Longing to decipher what’s going on inside your mind? Our experts are on the case to help you unravel the connotations of your dreams
Have your nightly imaginations taken a weird turn as of late? If so, you’re not alone. According to a study by the aptly named journal, Dreaming, 37 percent of people have had pandemic dreams since 2020, many marked by themes of insufficiently completing tasks (such as losing control of a vehicle) and being threatened by others. While it can be tempting to put this down to repetitive doom-scrolling, the reality is that our dreams mirror a lot of our subconscious concerns and worries. Having a deeper understanding of them can aid us to sounder slumber and help alleviate our anxieties.
“More often than not, dreams tell us something we don’t already know, they are part of how the psyche self-regulates,” says Leah Larwood, a hypnotherapist with a specialism in dream work (themoonlab.net). “They help the dreamer access their unconscious mind.” This means if there is something that is playing on your thoughts – maybe you haven’t filed your tax return yet, or you’ve been having a few lockdown-instigated fallouts with your partner – your unconscious will try to deal with this within a dream. “They also play-out worries we are aware of too,” says Leah. “They do this to support and help us with the issue; it’s a way for us to work out the problem at hand. Dreams can therefore also be diagnostic, and if we pay attention to them and respond, this will allow us to correct our life course.”
Waking up with sweaty palms and a pounding heart isn’t the ideal way to start the day, but we can use our nightmares to help us figure out the worries we’ve pushed to the back of our minds, as Leah explains: “Whether it’s a dream or a nightmare, both are trying to help us work things out. The difference is, a nightmare is often shouting to get our attention. The mind uses frightening themes to simply grab our attention, so that we will take a closer look at this issue, which is often something unresolved that the dream is flagging. Once we realise that, nightmares may begin to feel less troubling. It is possible to prevent nightmares and reduce, or even stop, existing nightmares, by listening to what they are trying to tell us. In some cases, if someone has experienced a trauma or even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they may require support from a therapist to help them work through their nightmares and the root cause. There are various techniques people can use including talking therapies; in particular, Jungian analysts and gestalt therapists specialise in dream work. Also, some therapists offer lucid dreaming therapy, which has been scientifically proven to reduce or stop nightmares. Nightmarefocused CBT can help, or other creative therapeutic interventions such as art, drama or writing therapy.”
Certain metaphors and symbols in dreams can leave us feeling perplexed – but that’s because sometimes our dreams don’t mean something in the literal sense. “In many cases, a dream of someone or something isn’t always directly about that thing,” says Leah. “There are many universal recurring themes that we might dream of during our lifetime. Although some of these themes may point to things like anxiety around losing control, it’s important for the dreamer to find their own meaning. There are many universal themes in dream analysis such as water, which represents our emotions, or of a house, which represents the mind or psyche, with different rooms in the house representing different aspects of the mind. But it’s important to observe and work with the feelings in your dreams, rather than searching the internet for interpretations straight away.”
Keeping a dream journal. “We can also prevent nightmares by keeping a dream journal,” says Leah, “which does a simple but wonderful thing – it acknowledges the dream and also starts to process the experience. By acknowledging both our dreams and the problems in our waking-life, we can help to reduce the potential of nightmares.”
The dream I have every few months goes like this: I’m at university and I’m told by a member of staff that I’ve forgotten to do the work for an entire module. I feel a sinking dread in my stomach when I’m told this, (it’s a similar feeling to when I’ve missed an important deadline). Then, I’m told that I’m going to have to repeat the year again…
To help me figure out why I keep having this dream, I asked interpreter and author of The Complete Book of Dreams, Stephanie Gailing (stephaniegailing.com), to help: “Recurring dreams are very powerful! They bring our awareness to something our psyche wants us to pay attention to. If this were my dream, I would be struck by one of its central cores: forgetting. It’s not that you failed any of the assignments, but rather that you forgot to do the work. As such, I wouldn’t necessarily consider that it was reflecting your skill/talents, but rather that it may be pointing to your state of presence or your ability to hold the numerous things in your consciousness. Ask: ‘Do I feel overwhelmed?’ ‘Do I feel that I’m currently able to track everything that may be on my proverbial plate?’ And if not, ‘what adjustments could I create?’ Alternatively, you could question whether you’re forgetting aspects of yourself, and leaving these parts behind in pursuits, your career, relationships etc. Regardless of what aspects of ‘forgetting’ the dream may be pointing towards, there is a cost to it: a year’s investment. When trying to tune in to which of your values and visions want to be given voice, and not be forgotten, tune in to your body. Consider how you feel physically when you think about certain things or have experiences, and honour these feelings.”
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