We all get bad dreams from time to time. Sometimes that happens because we’ve watched too many scary movies or from an overactive imagination. With that said, frequent bad dreams can also be caused by external stressors within our lives and can be a symptom of anxiety. 

This week, we take a look at why we get bad dreams or nightmares and how stress and anxiety can be the cause. 

Why Do We Get Bad Dreams?

Bad dreams can be caused by a variety of factors. This could be due to excessive alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, or an overactive mind. Additionally, not getting good quality sleep and relaxation time can alter the dreams you do have when you are sleeping. Occasionally, certain medications can even cause you to have these dreams at night, especially when you are first starting a new prescription.

However, more often than not, bad dreams can be caused by having a lot of stress in your life. Issues at home, work, and school are some of the most common external factors that cause someone to feel stress. Additionally, stress can happen when there are relationship problems.

Your bad dreams can also be triggered by hardship such as losing a loved one. 

Can Stress and Anxiety Cause Bad Dreams?

It is commonly believed that people who have anxiety disorders suffer from more bad dreams than those who don’t. 

We often refer to these as anxiety dreams or stress dreams. These dreams occur when have a lot of stress. And to make the cycle even worse, these dreams stress your nervous system out even more, especially when you wake up from a bad dream and feel panicky or in a cold sweat. That feeling can follow you throughout your day.

Other dreams may simply make you feel uncomfortable and uncertain, which can relate to recent life changes or experiences where you feel out of your depth and out of control. 

So Why Does Anxiety Trigger Bad Dreams?

Stress can cause mental, emotional and physical tension in our bodies, and this often manifests through our subconscious and seeps into our dreams. You may find that within the dream, your feelings, your purpose, and what you are worried about mirrors what you are experiencing stress over.

When you sleep, your brain remains active, even though your body is resting. Your brain works hard to heal the body and ensure you are rested. However, your nightly brain activity may reflect what you thought about in the day or in the previous few days. 

Therefore, if you have been anxious about something or stressed about anything, it is likely that this will show up in your dreams. 

What To Do If You’ve Had a Bad Dream

Often, when we wake from a nightmare, particularly an anxiety dream, it can be hard to calm down enough to fall back asleep. We recommend trying something relaxing and soothing. 

For instance, go and make a warm drink and sip it in bed until you start to feel sleepy again, or play some relaxing music quietly. You can try listening to a podcast or reading a book. In addition, you can try breathing exercises to calm you down. 

You should also avoid looking at your phone or watching TV as the bright lights can wake you up more. Avoid checking the time as you’ll only stress about missing out on sleep which can only aggravate your anxiety. 

If you suffer from frequent night terrors and anxiety related dreams, we can help you through this. Reach out to Integrative Psychotherapy Group for support in anxiety therapy so you can finally get a good restful night of sleep.