Dreams are difficult things to interpret. The science on what they really mean isn’t settled – in fact, the scientists can’t even agree on what function they actually perform. Everyone dreams to some extent, even if they don’t remember them. They’re most vivid during the R.E.M. phase of sleep, though you can dream any all hours of the night.
Some speculate that they help with problem-solving; you might have spent hours practicing a tricky passage in a piece of music, or stressing over a work-related project, only to come back the next day feeling full of new solutions and inspiration.
Given that we spent so much of our waking lives at work, it should come as no surprise that the workplace occasionally intrudes into our dreams.
Business card printing company instantprint has conducted a study into the dreaming habits of British workers. They polled a thousand subjects, and found that 80% of them had experienced workplace-related dreams, and around 75% reported suffering from workplace nightmares.
So what could be causing this surge? It might be underlying uneasiness with the work itself. If we haven’t been putting in maximum effort at work, then guilt might surface in the dream state. Similarly, leaving things to the last minute, or not fully understanding something, might generate anxiety which manifests in dreams.
The researchers quote Dr Sarah Jane Daly, who is a senior psychology lecturer at the University of Huddersfield. “Anxieties and concerns about potentially losing jobs and being unable to pay the rent/mortgage or put food on the table trouble many on an almost daily basis,” she said. “This, alongside the threat of ourselves or loved ones contracting the Coronavirus all contribute to anxiousness and worriment playing out in our dream states.”
Coping with Workplace Anxiety
If you’re feeling under strain at work, then there are a few strategies you might use to cope.
Planning and Preparation
By setting down a plan for how you’re going to approach tasks in the short and long term will help you to make progress without the workload accumulating. You’ll be able to manage crunch periods, and improve your productivity generally.
Know your Limits
Committing to too much work at one time can push you beyond capacity. You’ll have trouble getting to sleep in the evenings, and you’ll find yourself worrying about work even during your downtime.
Maintaining healthy habits will protect the quality of your sleep. That might mean steering clear of alcohol, caffeine and even social media, especially in the time just before bed. A healthy diet and exercise habits might get your mind in better shape to cope with workplace challenges – and being healthy is, of course, and end in itself.