The anxiety, stress and worry brought on by COVID-19 is not limited to daytime hours. The pandemic is affecting our dreams as well, infusing more anxiety and negative emotions into dreams and spurring dreams about the virus itself, particularly among women, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
In a special section in the journal Dreaming, researchers reported on the results of four studies from around the world about people's dreams during the pandemic. Previous research has suggested that our dreams often reflect what's happening in our waking lives and that other crises--including war, natural disasters and terrorist attacks--have led to an increase in anxious dreams. The four studies in this special section found that the same is true of COVID-19.
"All of these studies support the continuity hypothesis of dreaming: That dreams are consistent with our waking concerns rather than being some outlet for compensation, as some older psychoanalytic theories had hypothesized," said Deirdre Barrett, PhD, editor of Dreaming and an assistant professor of psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "The higher levels of anxiety, dreams about illness and death in general, and COVID-19 specifically, are in line with that."
Overall, the new studies also suggest that women's dreams have been more strongly affected by the pandemic than men's--possibly, Barrett suggested, because women are bearing more of the burden of caregiving, job loss and other hardships.
"Dreams can help us understand our emotional reactions to the pandemic," Barrett said. For example, one mother in a study by Barrett dreamed that her child's school contacted her to say that the child's whole class was being sent to her condominium to be home-schooled for the duration of the pandemic. "When mothers of young children hear that dream, there is a laughter but also usually a strong empathy at the overwhelmed feeling the dream dramatizes. Your dreams can make you more aware of just what about the pandemic is bothering you the most--and sharing them with trusted others is a good conversation-starter for talking about these shared feelings," Barrett said.
Schredl M, Bulkeley K. Dreaming and the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey in a U.S. sample. Dreaming. 2020;30(3):189-198. doi:10.1037/drm0000146
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