For those of us who feel plagued by anxiety during all waking hours, sleep can be a welcome break. But sometimes, anxiety can overstay its welcome by creeping into our dreams at night.
According to Michelle Carr, Ph.D., recurring dreams are likely connected to unresolved problems in your life. Common dream themes like being chased or trying to outrun a tidal wave may represent overwhelming emotions you are facing in your life, like fear or helplessness. You might find that recurring dreams tend to surface prior to stressful events like job interviews or important appointments.
We wanted to know what dreams people with anxiety have again and again, so we turned to our community to share their experiences with us. Below we’ve rounded up the dreams they shared, ranked by popular answer. Can you relate? Let us know in the comments.
Here are the recurring dreams people in our community have when they feel really anxious:
1. Teeth Falling Out
“I dream of my teeth falling out. That’s how I know I haven’t been taking enough care of my mental health. My therapist says it may be a fear of being abandoned when I need help the most.” — Anoka A.
“I either dream that all my teeth fell out or I dream of tornados. Been having these dreams since I was a small child.” — Chrissy R.
“My teeth falling out and I’m not talking the first set of teeth — it’s nonstop!” — Kendra M.
2. Being Chased
“I’ve had recurring nightmares about dinosaurs hunting me since I was a kid. I wake up when they start to attack me. It’s usually raptors or a T-Rex, but sometimes my dreams will shake things up with some other predator. Snakes are pretty common for me too.” — Jesca C.
“I always dream that I am running away from something when I go to sleep in an anxious frame of mind. I can never see what I am running from, but I wake up gasping for air.” — Lindsey F.
3. Losing Your Loved Ones
“My recurring nightmares/dreams usually involve losing the people I care about in one form or another. Not being able to reach them, losing them to death, etc.” — Joanna L.
“I have this recurring dream that I’m in a car that crashes into water and everyone I’m with dies. This happens at least once every couple of months and I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean. It’s scared me to a point where I have to keep the window down every time I’m in a car that’s remotely near water so I can escape if it comes true.” — Chloe L.
4. Being Late
“I’m always dreaming of going to an airport and finding at the last-minute that either I don’t have a passport or it’s out of date! Or I’m trying to ring someone and I either can remember the number or the buttons on the phone don’t work.” — Clare M.
“My anxiety dreams revolve around trying to get to work on time but constantly being held up until it’s too late to even go in (like after closing time). My boss fires me and I have to tell my parents I’ve failed them… somehow.” — Anne K.
“Being back at school and not knowing my timetable. Or being lost and trying to reunite with some people or find the way back where I should be.” — Mirjam P.
5. Losing Control While Driving
“I’m driving and I either lose all control over the vehicle and/or the breaks stop working. I feel like it’s pretty clear that the dream is a direct analogy for how I feel in life every day.” — Julia F.
“My recurring dream is driving my automatic car and pushing the breaks and the pedal has no pressure to stop. My foot keeps pushing, car is still moving and I have the realization that I am powerless to stop the car. This happens when my anxiety is intense and I am powerless leading to feeling hopeless.” — Victoria T.
6. Facing a Tidal Wave or Drowning
“When I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed with life, I tend to dream of trying to escape from an enormous tidal wave/tsunami that’s threatening to overtake me and the ones I love. I’m usually desperately trying to save everyone, while also attempting to save myself, and there are scary obstacles—sharks, debris, etc.— that I must navigate as well. Trying to save everyone poses a huge challenge, and I generally don’t succeed, leaving me anxious, panicked and profoundly sad, which lingers even after I wake up.” — Kelly W.
“When I dream about water, means that my emotions are not stable. Fear of drowning a big one for me. Sometimes water is clear and sometimes muddy. Used to have dreams of falling, but those have not happened in a long time.” — Linda E.
7. Looking for Something You Can’t Find
“I’m always running away from something in my dreams, or looking for something I can never find. I think that’s how my anxiety manifests itself.” — Elizabeth B.
8. Being in Jail
“I have a recurring dream about being in jail or prison. All of my rights ripped away. I think this is how I feel on a daily basis. That what rights I may have had were ripped away from me as child due to constant and severe abuse.” — Jodi A.
9. Being Unable to Reach Safety
“When I’m really anxious I usually dream about trying to find this hidden, secluded hideaway on the beach. This place is completely safe and comforting. I know where it’s at and the way, but somehow I can’t get there. I get distracted by problems and situations that need my attention on the way. I get lost trying to get there. I always end up near it where I can see it, but settle in a place I know. Usually an old apartment I had.” — Amity H.
10. Therapist Leaving You
“Various permutations of my therapist abandoning me even though we’ve discussed this a gazillion times and she said she’s not going anywhere. I’m aware I’m transferring my childhood attachment anxiety to her, but it’s so uncomfortable. “ — Monika S.
If you experience anxious dreams, you’re not alone. To connect with a community that understands the struggles you’re facing, we encourage you to post a Thought or Question on The Mighty with the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. No matter what you’re contending with today, you don’t have to go through it alone.
For more on anxiety, check out the following stories from our community:
- What It’s Like to Have ‘High-Functioning’ Anxiety
- When Anxiety Presents as Anger, Not Fear
- We Can’t Keep Treating Anxiety From Complex Trauma the Same Way We Treat Generalized Anxiety