One question that does pop up now and then in the community is, “How do I handle dreams about anxiety?”
Generally, this question will come from someone who is now feeling anxious or even experiencing panic in their dreams. They dream about being anxious, those dreams are disturbing to them, they wake up feeling unsettled, and want to know what to do about that.
Well … there’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that dreaming about anxiety isn’t unusual, rare, or unique. Many many people that get stuck in the anxiety and fear cycle can often have dreams focused on anxiety. Dreams in which you are anxious or feeling panic happen all the time to many people.
When I was at my worst and struggling to get even a quarter mile from my house by myself, I would often dream that I was suddenly in San Francisco. That’s 3000 miles away from home. In my dream, I would have no idea how I arrived there. The instant reaction - in my dream - was to panic because I had no idea how I was going to get back home and out of “danger”. I would get anxious and panic in my dreams fairly often. I would wake up from those dreams feeling agitated, unsettled, shaky, and all the other things that often come after a big anxiety wave or panic attack. My experience is not unique at all, so take some solace in the fact that dreaming about being anxious does not mean that things are “getting worse” for you. You’re quite normal in this respect.
The bad news is that what you can about this is essentially … nothing.
My advice in these situations is to treat anxious dreams - even the ones that really rattle you - the same as you would any other anxiety wave or panic attack. I do understand that waking up in the middle of the night in a panic because you were experiencing panic in your dream is unsettling. It’s a shock. A jolt. Like being punched in the face while sleeping. You are in a vulnerable state - asleep - then seemingly “attacked” by this thing that makes you feel completely overwhelmed and even a little disoriented because that is common when we are suddenly awakened.
This all being acknowledged, we are best to resist the urge to treat anxious dreams as special things because they FEEL so uncomfortable and scary in the middle of the night. But frantically trying to find a way to stop them from happening or instantly feel good when jolted out of bed this way gets very frustrating and ultimately just adds fuel to the anxiety fire.
Feeling anxious in a dream - then anxious upon waking from that dream - is just like feeling anxious at any other time. It’s not the feeling that we care about, it’s the way we react and relate to it. Yes, you will be startled and afraid at first because that’s what humans do, but after that initial jolt your job with anxious dreams is to allow all the feelings and thoughts to come, peak, then subside. Just like you would when awake.
I know, this seems very difficult, and it is. But as always, difficult does not equal impossible.
Oh, and one last thing. Your anxious dreams are not “telling you something”. They are not premonitions, visions, predictions, or messages from your intuition. They are just the workings of an anxious, over-sensitized brain, and nothing more.