Although dreams can stick with you for a while after you wake up, it's sometimes difficult to figure out why you're having them. What do dreams about running late mean? When it comes to nightmares, some of them seem pretty nonsensical. For example, you might find yourself dreaming about being attacked by giant wedges of cheese or being chased by a whole horde of skunks. Dreaming about being late to work or to school, on the other hand, is so realistic that it's sometimes even scarier than the more abstract nightmares. According to experts, this specific dream can have a lot to do with your mental state.
"While each dream has an individual interpretation or meaning based on the dreamer [themself], I would suggest that in general, running late in a dream can be an expression of anxiety or stress related to time in waking life," Pam Muller, a trained spiritual director specializing in dreams and author of 33 Ways to Work with Your Dreams, tells Bustle.
Alternatively, she says, you could be dealing with a new pressure in your life that has to do with your life goals. For example, you might be planning your upcoming wedding and you're worrying about the pressure to start a family. Or maybe you just took the leap to start your own business, begin working as a freelancer, or take the job you've always wanted but doesn't pay quite as much as your old position. Whatever this stressful new situation is, it could be manifesting in your dreams (or nightmares).
"Another way to understand this dream symbol is that running late might be showing us that the dreamer has missed some signs, indicators, or nudges in waking life," Muller says, "and the unconscious mind is trying to remind the person that they've already been given the green light to begin." So if you've been stressing over whether to change jobs but subconsciously have already made up your mind, you might dream that you are running late for something that has already begun.
If you aren't feeling like you're achieving what you want to, this could also be contributing to this specific dream. "My interpretation about a dream about running late means you feel you are always one step behind, just missing that opportunity which you are desiring," Carolyn Cole, LCPC, LMFT, NCC, a psychotherapist specializing in dream work and interpretation, tells Bustle. You might be anxious about missing the chance to achieve something you've wanted for a long time, she says. Or you could be feeling unprepared to do well at something that's important to you, like a major project at work or a creative venture you've started on your own.
How often you have this dream can also tell you a lot about it. If you've only had this nightmare once or twice, it might not be that serious, but if you have this dream on a regular basis, then your subconscious is sending a strong message, Cole says.
While you can't purposefully influence which dreams you have or stop yourself from dreaming altogether, your best bet is to explore your thoughts and feelings deeper to figure out if there's something you're suppressing or if part of your life is causing you a great deal of stress. "Once you resolve this, that particular dream will likely stop," Cole says. "I think coming from the perspective that your subconscious is giving you a gift in your dreams about something that's important to look at within yourself can be useful rather than feeling stressed about the dream."
Not everyone should spend time trying to interpret their own dreams, though. "I would caution someone who experiences disturbing dreams to a debilitating level (meaning that their dreams interfere with their ability to function normally throughout the day)," Muller says, "to not work on the meaning of their dreams." In situations like that, it's best to work with a mental health professional to have safe support figuring out how to address your mental health issues, she says.
If a dream about running late doesn't really bother you, then no need to worry. But if you're feeling anxious about something in your life or about the dream itself, there's no harm in reaching out to a therapist to help you work through it.