‘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
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, homeschooling, and loss of work, Barrett finds in an ongoing global survey.
Now, as schools and businesses reopen amid tremendous collective anxiety, dreams both positive and negative are focusing on what’s next.
“There are increasingly more dreams that depict a radically changed long-term future after the pandemic,” Barrett says. “These range from utopian to Mad Max postapocalyptic.”
In early spring, most pandemic nightmares involved catching the virus or apocalyptic metaphors ranging from tsunamis and hurricanes to attacks by bugs or invisible monsters.
Examples she provided to Elemental:
- “I dreamt I was on the shore right by the ocean. There were huge humpback gray whales in the ocean. They were breaching and swimming around. I kept noticing more and more…