Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with an overpowering sense of anxiety and fear of missing a flight, being followed, or running late for a crucial test? Even though you're awake, you pause for the next few seconds to reflect on the dream and think: was it really true?
If you are experiencing these, chances are they are anxiety dreams, also known as stress dreams. Studies suggest that frequent memory of upsetting dreams is linked to clinical signs of anxiety, even in children as young as 13 years. Furthermore, girls are more likely to recall unpleasant dreams. This increases with time for girls and decreases for boys.
Anxiety dreams have a lasting impact on the quality and hours of sleep. As individuals, we need a minimum of 7–9 hours of sleep every night to function properly. Sleep deprivation can cause drowsiness and slow down your ability to think and process information.
Furthermore, it can put you at risk of developing health issues like heart disease, heart attacks, and diabetes. Sleep deprivation can also put you at the risk of developing mental health issues like depression, anxiety, impaired memory, etc.
Fortunately, self-help activities and online therapy can help you tackle these stress dreams. If you want to learn how to stop anxiety dreams and sleep well at night, continue reading further.
What Are Anxiety Dreams?
Anxiety dreams are stress dreams that are more frightening than nightmares. Anxiety dreams symptoms are marked by your sensations of discomfort, stress, or fear upon waking up.
Some common stress dreams or anxiety dreams are about unfinished tasks, shame, falling, unsuccessful ambitions, and being chased.
Nightmare disorder is closely related to anxiety dreams since nightmares are marked by intense terror and are considered anxiety dreams.
What Causes Anxiety Dreams?
Some possible causes for anxiety dreams include:
- Worry or fear
- Traumatic experiences
- Recent life changes that cause stress or uncertainty
- Insomnia or sleep disruption
- Drug abuse, including the use of alcohol
So, can anxiety cause bad dreams? Mark Blagrove, a psychology professor and Director of Swansea University's sleep lab, has evaluated nightmare distress. He claims that anxiety not only makes dreams more unpleasant but also creates a worse reaction to terrible dreams. Another anxiety double bind is that daily stress can cause sleep loss and more frequent night-waking, resulting in an increased number of dreams we recall.
How to Stop Anxiety Dreams With Self-Help
Constant anxiety can increase the chances of experiencing anxiety dreams every night. The heightened feelings of stress, fear, anxiety, and terror can deprive you of sleep and bring with them other problems. The following are a few self-help techniques that can help you lessen your anxiety dreams:
Get enough sleep
Proper sleep is the solution to many physical and mental issues. Set the time you want to go to bed and wake up. According to research, the best time to fall asleep is between 10 PM to 11 PM. Try waking up at the same hour every day, irrespective of weekends and holidays. Getting up at the same time each day will help you sleep better at night. A set waking hour promotes a strong urge for sleep throughout the day. This sleep urge develops gradually, and cutting it short by sleeping in will make it more difficult to fall asleep the next night. For example, sleeping in on the weekend makes waking up earlier on Monday more difficult. A better-structured sleep schedule can help reduce anxiety dreams.
Avoid using devices
Avoid using phones, laptops, TV, or any other kind of screen for at least 1–2 hours before going to bed. Bright screens activate your brain and increase its activity, which means that it will take you longer than usual to fall asleep. The harsh light from the screen suppresses your melatonin secretion, a hormone playing a vital role in maintaining your biological clock and sleep. Avoiding those devices before sleep can prevent anxiety dreams.
Meditate and relax
Indulge in an activity that relaxes you and helps you unwind after a long, stressful day. Meditation increases the secretion of melatonin and serotonin, hormones vital for good sleep. It also lowers your blood pressure and anxiety levels, improving your overall sleep quality and preventing anxiety dreams.
You can choose to meditate by yourself by finding a quiet, relaxing place to sit. Follow this by taking deep breaths in a rhythm. Other alternatives can be using guided meditation videos.
Once you wake up from an anxiety dream, do the following:
- Try to relax your body by using a relaxation approach that worked for you before going to bed.
- If you cannot fall asleep again, consider getting out of bed to relieve your irritation. Stop wasting time in bed attempting to fall asleep or analyzing your anxiety dreams. Find a dull or tedious task to do and go to bed when you begin to feel drowsy.
If these self-help techniques don’t help you reduce the frequency of your anxiety dreams, consider approaching a therapist via in-person or online therapy, or online counseling.
How to Stop Anxiety Dreams With Therapy
Psychotherapy can help you understand the root of the issue and tackle it effectively. Most forms of online therapy for anxiety dreams are focused on helping you cope with stressors and anxiety. The following are a few such forms of online therapy that can be effective:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
CBT for stress helps you understand how certain thought and behavior patterns might cause an increase in stress levels. It assists you in developing new thought and behavior patterns, allowing you to recognize stress triggers. This will improve your resilience and capacity to deal with stressful conditions more efficiently.
With online therapy or online counseling sessions, you can expect to feel more at ease, in charge, and better able to handle life events that cause stress or do not cause you any tension at all.
Imagery rehearsal therapy (IRT)
In IRT, your therapist first gives you background knowledge on sleep and nightmares to “set the scene” for you to learn how to control them. With the help of your therapist, you come up with elaborate, non-terrifying endings for dreams you’ve experienced before. Next, you write down and practice the new endings to your nightmares and then learn how to track your dreams to see how effective your IRT therapy is. The purpose is to assist you in seeing your anxiety dreams with minimal possible emotion.
In your online therapy sessions, your therapist may also teach you relaxation techniques to help you calm down after you’ve experienced an anxiety dream.
The pandemic has changed the face of therapy by introducing online therapy as a feasible option. Most well-known therapists are offering online therapy sessions because of its many benefits. The following are a few of the benefits of online therapy:
- Online therapy or online counseling does not require you to travel, and so it is an ideal choice for those who are constantly on the move.
- Because online therapy sessions do not need the therapist to own or rent an office space, it cuts down on their additional expenses, making online therapy more affordable.
- Online therapy sessions only need a strong internet connection. Furthermore, online therapy allows you to connect with any therapist, irrespective of the location.
- Online therapy sessions are more comfortable because you can attend them from any place of your choosing.
- Online therapy is more convenient because you can reschedule or cancel your appointment with just a few clicks.
- Online therapy also offers anonymity, making it an ideal choice for those who are shy and don’t want to share that they're seeking help.
- It is easier to switch therapists in online therapy.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety dreams can disrupt your sleep patterns and affect your ability to function normally. Increased anxiety and stress following the anxiety dreams can be dangerous for your physical and mental health. If self-help techniques do not help you tackle and overcome the impact of anxiety dreams, seeking help via online therapy is the right thing to do.
Online therapy or online counseling can help you identify the stressors in your life, what causes them, and why they impact you. If you cannot discuss your dreams with family or friends, you can talk with your therapist in online therapy sessions.
The therapists at DoMental ensure that your online therapy sessions are smooth and safe. Our therapists plan their therapy sessions with utmost empathy. We care about you and strive to be there for you.