Anxiety Spurs and Upsetting Dreams Due to COVID-19

New research published by the American Psychological Association suggests the anxiety, stress, and worry brought on by COVID-19 is not limited to daytime hours. The pandemic is affecting our dreams as well, infusing more anxiety and negative emotions into dreams and spurring dreams about the virus itself, specifically women. Previously conducted research suggested that our dreams often reflect what’s happening in our waking lives and that other crises — including war, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks — have led to an increase in anxious dreams. The four studies in this special section found that the same is true of COVID-19.

The four COVID-19 articles in the issue include:

“Dreaming and the COVID-19 pandemic: A survey in the U.S. American sample”

This study of more than 3,000 U.S. adults was surveyed in the early May 2020 found that people who had been most strongly affected by the pandemic also reported the strongest effects on their dream life, for instance, heightened dream recall, more negative dreams, and more pandemic-related dreams. The findings suggest that variations in the frequency, tone, and content of dreams could help identify those at risk for mental health problems during the pandemic

“Dreams about COVID-19 vs. Normative Dreams: Trends by Gender”

According to a study with 2,888 participants, women’s dreams have been more negatively affected by COVID-19 than men’s dreams. The researchers compared the responses of dreams about the pandemic to a database of dreams from before the pandemic. Overall analysis showed that women indicated significantly lower rates of positive emotions and higher levels of anxiety, sadness, anger, and references to biological processes, health, and death in their pandemic dreams compared with the pre-pandemic dreams.

“Dreaming in the Time of Covid-19: A Quali-Quantitative Italian Study”

According to research analysis of 796 Italian participants, all of whom completed a dream questionnaire in April and May 2020 and described their most recent dream in detail. 20% of the dreams included an explicit reference to COVID-19. Overall, it was found that women were at a higher emotional intensity and a more negative emotional tone in their dreams

“Pandemic Dreaming: The Effect of COVID-19 on Dream Imagery, a Pilot Study”

A study on Canadian college students reported that Pandemic-era dreams resemble the dreams of people with anxiety. Analysis of the detailed dream journals from 19 Canadian college students recorded between mid-February and mid-March 2020, as the pandemic and pandemic-related physical distancing restrictions were taking hold in Canada. It was found that the pandemic-era dreams contained more location changes, head, food, and virus-related dream imagery compared with a control group of people who kept dream journals before the pandemic. This type of imagery is similar to people experiencing waking day anxiety.

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