If you have an anxiety disorder, chances are you're well-acquainted with the fact that anxiety can invade every part of your life, whether you're awake or not. But even if you don't have anxiety, you've probably experienced an anxiety dream. Anxiety dreams can come in many shapes and sizes, from full-blown nightmares, to things that aren't as terrifying, but that certainly make you feel uncomfortable, unsettled, and anxious. If you do have anxiety, you want to know the weird dreams that people with anxiety have in common and what they mean so that maybe you can begin to make some sense of what your own dreams might be telling you. And if you don't have anxiety, you still might want to know more about anxiety dreams because, as Dr. Carly Snyder, M.D., a perinatal and reproductive psychiatrist/women's mental health psychiatrist, tells Romper, you don't have to have an anxiety disorder to have an anxiety dream — pretty much everyone has them.
Just because you've had a similar dream yourself before doesn't necessarily mean that the exact interpretation is also true for you, but knowing what your subconscious could be telling you just might help you understand your anxiety — or your situation — a little bit better. Snyder says that in order to get to the bottom of your anxiety, you likely need to look at the big picture, not just what you can remember from one dream.
"Sleep is imperative, like, imperative," Snyder says. "If you don’t get enough sleep, you will feel anxious and your mood will be down and there are so many negative outcomes as a result of exhaustion, so if you find that you are having a lot of anxiety dreams and it’s really negatively impacting your ability to function during the day and your overall amount of sleep you’re getting, find a therapist, talk it out. You don’t always have to work on it either by yourself or with your significant other in the middle of the night. Sometimes the best approach is to find a specialist who can really help you to figure out the root cause and then get your sleep back on track and then your anxiety will likely improve on its own, hopefully." If these dreams are causing problems in your life, it might be time to talk to someone about them and get to the bottom of what's really going on.
1. You're Falling
Nearly everyone has at least heard of people suffering from scary dreams where they're falling, even if you've never experienced a dream like this firsthand. "You fall out of a plane and your parachute doesn’t open, or you fall onto subway or railroad tracks and you can’t get up before the train comes," Dr. Carole Lieberman, M.D., a psychiatrist and author, tells Romper in an email exchange. "These dreams mean that you are feeling out of control of your life. You feel helpless to fix some situation."
2. You're Running Late
Running late can be stressful enough when you're awake and it's really happening, but when you run late in a dream, it can still be pretty nerve-wracking. "You’re trying to get somewhere extremely important, but one obstacle after another gets in your way. Your car runs out of gas, so you decide to take a bus, but the bus pulls out just as you’re running to it, so you keep hailing cabs but none of them stop," Lieberman says. "This dream means that you feel like you’re missing out on something and that no matter how hard you try, you’re afraid things will keep happening to stop you from getting what you want."
3. You Have A Test & Forgot To Study
Snyder says this anxiety dream is a classic. "All of a sudden you are completely vulnerable, everybody sees it, and you’re unprepared," she explains. Feeling like you're unprepared or soon going to embarrass yourself probably isn't going to make you feel calm, cool, and collected.
4. You're Drowning Or Battling Large Waves
If you've ever had a dream you're drowning or being thrown around in rough waters, you're far from alone. It's a dream that many people have had at one point or another. The Outline noted that overwhelming waves and tsunamis often signify some emotional distress or a strong repressed emotion. If you're going through a major life change or dealing with an emotional situation, you might dream about getting tossed about in the surf.
5. Everyone Is Laughing At You
Most people don't enjoy being laughed at, judged, mocked, or made fun of. If this is an anxiety-ridden dream that you've experienced once or twice before, you're definitely not the only one to have done so. "You dream you’re in a musical on Broadway, and everyone is keeping in step with the dance except you or you’re singing a solo and you keep hitting the wrong notes. The audience is laughing at you and you feel humiliated," Lieberman says. "This dream highlights your insecurities and fears that you embarrass yourself because you’re not on the same page as everyone else, or not how you’re supposed to be."
6. You're Scared Of What's Ahead
It makes sense that you might dream of losing control in anxiety dreams. If you dream of a natural disaster, dying, the end of the world, or anything else that generally spells doom and gloom, Lieberman says that the dream could be trying to get you to pay attention to something big and life-changing that could be on the horizon in your own life. Maybe you're going to lose a job or maybe your relationship is going to break up, either way, that can result in stressful and anxiety-ridden experiences, at least for awhile.
7. You're Naked In Public
The other classic, Snyder says, is that you'll show up naked in public. She says that a dream like this can, again, be related to you feeling vulnerable, but it can also mean that you're upset over "losing control of one's privacy."
If you're experiencing a dream like this one, where you're vulnerable and exposed, what can you do? "I always also encourage people to talk out their anxiety, not right before bed, not in the middle of the night either, and, you know, kind of think out like ‘what is causing me to feel this way?’ and then go from there, rather than kind of having a middle-of-the-night freakout," Snyder says. "Which we all have, by the way — we all get scared — but ideally one can kind of figure out how to tackle issues and where the anxiety is coming from without having multiple nightmares first."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.