Anxiety Dreams: How To Cope

Anxiety Dreams - Insightful Counselling

“Nightmares are not dreams. A good dream does not leave the dreamer in darkness, confusion and terror. Start having dreams, not nightmares!” – Michael Bassey Johnson.

Do you know that stress in small amounts is necessary? Small amounts of stress are essential because it helps us learn and it also pushes us to a level of optimal alertness and cognitive and behavioural performance. However, this positive effect is only possible when you experience an acute, low-level, short burst of stress.

On the other hand, prolonged stress is not helpful as it can affect your physical and mental health. Read more on our blog : De-stress: Essentials for well-being.

For most people, an excellent way to deal with prolonged stress is a good night’s sleep. After a very stressful day, a deep sleep (good sleep) gives you the opportunity to recharge your body, leaving you refreshed and ready for the next day.

So if you are dealing with stress and anxiety, then a good (quality) sleep can help you deal with stressful days. Sleep only feels like a safe haven up until fear creeps into your dreams; when that happens, sleep may not provide you with the restful escape you need.

Anxiety in dreams is unpleasant because it not only disrupts your sleep cycle but it can also contribute to stress and anxiety in the morning.

Anxiety attacks in your dreams—are you worried about them? Are you thinking about what’s causing them? Do you want to manage them in order to get better sleep? If you do, then you should continue reading because, in this article, you’ll learn about anxiety dreams, anxiety dreams symptoms, and how to stop anxiety dreams.

What Do Anxiety Dreams Mean?

An anxiety dream, in simple terms, is any dream that causes stress and distress. In the dream, you might feel nervous or panicked; sometimes, the emotions linger even after you wake up, and the general unease it causes might persist throughout the day.

Sometimes, nightmares can inspire feelings of intense fear or severe anxiety that are often more intense than general anxiety, which also counts as stress dreams since daytime anxiety can increase the chances of having nightmares.

Some of the most common reasons behind anxiety dreams every night and nightmares include:

  • A great deal of stress
  • Fear
  • Recent life changes, especially the ones that provoke other distress or uncertainty
  • Traumatic events
  • Insomnia or sleep disorder
  • Use of substances, such as alcohol

Why Do We Have Anxiety Dreams When We Sleep?

You may already be aware that your brain continues to function while you sleep. It makes use of the time you spend sleeping to complete important tasks that not only help with refreshing your body but also keep vital processes running at peak performance.

The brain patches together sensations and memories into a semi-narrative is often part of the daytime sleepiness or the nightly brain activity. Due to that reason, if your recent feelings and thoughts have caused you stress and fear, then your dreams will most likely reflect it.

The truth is not everyone living with anxiety will have nightmares, but research suggests that anxiety can play an essential role in nighttime distress.

In a 2014 study, where a total of 227 adults, the adults who were examined to have a generalized anxiety disorder—also known as GAD—had more bad dreams (or nightmares) than the adults who did not have panic attacks or anxiety. The study found that nightmares were associated with increased feelings of anxiety and depression during the day, as well as a lower quality of life.

In summary, bad dreams (or nightmares) and anxiety can feed each other to create a displeasant cycle.

When To Get Help For Anxiety Dreams

Frequent, distressing nightmares could be a result of an underlying medical or sleep condition such as:

  • Depression
  • Cancer
  • Panic disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Sleep disorder
  • Heart disease

Suppose your anxiety dreams start causing a social anxiety disorder—a type of anxiety disorder that causes fear or anxiety in social situations—or start affecting your ability to function throughout your day. If your anxiety dreams are affecting you that way, you should book a meeting with a mental health professional.

Mental health professionals will be able to help you explore the possible reasons behind your discomfort and also provide you with tools and skills that’ll help you cope with it. According to research, cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety can help in reducing bad dreams (or nightmares).

It’s wise to seek support when the symptoms of stress start affecting relationships, work (or work schedule), or overall quality of life.

How Do I Stop Anxiety Dreams?

While it is impossible to completely avoid anxiety, there are many things you can do to manage anxious thoughts.

Reducing daytime anxiety can improve your overall health and help you fall asleep and sleep better.

You may also read further on how to manage anxiety in our blog – 22 different techniques to reduce stress

Things you can do to prevent or stop stress dreams include:

Starting a calming bedtime routine.

A bedtime routine of reducing tasks or activities and relaxing can help you achieve better sleep.

Close to an hour before going to sleep, put your phone away (as it could distract you) and turn off your computer or TV.

Following that, try the following:

  • Taking a bath
  • Listening to music
  • Meditating
  • Reading

Journaling right before bedtime can help you express stressful or negative thoughts. When you write them down, it makes you feel as though you are practically casting them all off.

Allow your mind to wander to positive thoughts once you’re in bed, such as people or places you adore, good things that happened during the day, or things you value in life.

Stay away from stressful or upsetting activities before going to sleep.

If you like going over your finances or reading a disturbing message from a loved one before going to sleep, you’re more likely to continue thinking about these things while trying to sleep.

Of course, avoiding all stressful situations is impossible. However, if you are aware of something that causes you stress or anxiety, try to address it earlier in the day.

Before going to bed, try doing something that gives you joy or makes you happy, such as spending time with your romantic partner or best friend. Doing something productive or constructive can help reset your mood and relieve you of the anxiety caused by the unpleasant activity.

Try exercising.

Exercise has numerous advantages, including improved sleep.

Adding 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity to your day may help you sleep better right away — possibly even that night.

For the exercises, you can try the following:

  • Brisk walking
  • Hiking
  • Swimming
  • Cycling

In essence, try to do exercises for at least an hour before going to bed. Exercise causes endorphin release and increases body temperature, both of which can wake up your body rather than help it prepare for sleep.

Talk to someone about it.

If you have recurring stress dreams, telling someone about them can help. Sharing things about topics that disturb you or make you scared with someone you trust can often lessen their effect.

Other sources of anxiety can also be discussed with loved ones. Sharing a burden can make it lighter, so sometimes just talking about your stress can help improve your symptoms and lead to better sleep.

How Relaxation Techniques and Therapy Help Prevent Anxious Dreams?

There are lots of ways through which you can activate your body’s relaxation response, but the goal is usually the same or similar. Relaxation techniques can reduce blood pressure and heart rate, deepen and slow breathing, and increase overall well-being. According to research or studies, these changes can help us fall asleep, which proves that relaxation techniques can help reduce the symptoms of stressful dreams.

Another excellent alternative is to go for your own therapy. An experienced therapist will facilitate you to understand the deeper causes for your anxious dreams. As a therapist – their primary job  includes partnering with you on your journey of self-empowerment. They collaborate with their clients to scaffold the processes of reaching within to discover the depth of one’s potential and create healthy relationships with self and others. 

 can help you change how you think about your dreams and manage your emotions.


It’s common or normal for us to have bad dreams (nightmares) now and then, but not all of them cause emotional discomfort. Some experts refer to these occurrences as anxiety dreams.

Anxiety dreams can be caused by emotionally charged experiences and unresolved problems in your life.

Some anxiety dreams, like persistent (or lingering) bad dreams, may indicate an underlying mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

Identifying the source of your anxiety, confronting challenges, and practising relaxation techniques that can help you achieve deep sleep (there are different stages of sleep, and deep sleep is one of the sleep stages) can help reduce your chances of having stressful dreams in the future.


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