PORTLAND, Maine — We all have nightmares, especially when dealing with stress; and 2020 has certainly been stressful. If you've noticed you've been having more nightmares about work, or dreams involving your coworkers, there are a few reasons for that.
Dr. Colleen Cira is a licensed clinical psychologist and Founder and Executive Director of the Cira Center for Behavioral Health, specializing in trauma and women's issues.
"Right now we are all really prone to anxiety dreams because there is so much to be anxious about; between COVID, and racial unrest and inequality, and this upcoming election, and winter, and school," says Dr. Cira. "There’s just so much anxiety that we are all managing right now and so it is going to manifest in our dreams."
"We typically spend more time at work or doing work than with our family, friends, and loved ones; so just the sheer amount of time that our brains are engaging with material related to work means that that stuff is going to show up in our dreams," Dr. Cira explains, saying that having dreams about work or co-workers is normal, considering how much of our lives are dedicated to those things. Sometimes those dreams are cut and dry, but not always.
"Sometimes they’re really literal where we miss a deadline and perhaps we have a deadline coming up, or perhaps we’ve already missed a deadline and we are still feeling terrible about it; but oftentimes they are less literal than that. Looking for themes and symbolism is what’s really important. Is the overarching theme one of vulnerability? Is it one of shame? Is it one of disappointing someone or angering someone else? Looking for themes is really where it’s at in terms of analyzing dreams, and while that can be a helpful thing to do I also want to say don’t take dreams too seriously either," Cira says.
Have you ever looked at a co-worker like an extended family member? Sometimes you fight like siblings, sometimes you care about them as siblings; that's also not out of the ordinary. "Work dynamics have a lot of the similar set ups as a family dynamics. We’ve got the people who are in charge; we’ve got the people who are lower on the totem pole, who have to go along with what the boss say," says Cira. "All of that can be reminiscent of our family of origin, the family we grew up with. If that went well, then that’s great. If that didn’t go so well, we might be especially triggered if we feel like our boss is upset with us or mad at us, or if we have to engage in conflict at work."
While Dr. Cira says it's important to ground yourself in reality when waking up from a wild work dream and understand that it's just the madness in your brain creating scenarios; it's also important to use those dreams to understand yourself better. Maybe the dream showed you that you were more bothered by a situation than you realized, and you need to correct it; or maybe the dream can help you understand what's really important to you in life and at work.
"Use those dreams to better understand where you are emotionally; what you’re thinking about; what matters to us and what makes us worried," says Dr. Cira. "Then you can do something about it."