‘Trapped in Boxes That Are Getting Smaller’: Why Your Anxiety Dreams Are Getting Worse

Bad dreams infected with pandemic themes are evolving to postapocalyptic ‘Mad Max’ scenes

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

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Image: artur carvalho/Getty Images

Dreams often reflect the things humans worry about and can be influenced by wars, natural disasters, or other crises, previous research has shown. Multiple new studies now reveal how the pandemic is infusing our sleep-time fantasies with an evolving series of anxieties and negative emotions.

Since the start of the pandemic, people have been experiencing more vivid, memorable, and bizarre dreams and more nightmares, both of a general nature and specifically related to the coronavirus, Covid-19, and the economic fallout of the crisis. And now dreams are shifting to postapocalypse scenarios, with dark premonitions of endless quarantines and lonely, collapsed societies.

In early spring, most pandemic nightmares involved catching the virus — dreaming of a fever or cough and knowing it was Covid-19 — or apocalyptic metaphors ranging from tsunamis and hurricanes to attacks by bugs or invisible monsters, explains Deirdre Barrett, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of the new book Pandemic Dreams. Over time, fresh fears fueled dreams linked to lockdowns…

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB