Why Do We Have “Anxiety Dreams” And Tips To Stop Them


Anxiety dreams are often more stressful than nightmares, just as horror films that build tension are worse than blatantly scary-looking ones. You go to sleep peacefully, yet an anxious dream catches you off guard and reminds you what you are stressed about. 

These dreams can stem from real-life experiences and anxieties, such as fighting with a friend or partner or falling from a building. Though sometimes they are fabricated by the depths of your subconscious.

Some people have recurring anxiety dreams such as being naked in public, getting chased, their teeth falling out, drowning, etc. These kinds of dreams are usually linked to a specific event you experienced. For example, dreams of teeth falling out are generally associated with a significant loss. 

This article will answer why we have anxiety dreams and how you can stop them.

Why you might be having anxiety dreams

Our brain is just as active at night as it is during the day. Just as our bodies process nutrients, fluids, blood, and more, our brains continue to process information, filter out waste, and restore and repair at night.

Although experts don’t have a definitive answer to why we dream, research shows that dreams help store memories more efficiently and accurately. When you have an anxiety dream, it’s your brain’s way of dealing with your emotions or memories. If you experience anxiety during the day and don’t address it, your brain may bring it up while you sleep.

You’re more likely to have recurring anxiety dreams if you have a mental health condition like generalized anxiety disorder. In addition, some recurring anxiety dreams or nightmares may be a sign of trauma or a mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Anxiety dreams vs. nightmares

Fear is a common theme when discussing anxiety, dreams, and nightmares. However, they have a few distinctive features. 

Our underlying fears, such as abandonment, losing loved ones, and dying can cause both. Yet anxiety dreams often don’t cause horror; they are likely to cause panic and distress. 

Anxiety dreams are especially common during a time in your life when you are experiencing stressful life changes, dealing with a traumatic event, or suffering from insomnia.

Neither anxiety dreams, nor nightmares are cause for concern as long as they don’t have long-lasting effects on your sleep or daily mood. 

How to stop anxiety dreams

It’s possible to treat anxiety dreams and improve your sleep. It comes down to regulating your mood when you get anxious during the day. If you’d like to stop having anxiety dreams, you must make time to deal with your emotions healthily.

Be mindful of your thoughts before going to sleep

Exercise helps you sleep better - Tikvah Lake Recovery

What was the last thing you thought about before you went to sleep?

Our dreams are influenced by the movies or videos we watch, or the thoughts in our head before bed. That’s why listening to relaxing sounds, meditating, or reading a pleasant story can help you freshen up your mind. 

Many tips for better sleep also point to living a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and healthy eating habits.

Reduce your caffeine consumption

Caffeine can sometimes have an adverse effect on sleep and anxiety levels. So if you’re having recurring anxiety dreams and trouble sleeping, you should try reducing caffeine consumption. 

If you think you may have a caffeine addiction that causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, drowsiness, and a low mood, try low caffeine options such as tea as you eventually faze out caffeine consumption completely.

Stick to a sleep schedule

Rule out a sleep disorder

Our bodies love routines and adapt to commands quickly. Going to bed at the same time every night is key to improving your overall sleep pattern. 

Note the things that help you feel relaxed and sleepy to help you go to bed even when you don’t feel like you can sleep. For example, have a bath, listen to relaxing music, read a book, or journal.

Use breathing techniques to help you relax your body and mind

Breathing exercises are proven to improve body and mind functions dramatically. 

Slow, deep breathing has several benefits, including promoting melatonin production, calming the nervous system, and reducing stress levels. These contribute to better and deeper sleep. 

The key to a successful breathing exercise is relaxing your mind, not forcing anything, and committing to it every day for at least 10 minutes before bed.

Keep a dream journal to reimagine the anxiety scenario

Our imagination is a powerful tool for restructuring our negative thinking.

If you have recurring dreams about a stressful event, memory, or fear, try to remember your dream and write it down in a dream journal. Then, you can imagine an alternative scenario or an ending to your anxiety dream or nightmare. 

Eventually, you may begin to change the course of your dream, helping you change your outlook on the event or fear. 

Our Tikvah Lake Recovery team is always here to listen if you are struggling with sleep due to anxiety, depression, or other mental health disorders.

Our experts take a holistic approach to recovery and personalize your treatment to ensure you develop the skills and mindset to cope with difficult emotions, an addiction, or a mental health disorder.

Contact the team today and begin your journey to better sleep and wellness.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

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