I recall one night I was asleep and my dream was particularly vivid and bizarre. Suddenly, I was being strangled by something that I couldn’t quite see on top of me; I couldn’t move, I couldn’t scream out, I was completely immobilized.
After this experience passed and I was able to move again, I ran into my sister’s room (as we always did when we were kids after having a bad dream) and asked her what happened, she told me it sounded like sleep paralysis. For a few months then, I had this almost every night.
Let me add I was 15 at the time, this is when I had just started to feel depression and high anxiety and I was dealing with my emotions in the most unhelpful ways.
I’m 23 now, I sometimes still get sleep paralysis but never as bad as when I was having it at 15. I also get night terrors, this is similar to a nightmare but you don’t remember what happened, you just remember the overwhelming sense of dread and fear that knocks you awake in the first few hours of REM sleep.
And I sometimes have extremely vivid anxiety dreams, which I would call nightmares but you wouldn’t typically describe as that, simply as its things that I worry about in waking life coming true in my dreams. Due to their vivid nature, I often feel as though they’re real at the time creating high anxiety within me, prodding me to wake and then often affecting my mood for the first hour or so after starting the day. These kinds of dreams are commonly variations of the same kind of dream, including the same themes, people and events in different circumstances; all creating the same feeling.
Although issues with sleep occurred for me when I started to experience issues with my mental illness, this doesn’t mean these kinds of dreams are limited to those with anxiety or other mood disorders. It is very common for all people, as we process information, emotions and events from our day or that we have thought about, to have such dreams.
Oftentimes there are things within our life that we are feeling stress about, that we are not dealing with which then come to ‘reality’ in our dreams. Almost as if our mind is telling us to deal with it.
I enjoy reflecting on the anxious dreams that I’ve had, asking myself what caused them to occur and what issues I have internally that I may not be dealing with effectively. Reminding myself of the feeling when the dream had ended, when I woke up and realised the dream wasn’t my reality – and how bad I’d feel if it was.
We can get mixed up in the chaos of everyday life, the activity of social media and the company of each other that we fail to have daily conversations with ourselves about how we’re doing, if anything is bothering or worrying us and how to deal with this through rational thought – then potentially altering our sleep and affecting the next day ahead.
If you find yourself having a peculiar dream which causes your stress levels to rise, try not to let it fog your morning or possibly affect your whole day. Just be honest with yourself and have a little conversation about the dreams theme, the characters and why you think it made you feel as it did. Deconstruct, like a piece of literature. More importantly what anxieties in waking life may you be having that you’re not dealing with? Or that you’re giving too much thought towards?