6 Dreams That Mean You’re Stressed & What To Do About It, According To Experts
Many people believe dreams reveal a lot about both your conscious and subconscious states of mind. Whether you're stressing, sad, or overjoyed, these emotions may play out in the form of symbols, fantasies, or peculiar situations when you're sound asleep. In fact, experts say certain signs or signals that show up in your dreams may mean you're stressed, and need to slow down in your waking life.
"Our dreams are typically a mixture of the information we’ve taken in, such as what we’ve heard or learned or thought about, and also our hopes, fears, thoughts feelings and memories," Dr. Traci Stein, PhD, MPH, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Columbia University's Teachers College, tells Bustle. "We dream about everything from events past and present, our desires and worries about the future, and so forth."
Though the exact purpose of dreaming is unknown, some researchers theorize that dreams — which primarily occur during REM (aka, rapid eye movement) sleep — may play a role in allowing people to work through difficult feelings or memories. As National Geographic reported in 2011, one study discovered that dreams that occurred during REM helped people process painful emotions. What's more, according to Psychology Today, a 2016 study found that people who wrote down their dreams, and then discussed them with a group, were able to work through unresolved issues bothering them in real life — and to identify solutions for their problems.
"Look at your dreams as your best friend who provides brutally honest commentary and advice for you every night, only because she loves you, wants the best for you, and knows you want her to tell you like it is," Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, a professional dream analyst and the author of Dream on It, Unlock Your Dreams Change Your Life, tells Bustle.
If you're unsure if you need to scale back on your daily activities, your subconscious mind may give you a clue. According to experts, here are six signs and symbols to look for in your dreams that could signal you need to find time to relax.
1. Your Car Brakes Won't Work
According to Loewenberg, being stuck in a car where the breaks that won't work is a "classic" sign you're in the fast lane, and, well, headed for a crash in real life. "The car in your dream represents your ability to progress and move forward in your life," she says. "Not being able to control the car points to lack of focus, or lack of confidence. Not being able to break means you have got to find a way to slow down."
2. You're On An Out-Of-Control Train
Similarly, Dr. Stein says that being stuck on a runaway train in your dreams is a certain indication that you need to rollback your responsibilities, and take things a bit slower when you're awake. In fact, she says that much of the imagery that will show up in your dreams is "easy to spot."
3. A House Fire
Unsurprisingly, many experts have concluded a house in a dream can often represent you as a person — and, the rooms may represent different areas of your life, aspects of your personality, events you've experienced, or even parts your body. According to Loewenberg, a home is flames is a surefire sign you're too stressed in your waking life.
"The house fire is a huge warning from your subconscious that you have way too much urgency in your life, and you are on the verge of complete and total burnout."
4. You're Drowning
If you're running yourself ragged, you may find yourself having constant dreams in which you're drowning, or caught in volatile waves where you can't seem to swim to safety. As Loewenberg points out, "Water in dreams will often reflect our emotional state at the time of the dream, so whenever you dream of threatening water, it's a good indication your emotions are getting to be too much."
Further, she explains that drowning in particular can indicate that "you are in over your head, and it may be a good idea to take something off your plate."
5. You Or Someone Else Is Bleeding
In need of some replenishment and relaxation in real life? You may be seeing a lot of blood in your dreams. "No matter whose blood it is in a dream, it represents your energy — everything in a dream represents some part of you, or something that affects you," Loewenberg explains. "The more blood you see, the more of an energy drain you are having in real life."
6. There's Constantly An Alarming Situation
Overall, any distressing can signal you're overworking yourself in some aspect of your life, and that you need to take a break from your chaotic schedule. "Pay attention to symbols and images that are alarming in some way, or jolt you to attention, as well as imagery that if you described it out loud, you’d have an 'aha' moment about needing to dial things back," Dr. Stein says. If you just can't seem to "keep up" in your your dreams, she explains, you may not be able to keep up at the pace you're going going in real life.
Cutting back on the hustle and bustle in your daily schedule, as well as practicing good sleep hygiene may help halt these disruptive dreams. However, Dr. Stein explains that, "If you find that your health habits are pretty good [...] keep a dream journal. Doing so will help you recognize patterns in the dream imagery. Often, people will find that their subconscious minds no longer need to keep generating disturbing dreams once they agree to consciously pay attention to what’s contained in them."
Your dreams may give you insight into your emotions, thoughts, and needs the form of vague —or not-so-subtle — signs. Try to listen to these subliminal messages your mind sends you to slow down and de-stress: they may just help you avoid burnout in your waking life.