When new clients come into my office and I ask them about their dreams they usually think I’m asking about their goals for the future. Even after I specify that I’m inquiring about the dreams that take place at night, I usually hear things like, “I don’t dream,” or “I don’t remember my dreams”, or “my dreams don’t make any sense.” In a society that values science, logic, and evidence, we have started to develop a disconnect with our inner knowing. There seems to be a correlation between this disconnect growing and people struggling physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Anxiety is one of the many ways that this can show up for individuals. For many, the presence of anxiety can be downright debilitating. So, it is no surprise that we are quick to try and make the anxiety disappear rather than dive deeper within ourselves to figure out where it is coming from. After all, our brain wants to keep us safe, so it can feel very counterintuitive to do something that makes us feel uncomfortable. However, getting to the root of where the anxiety is originating from can be transformative.
For some, they are easily able to pinpoint a specific life event that triggered their anxiety. Perhaps it was an abusive childhood or internalizing messages from peers of not being good enough. For others, this task may be more difficult. These individuals would typically say they had a “good” childhood and “should” be happy in life. This usually speaks to an unconscious issue of some sort but because we either have ignored it or cannot see it, the function of our anxiety is to get us to take a deeper look internally. So how do we do that?
Dream analysis can be especially useful in these cases as it allows us to see through a small window that we normally don’t have access to in our waking lives. While working with a dream analysist is a valuable part of this work, there are some things you can begin to do at home to facilitate this process independently.
Setting the Intention
A very interesting phenomenon occurs when we begin to write down our dreams: the frequency and intensity of the dreams tend to increase. Our unconscious has a way of knowing when we do or do not want to hear from it. Maybe we have gotten in the habit of pushing our thoughts or feelings away or maybe we have been very critical of ourselves. Whatever the case may be, if we are wanting to develop a relationship with our inner selves, we must begin to show it compassion and curiosity. A great way to set this intention is by having a dream journal and setting in next to your bed.
Remembering Your Dreams
For those that have had difficulties remembering their dreams in the past, this can feel like a daunting task. However, there are some tips you can use to increase your chances of remembering your dreams.
- Evaluating the number of hours you are getting of sleep per night. Individual’s typically dream when they are in the deepest part of their cycle but this can only happen if you are getting enough sleep. Even though many of us are in the habit of only getting a few hours of sleep a night, it is recommended that adults get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
- Having a hard time falling asleep? One of the first things I recommend doing is making sure you are not looking at a computer, iPad, phone, or even television screen for the last hour you are awake. This may sound impossible but research has shown how important it is for our brains to have some down time before falling asleep.
- Got anxiety on the brain? Our minds have a funny way of trying to get our attention when we are not distracted so what better time than when we are lying in bed? I recommend journaling about any anxiety or uncontrollable thoughts that may be keeping you up or trying a guided meditation before falling asleep.
- Dream Incubation. You could even ask yourself a question that you are hoping for a dream to present you with the answer to. Perhaps you want to know why you have anxiety or in what ways are you not being authentic and is that causing anxiety? This is a great practice that really symbolizes the confidence we have in our inner knowing.
What is the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up? If you are like most, it probably involves running through your mental to do list, checking emails, or logging onto social media. Not only is this overwhelming for our mind and body to wake up this way, but it is also a huge barrier to remembering our dreams. It can already be challenging enough to recall our dreams, let alone if we are focusing on ten other things. Getting in the habit of doing a mental scan of any dreams or images that were presented to you when you first wake in the morning can be a great way to increase dream recall.
If you remember something during this scan, running through what you remember one or two more times is especially useful to keep it in your memory until you can write it in your journal. When you are writing down the dream, write down as much detail as you can remember, even if the details don’t seem to make much sense. If you are not able to recall the details of your dream, simply writing in your journal, “I had a dream last night but can’t remember it” still symbolizes your dedication to this practice.
Analyzing the Dream
After you have gotten all the details of the dream out on paper, it is time to begin to attempt to figure out what this dream is trying to tell you. You may be thinking, isn’t this where I look at my dream dictionary or google my dream? Not exactly. Here’s an example to highlight why this is not conducive to the true process of dream analysis. Let’s say you had a dream about a horse and your neighbor had a dream about a horse. Looking to a dream dictionary to explain the meaning of the horse does not consider either persons associations or experiences with a horse. You may have fond memories of horseback riding in the summers with your family while your neighbor may be terrified of horses due to being thrown from one during childhood. Therefore, true dream analysis is a very individualistic process.
The first step in this process is exploring what kind of feelings and emotions come up for you when you think about this dream. Secondly, does anything in particular come up for you when you think about what this dream might be trying to tell you? Every detail in a dream, whether a person, place, or thing, was handpicked by your psyche because it is of relevance to you in some way. Hence why the next step involves diving deeper into what each part of the dream means to you.
Asking questions like, “what does this object represent to me?” or “who does this person remind me of?” or “how does this place make me feel?” can point you in the right direction during this exploration. As you can imagine, this process can become quite lengthy and even after trying our best can leave us feeling confused. This often leads those who want to make this a regular practice to seek outside help from someone who is trained in dream analysis.
Honoring the Dream
Maybe after you have begun this practice, you’re still having a hard time figuring out what your dreams are trying to tell you. That’s okay! Dreams have a way of letting us know what they are trying to tell us when we are ready to hear it. For many, that comes in the form of specific patterns or symbols repeatedly showing up in their dreams. Sometimes looking at the bigger picture of a number dreams versus a single dream can help us gain a better understanding.
What we learn from a dream can be powerful, especially if we have asked our dream maker to let us know where our anxiety is coming from. As they say, be careful what you wish for! Sometimes dreams show us things that we may have been pushing away or not wanting to deal with, which has been causing us anxiety. However, we must start small and learn to sit with the anxiety, while also exploring ways we can begin to implement whatever those messages are trying to tell us. This not only decreases anxiety, but support us to more fully embody our lives.