If it’s not due to a medical condition or a certain medication you’re taking, you can work with a counsellor to determine whether stress, anxiety, trauma, insomnia or substance abuse is the problem. We’ll then work with you to give you the tools you need to effectively handle and prevent the nightmares to help you function better during the day (and when you’re asleep, too).