Everyone is having anxiety dreams

A close read of four recent nightmares and a dream-themed playlist.

Everyone is having anxiety dreams

A close read of four recent nightmares and a dream-themed playlist.

It is commonly accepted that talking about your dreams is a corny, self-obsessed iteration of small talk. “They are really meaningful to you but not to anybody else,” suggested a recent Scientifc American blog post urging readers not to share their dreams with friends.

We happen to think that’s bullshit. Dreams can be incredibly insightful, and when our friends have weird ones, we want to know every detail. Caring about someone sometimes means caring about the strange places their subconscious goes. Lately, it has felt like more and more of my friends have been remembering and reporting their dreams; maybe it’s as simple as the anxiety of our days creeping into our nights. Maybe it’s because our unconscious fantasies are better than our waking reality. Either way, dreams are worthy of discussion. Below, we interpret four recent stress dreams shared by our friends and identify a theme: water.

Paddle-boarding through a tsunami

The beginning of what I remember from my dream is that I was in Haiti with my younger sister. We were on the beach, enjoying ourselves. It was a resort beach and it felt like we were on vacation, but I could feel that we were really there to connect with our roots. There was a man who was with us, showing us around the area and telling us stories. There were other people lounging and tanning and swimming, but it felt like we were distanced from the beach scene.

The man had paddle boards and took us out onto the water. We each took our own board out, and my sister and I followed his lead. The further we got out, the calmer the water became. We stopped at a point that was far out, where the water was so calm it was almost still. We were in the middle of a conversation, when all of the sudden I looked up and saw a massive wave coming towards us. It was so big, it was as tall as a skyscraper. I've never seen a tsunami before, but I just knew that's what it was. It was terrifying.

What happened next doesn't really make sense, but the wave came crashing down and we somehow survived it. The water became calm again, but the sky remained kind of dark. I was feeling really scared, but relieved that I still had my sister next to me. We could tell from where we were on the water that the beach was a wreck.

Then, out of nowhere, a black mass that kind of looks like ink came towards us. It was swimming like an animal, kind of like how snake moves, but I was sure it wasn't a living thing. It swam towards the man first, and as soon as it got to him, he disappeared. Just the board remained. It came for my sister next and within seconds, she was also gone. At this point, the dream is a full-on nightmare and I swam back to the shore as fast as I can. When I got there, I was frantically looking for my sister and asking people if they'd seen her anywhere. No one really knew what I was talking about, and they were so focused on their own survival that they barely listened to me.

It was only a few minutes after I woke up that I remembered it wasn't my dad in the dream, but an unknown man.

What it means

Dang, this is an incredibly intense one, and in many ways a classic anxiety dream. In traditional dream interpretation, large waves or tsunamis represent emotional turmoil or the bottling up of some sort of major feeling or fear. They often show up at major turning points in our lives, points at which we know we need to make some decisions that involve us and our loved ones. The tsunami here — and that you’re directly in its path, not watching from a safe distance — signals your intuition and the fact that you know there is something in your life that you have to address in a meaningful way; your subconscious knows that you have to deal with the situation before it gets out of control and becomes potentially damaging.

The fact that this happened while you were on what you thought was a vacation with your sister suggests that you see yourself as her protector, and that her wellbeing is implicated in the decisions that are weighing on you. You have appointed yourself as the person who is responsible for your family, even if that duty sometimes comes at your own expense.

You mentioned that you assumed the man was your father; it could be as literal as that. But he could also represent something more abstract, some sort of indicator of stability — be it a wise career choice, a safe romantic partner, a house that you are tied to — that led you astray. You are coming to realize that the people and things in life that you were assured would deliver comfort and happiness aren't guaranteed to do that; in fact, sometimes those things wind up being the sources of your troubles. The black mass here, the fact that it was amorphous but clearly dangerous, is your intuitive awareness that not even following all the rules can protect you.

A magician who turns friends into gold

Someone, a man who was sort of a magician character, was dipping people I know into dark water. They were coming out coated in a kind of gold film, like amber or honey. They either turned out sticky or the gold film had hardened already. Then he put them up around the water as though they were sculptures.

I generally dream about water a lot. Like, being at a beach and seeing a giant wave rise up like a mountain. In those kinds of dreams, the time during which the wave rises usually seems to expand as I try to understand what’s happening and figure out slowly what I should do, if anything. I always wake up before the wave crashes.

What it means

This is such a cinematic dream; it’s not the kind of dream you have all the time. You must be coming to a turning point in life. The people in your dream are the people who have made a profound impression on you. They are coated in a gold substance, indicating some sort of value. As you say, they are all people you know. That is significant. You must value them.

The sticky ones are newer relationships that have had some sort of impact on you, and the ones that have hardened are people who have made a long lasting impression. The magician and his water-dipping process are a representation of the point at which an individual in your life becomes a memory, experience, or relationship that will stay with you forever.

Dreaming about water is very common. Water is what we are made of, and what this planet is made of, and it holds memory. The water in your dream represents your life, and the sculptures are the people who have helped you become who you are.

Dreams about water are incredibly common.

Dreams about water are incredibly common.

A fashion nightmare

I was going back to work at my office in SoHo from somewhere not too far away, near NYU on 10th and Broadway. And I stopped in an office where a friend of mine — or someone who was something like a friend — worked, a very cool fashion place. There was this intern with a clipboard who kept circling around and going back to where we were to make sure she was doing whatever cool fashion thing she was supposed to be doing. Part of her head was shaved and the shaved part had, gold glitter all over it. Everyone was very cool and wearing lots of Prada.

I pretended to be applying for an internship, so she wouldn't get in trouble. I remember being like, "Well, I was interning at Goldman Sachs but like, who's in it for the money, you know? I studied art theory, or really the theory of art theory." On my way out, some guy I was dating in my dream was there. He showed me a tattoo and we all got yelled at. And then I was late for work.

What it means

It’s pretty common to dream about being late or about hustling to make it on time for an important appointment. Because most of your dream is somehow work-related, I interpret it as meaning that you are somewhat anxious about choices you are making with regards to your career. You are a perfectionist, or at least the type of person who very much cares about doing everything right, and you’re racked with guilt about potentially disappointing people.

In some ways, you are unsure of your qualifications; maybe it’s something like impostor syndrome. You have a job, but you are still coming to terms with that. You may be feeling concerned that, whether it’s at work or more so in a social setting, you may be out of your element. You want to be respected for the many qualities and skills you bring to the table, but you are working to find that confidence in yourself. That’s why you applied for an internship and not a job.

That you wound up late to work suggests that you are concerned about a specific deadline and/or, more generally, the demands that are placed on you socially. Have you accomplished all the things you should have accomplished by this age? Are people impressed by you? How well do you fit in your social group? These are the sorts of concerns your dream hint at. The details about the intern’s hair and style and that you immediately brought up your qualifications are a suggestion that you may be measuring yourself against a yardstick that isn’t your own. You’re afraid of getting in your own way, and that fear is seeping into your subconscious.

Betrayal, tiki bars, and ice skates in a swimming pool

I was in a swimming pool that looked a lot like the pool in the building one of my friends lived in when I was in elementary school. She wasn't there, but there were a few people sitting around the edge, eating grapes — exactly like we used to do. I couldn't make out any of the faces, except for one: my boyfriend. I was swimming, but I had a pair of ice skates on. I did a kicking move and accidentally cut him with the blade, right above the eyebrow.

It wasn't my fault — I seemed to think that there was someone in the pool who was supposed to have dulled the edges of the blade but hadn't done their job. Everyone blamed me and I was disinvited from the party. I discovered I had some sort of E.T. healing power, and used my hands to make stitches appear where the cut was on his face. The party moved to some sort of tiki bar nearby. I showed up, still disinvited, and got the cold shoulder from everyone. The dream doesn't really make narrative sense after that, but a few other friends floated in and out, there was soca music, there was a hut on the beach, there was a lot of haziness. I woke up very upset.

What it means

This dream is about your relationships with other people. The swimming pool and the grapes represent childhood and all the foundations of the person you are today. That you don’t have any other recognizable characters in your dream, aside from your boyfriend, is telling. In your life right now, you may be dealing with the realities of what it means to truly let someone become a part of you and your world, to become your family.

But there is an anxiety, rooted in a fear of hurting him and/or the people around you, by inviting him into your life. You don’t want your relationship to hurt anyone. The fact that the injury is not your fault means you know you have good intentions. The healing power is your dream reminding you that you are a nurturer at heart.


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