As if you aren't frazzled enough during the day, now you must deal with being chased by a tornado or haunted by a stalker while you're sleeping! Nearly one in three women has frequent anxiety dreams, according to a Self.com poll. Thankfully, you can use your reveries to your advantage. "Considering what the dream's metaphors represent to you can enhance your understanding of yourself, and clarify your feelings about a certain experience," says Milton Kramer, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Suss out what could be bothering you and you'll have more peaceful nights (and days!) in no time.
By Beth Janes
The dream "I'm back in high school and don't know which classes I'm supposed to go to, so I end up missing one-usually Mr. Westerman's world religions class. I become terrified about not knowing when the tests are, then finals come around and I wake up completely freaked out!" -Lori Huffman, 31, Houston
Variations You're rushing to catch a flight but haven't packed or can't find your ticket. A new mother may dream she can't find her baby.
What it means Dreaming about something you've already accomplished (i.e., graduating from high school) can mean you're scared to make mistakes in an area where you usually succeed. "Perfectionist people tend to have these sorts of dreams," says Kramer. One explanation is that you may be tying your self-worth too tightly to how you perform at work. If you usually spend hours fretting over an upcoming event or presentation, give yourself a set time to prepare and then force yourself to put it out of your head. "The outcome doesn't change by agonizing over it," assures Arthur Nezu, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
The dream "I'm walking in a dark alley, and I see a man in silhouette coming toward me-I know I'm about to be in a bad situation or robbed. As his hands reach out and get close to me, I try to scream, but nothing comes out." -Sarah Calderon, 34, New York City
Variation You're trying to run from something, but you can't move.
What it means"You may be facing a difficult decision," says Dr. Kramer. Express your concerns to trusted confidants so they're not bottled up, and try writing down the pros and cons of, say, changing careers.
Theme: natural disaster
The dream "I'm in a house in a rural neighborhood, I look out the window and see tornadoes forming and coming right at me. One will start tearing apart the house and I run to escape, but it follows me everywhere I go. If it disappears, another drops from the sky and chases me. I'm petrified, because all I can do is run." -Kathryn Berthume, 22, Los Angeles
Variations You're trying to escape a flood, or a tidal wave is about to overtake you, and you must save others.
What it means You're most likely feeling overwhelmed by an endless to-do list, mounting responsibilities or a constant stream of bad news. If you're trying to save others, it may be because feel responsible for their misfortune in some way, or feel the need to fix problems that aren't really yours, Kramer says. Until cloning is an option, prioritize: Before bed, make a to-do list and pick one thing you're going to focus on the next day; the rest will have to wait. Nezu also advises spending 15 minutes with your list coming up with alternate ways of crossing off the tasks. Can you send out the laundry and order a gift online instead of hitting the mall? By delegating and making small compromises, you'll be able to focus on the task at hand rather than what's waiting in the wings.
Theme: personal loss
The dream "I bite into something and my teeth start to come out. I spit them out and start crying because when I try to fit them back into my gums, they won't stay. After I wake up, I'm usually upset for hours." -Christina Carathanassis, 33, New York City
Variation Someone in your dream accidentally dies.
What it means You're likely worried about losing something, such as a job, relationship or even a personality trait (e.g., you take pride in your confidence but let your new boyfriend walk all over you). "Something like teeth are physically connected to you, so whatever they embody is of vital importance to your identity," Kramer explains. If you dream someone close to you or someone famous dies-say, Marilyn Monroe-think about what she represents for you, suggests Patricia Garfield, Ph.D., author of The Universal Dream Key (HarperOne). If you've always admired Monroe for her beauty, you could be anxious about losing yours with age. If your fears are warranted, talk to friends about how they handled a breakup or other loss. Having confidence you can cope will help you sleep better no matter what happens.
Theme: life interruption
The dream "I find myself inexplicably pregnant and alone. I'm in a hot location, like the desert, wandering around in a sundress before waking up sweaty and anxiety-ridden." -Alison McMahon, 23, Los Angeles
Variation You encounter a blockade while driving or traveling.
What it means Once you rule out a literal interpretation (e.g., a condom broke), consider what the pregnancy stands for: What has happened that might prevent you from reaching a goal? Maybe you got passed over for a promotion, and it's creating an impasse in your career path. A pregnancy could also mean you've been forced into a role you're not comfortable with, Garfield says, such as if you got the promotion but are uneasy about the new responsibilities. Brainstorm as many creative ways to get back on track as possible, Nezu suggests; this exercise will illustrate your choices and thus control, ultimately resulting in sweeter dreams.
Want to remember more dreams?
Telling yourself before you fall asleep that you want to recall your reveries helps, Dr. Kramer says. So does writing them down as soon as you wake up. But the best way to commit them to memory is sharing them right away and discussing what they might mean. Visit our Trade Happiness Tips forum to talk to fellow SELF readers about what your dreams mean!
Related: Sleep your way gorgeous!
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