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  • Nitika Mehra

What Are Anxiety Dreams ?

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

An anxiety dream interpretation is an unpleasant dream which can be more disturbing than a nightmare. Sleep anxiety dreams are characterized by the feelings of unease, distress, or apprehension in the dreamer upon waking. Anxiety dreams may also be caused by childhood trauma, or an adult dealing with conflict. General anxiety is a negative effect of anxiety dreams. Individuals dealing with distress in their dreams have been found to have general anxiety and sleep more often than those who were experiencing real life events that could be equally as stressful.

Though most individuals awakened by a disturbing dream will likely call it a nightmare, the classification is not that simple. Anxiety dreams, punishment dreams, nightmares, post-trauma dreams, and night terrors are difficult to distinguish because they are commonly clumped under the term, "nightmare". The different types of dreams, however, have different qualities. The stage in which the dream occurs is key. Anxiety dreams, punishment dreams, nightmares, or post-trauma dreams occur in the REM (Rapid eye movement sleep) stage of sleep, while night terrors will occur in the NREM (Non-rapid eye movement sleep) stage.

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What Are Anxiety Dreams ?

Common themes in anxiety dreams involve incomplete tasks. These can include such things as a suitcase that has not been packed or an exam that has not been taken. Another common theme is the loss of a family member. Freud explained that these dreams fall into two categories: “those in which there is sorrow attached to the death and those in which there is no grief.” Other themes can involve embarrassment. The dream of falling or being chased is also prevalent in anxiety dreams.

Though they create anxiety in the dreamer, anxiety dreams also serve as a way for a person's ego to re-set. When the ego has been overworked, often the only way it can reset is when one wakes up. Anxiety dreams will build until the dreamer is forced to wake and thus let the ego refocus. Shapiro also noted that anxiety dreams may serve in "alerting the dreamer to a psychologically dangerous situation"

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Barry Kraków developed three steps to alleviate any anxiety dream or nightmare. These steps include: Learning imagery techniques, Recording the dreams and Changing the dreams. Once a person has been taught the first step he/she can continue using the second and third steps to overcome any new anxiety dreams that might develop. If more help is needed one might consider workshops that utilize psychodrama and psychotherapeutic techniques. As doctorandus Herma Reeskamp explains, workshops such as these aim to "help patients change the haunting themes of their nightmares and anxiety-filled dreams".

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