The other night I had an anxiety dream. You know the kind of dream I’m talking about, where you are in the wings of a big Broadway production clearly expected to go on and you don’t know the part or the lines or the cue or anything!!! Worse, you’re naked and haven’t shaved your legs since October!
That wasn’t my dream exactly although the feeling was the same. Pure fight or flight! My anxiety dream went like this:
I was applying to college! The same college my daughter got into a few months ago for real. I was trying to get into this same college putting in my application, touring the campus etc. I had this interview scheduled only I forgot it! I was going to miss this crucial interview and nothing I tried to do to fix it was working! I tried calling the admissions office but my phone fell apart in my hands! I tried running there but the building kept getting further away instead of closer!
The good news was I was fully clothed, but still it was a nightmare! When I woke up with a start and found myself a middle-aged woman with no college interviews scheduled for the day the relief was incredible!
Occasionally I have a client bring in a dream they want to talk about and it’s almost always a good discussion. I do not believe dreams hold any big mysterious power, like crystal balls or oracles. What’s important is what they mean to us; how the dreamer interprets the dream, not the therapist. Being open to what may be bubbling up from our subconscious is good. So what did my dream mean to me?
1. Day residue? Since my daughter (my youngest) is a senior and she’s going away to college in five months (gulp) every single conversation inevitably turns to empty nesting when my husband and I get together with friends. We never bring it up (avoidance) but our well intentioned friends do. I know we’ll be OK but we’re going to miss her terribly. I’m going to miss her terribly and I don’t like being reminded. Transitions are hard.
2. Maybe I’m jealous? When I went to college I didn’t have nearly the emotional support that my kids have from their Dad and me. My parents were pretty clueless. It’s hard to say out loud that I’m jealous of my daughter because she is truly wonderful and I have a good life that I would not trade for anything. Being brutally honest, though, there is a twinge of envy. She is going to rock college! And I won’t be there. But I’ve had my adventures and I have more to look forward to, appropriate ones that do not involve pathetically following my daughter when she leaves.
3. Built up anxiety that needed release somewhere? This is a good one that feels spot on.
I took a week off last week. I was in the middle of it when I had this anxiety dream. Before planning my time off I was clearly on the road to burn out. I believe deeply in good self-care so I don’t understand why I repeatedly find myself in this pickle. But when I was going to bed at 8:30 and waking up the next day at 7:00 still feeling exhausted I knew the jig was up. I cleared a week of appointments, did not make plans to travel anywhere or to do anything. The week was a blank slate on purpose.
Several times I found myself standing in the middle of a room in my house asking myself what did I have to do? When the answer was “Nothing” the feeling of stress intensified instead of diminishing. Not what you would expect. I had to force myself to make a cup of tea, sit down with a book and just read for the pleasure of it. It was weird until I had that dream.
My anxiety dream was a turning point. I do believe my mind processed all that extra anxiety energy through those few minutes of REM sleep and left me finally able to rest. It was the psychological equivalent of that classic relaxation exercise: Tense up your muscles for a slow count of five, then relax them. You always feel a deeper sense of tranquillity after.
You don’t have to have a nightmare to get the same feeling! Here’s a meditation I found on YouTube that I love. Lie down, close your eyes and listen to the soft voice gently guide you. There’s no music, chimes or chanting to distract you. Just blessed silence.