Are Your Dreams Causing Waking Anxiety? Changing Your Bedtime Routine Can Help
The subconscious mind is a pretty powerful thing. And, if you have anxiety-induced dreams, you might not know that they can also cause anxiety when you're awake. If you're wondering what to do if your dreams are causing waking anxiety, you're not alone. "Anxiety dreams, in their most elementary form, are bad dreams that cause the overwhelming feelings of panic and unease associated with waking anxiety," Sarah Emerson wrote for Motherboard on Vice.
"They're very similar to nightmares, but instead of lurching you awake in a cold sweat, they sort of prod you into consciousness by jacking up your stress levels. Both occur during REM sleep, that critical period in which our most vivid and memorable dreams manifest." I've had anxiety dreams as long as I remember. When I was 4, I began regularly having a dream that I was being chased by a giant ball of rolling darkness that I was just staying one step ahead of.
As I got older, my anxiety dreams began to be about work. For years after I stopped waiting tables and bartending, I would have feverish dreams that always took place in restaurants. Usually it involved me not being able to remember how to work the cash register while the bar was three people deep, or forgetting to put in an order. I still have these dreams sometimes, and now I also have anxiety dreams about email.
Anxiety Dreams Can Lead To Daytime Anxiety
Email causes me anxiety in my everyday life, and I literally have to work myself up to looking at my email every morning. If I am feeling particularly anxious, I dream about email. Basically, I am anxious about email 24/7. I'm anxious when I'm thinking about it, when I'm checking it, when I'm not checking it, and when I'm asleep. I'd really like to figure out how to make it stop.
According to the CalmClinic, dream anxiety and waking anxiety can become a vicious cycle. "Nightmares are complex, because they're not only caused by anxiety — they can also cause anxiety. Those that have nightmares often may find themselves losing sleep and experiencing stress and anxiety throughout the day."
The above statement basically describes my relationship with email. I know where this anxiety comes from. At a previous job I regularly woke up to 200+ emails every single day. And, the CalmClinic suggests that the only way to stop the cycle of dream/waking anxiety is to address the underlying anxiety. This makes sense because one of the thing that keeps coming up as I research this issue is that anxiety doesn't magically disappear when we go to bed.
"Anxiety, for the most part, originates in the mind. The body sensations and feelings we have surrounding anxiety occur because of the psychosomatic nature of our mind-body system," Therapist Ken Fields explained on TalkSpace. "In other words, when we think about situations, even if subconsciously, that appear to be in some way a threat or potential danger, hormones and chemicals are secreted from glands which then give rise to the physiological experiences of tension, tightness, constriction."
How To Reduce Anxiety Before Bed
However, there are things you can do before going to bed to reduce your chances of riding the anxiety dream wave into the next day. The CalmClinic suggests writing out your thoughts before going to bed because your mind tends to forget things once you write them down. And, new studies show that journaling has myriad anxiety-reducing benefits so there is nothing to lose by experimenting with journaling.
Fields also recommended reducing stimulation and screen time before bed. "We are too often over stimulated. And, that can disrupt our sleep cycle. So, the first tip is to minimize visual and auditory stimulation, at least one hour before bedtime," Fields wrote. "If you watch television or surf the net in bed before turning out the lights, and have difficulty sleeping, stop. Some people find it helpful to not only minimize visual stimulation, but wear an eye mask to block out any extraneous light. White noise devices can be helpful in drowning out extraneous sounds."
Personally, I am unable to sleep at all without white noise. One of my favorite white noise options is an app called Simply Noise, which you can use on your phone or computer to create a soothing sleep experience. I always use this when traveling to make my hotel room sound like home because, for me, total silence is too loud for my overactive brain.
Additionally, the CalmClinic recommends regular exercise to help reduce anxiety that could lead to restless dreams. "Exercise has a powerful effect on sleep. If you exercise enough during the day you'll sleep easier and your mind will release neurotransmitters that can have a very beneficial effect on your mood," the CalmClinic explained. "Exercising can make a big difference in your ability to create memories as well, and possibly improve the way your mind translates those stories."
Finally, make sure you have a regular relaxation routine. There is an app called Yoga Wake Up that can help you wake up in a more calm and relaxed manner than being jolted awake by an alarm. You can also practice meditation upon walking, or even just deep breathing before you get out of bed. If you're still feeling waking anxiety after trying all of these things, it might be time to talk to your doctor or a therapist about options for managing your stress and anxiety. Sometimes we need assistance to get through challenges. After all, Oct. 10 is World Mental Health Day, and there is absolutely no shame in asking for help.