“I was working in a San Francisco office building, and the news came on saying that the government was rounding up old people and killing them,” says Jackson, 26. “The government was saying that they were taking up essential resources and were going to die anyway. This was crazy news, naturally, so everyone left their office buildings, and it was just pandemonium in the streets. Everybody was trying to escape the city and get to their loved ones.”
“I took public transportation as far as I could get, but then I had to run,” Jackson continues. “My grandma lives in San Jose, which is really far from San Francisco, but in dream-time, I somehow ran and made it. I found my grandma and my dad. We were in an airfield, and it felt like a battleground. There was smoke and flashing lights. Bombs and shit were going off while my dad and I were trying to lead my grandma through the battlefield. But since old people are slow, we were running too fast and lost her in a huge crowd. I was like, ‘Shit!’ But then I found her, and the dream ended.”
Jackson is part of a growing cohort of people who are beginning to experience constant nightmares, inspired by fears of the looming coronavirus and disturbing speculations about our deeply uncertain futures. “I probably talk to my grandparents more than I talk to my parents,” he says. “Everything happening with the coronavirus kind of works its way into your brain.”
Online, meanwhile, distressed dreamers have taken to sharing similar stories, where they dream of being infected by the coronavirus, quarantined with people who are already infected or trapped in grocery stores with hordes of frantic, coughing shoppers. Andrea (an alias), 32, recounts a recent nightmare, in which she was stuck in a coronavirus-riddled New York City, where “everyone was walking around sick and dying.”
Others are experiencing a sudden onset of catastrophic dreams about the likes of tornadoes and nuclear wars, which, while not directly related to the coronavirus, are believed by them to be deeply motivated by the current situation. My colleague Magdalene Taylor, 23, for instance, has been having panicked dreams of needing to pack up her things and get out of dodge before disaster strikes. “This usually manifests itself in a college situation, particularly relating to all of the colleges that suddenly closed their campuses for quarantine,” she says. “I have to sort out everything as fast as I can. I have to be off campus in a few hours, or catch a plane shortly. I have way more than would be manageable to organize.”
While scary for those experiencing them, none of these coronavirus-influenced dreams are the least bit surprising to professional dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg. “There’s a definite rise in disturbing dreams lately,” she says. “Even dreams reported to me that aren’t necessarily disturbing still revolve around the coronavirus, because it’s affecting practically every part of our lives. We naturally dream about what’s on our mind the most or what affects us the most during the day, and these days, the coronavirus and everything related to it consumes our thoughts, and even how we go about our day.”
Besides being extremely pertinent to our lives, another possible reason for coronavirus dreams being so rampant is our recently changed lifestyle. “People are remembering their dreams more because most of us no longer have to wake up to an alarm super early and get ready to go to work,” Loewenberg explains. “We get to linger in bed longer in the mornings, and that allows more time for dream recall. The alarm clock is the biggest killer of dream recall.”
Loewenberg also mentions that periods of increased uncertainty and anxiety are expected to evoke a widespread increase in disaster dreams, like some of the dreamers mentioned above have reported. She lists several variations of such dreams, along with what each one could symbolize:
- Tornadoes: Worry that’s spinning out of control.
- Tidal Waves: Feeling overwhelmed to the point where you’re being swept away from your normal routine or peace of mind.
- Flooding: A situation or negative mindset that’s getting increasingly worse.
- House Fires: Frazzled nerves and being completely burnt out.
- Plane Crashes: Loss of hope; your emotional state is crashing
- Bugs: Someone or something is really irritating you right now.
Loewenberg says we should expect more and more coronavirus nightmares and disaster dreams “until the virus no longer feels like a daily threat.” But she also explains that such dreams can actually be kind of helpful. “It’s important to remember that, as upsetting as these dreams can be, they’re actually good for us, in that they’re brutally honest reflections of how we’re managing our stress, worry and behavior right now,” she tells me. “If your dreams are becoming more and more stressful, that’s a clear indication that your waking-life stress is getting out of control.” (In which case, you should probably reconsider how you’re holding up in quarantine, and do anything you can to help yourself cope.)
One simple way to curb your coronavirus dreams and deal with internalized stress, according to Loewenberg, is to journal before bed. “I find journaling your thoughts right before you go to sleep to be very beneficial to a more peaceful mind and better dreams,” she says. “Write out what you’re worried about or what’s troubling you the most right now. And in the writing process, include the positive outcome you’d like to see, as well as something you can actively do to reach that outcome. This allows you to sort out all of those jumbled, stressful thoughts, and it gets them out of your head and onto paper.”
“Take up as many pages in your journal as you need,” Loewenberg continues. “Get it all out. Then, as you drift off to sleep, don’t think about what worries you — think about what you love, who you love, what you want to do in the future and so on. You’ll be surprised at how much this will change your dreams, and in turn, how much it changes your stress.”
Or if you can get the whole lucid dreaming thing down, you could try blasting the coronavirus with a fireball and see if that helps.
Stuff You Should Know About the Coronavirus
- Here’s how to clean your food while you’re protecting yourself from COVID-19.
- HIV-positive people who lived through the AIDS crisis are experiencing a surreal and traumatic kind of déjà vu.
- At-home COVID-19 tests are, so far, total crap.
- Delivery drivers say they’re struggling to find places to pee and wash their hands.
- Coronavirus memes reveal how shameful the American health-care system really is.
- Many young people who tested positive didn’t realize they were carriers of COVID-19 — and they’re terrified they may have passed it to more vulnerable loved ones.
- Try to de-stress. Your immune system will thank you.
- You might want to take your clothes off as soon as you step inside your house.
- Restaurants are getting creative about selling bulk booze orders.
- It’s time to sit back and listen to some Steely Dan — the perfect music for the moment.