Science Saturday: Stressful Slumber
Updated: Jan 17, 2019
Much like our own world, the world of Chronsylvania is full of strange natural phenomena. Every Sunday we'll highlight an article that explores the odd, and very real, scientific properties of our universe. We'll also leave you with a writing/drawing prompt based on the article to get your creative juices flowing.
This week, we’d like to talk about dreams for a second.
You know, those crazy, wonderfully happy movies that play on the back of your eyelids while you’re asleep? You know, your subconsciousness expressing your innermost wishes and desires, often through convoluted and downright confusing symbolism?
Yeah, a lot of times, dreams can really suck.
In an article from The Mother Nature Network (read the full article here), writer Noel Kirkpatrick relates a recurring stress dream that he has quite often. In the dream, he’s back in his first job working at a Blockbuster (what up, 90s?). It’s right around closing time when all of a sudden, a stream of customers starts pouring through the door. He’s unable to tell them that the store is about ready to close, he can’t lock the door, and of course, his scanner at the check-out station simply refuses to work. The line of customers gets longer and longer and the customers become increasingly agitated until Mr. Kirkpatrick wakes up. And when he does finally wake and begin to go about his day, he can’t seem to shake the stressed out, anxiety-ridden feeling of the dream.
I’m sure you’ve had an anxiety-inducing dream similar to this at some point in your life. Maybe in the dream, you’re standing in front of your third grade class in your underwear or your teeth continually fall out and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get them to stay in your dang gums like they’re supposed to. In my most common anxiety dream, I’m trying to run through a field, but the ground is so muddy I just can’t seem to get any traction. Eventually, after struggling for what feels like hours, my legs stop working altogether and my only recourse is to army crawl through the mud. It takes the entire duration of the dream just to gain a few inches, and when I wake up, I’m always terribly stressed out.
(A quick note that this post is dealing specifically with anxiety dreams, not nightmares or night terrors. Those are a completely different game.)
Anxiety dreams such as this are a common occurrence. According to the article, over 50 percent of all dreams involve some sort of negative emotional experience, a fact that really shouldn’t be all that surprising.
The word “dream” typically has positive connotations. Think about it: whenever somebody tells you to “follow your dreams” or asks you about your “dream job,” they are asking you to consider desires that have heretofore only existed in your subconscious imagination. If those desires were to brought out of your subconscious and into your conscious life, well, dog gone it, that would be a really gosh-darn nice thing for you, now wouldn’t it?
Dreams are the arena in which our subconscious wrestles with those unspoken desires. But unspoken desires are only a fraction of the diverse experiences, instincts, and intuitions that the subconscious wrestles with during the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) portion of the sleep cycle. Fears, urges, and anxieties are a pretty big part of our conscious lives, so it only stands to reason that they would make up a significant portion of our subconscious lives as well. It’s not necessarily a fun fact, but it is a pretty logical and necessary one. And because dreams offer us such an honest reflection of our lives, completely unbiased by our conscious selves, we need to pay attention to them.
I’m not here to suggest that dreams are messages from on high that we must dissect and analyze because they contain the secrets of the universe. But I’m also not here to discount the significance of dreams. Dreams are much more than simply random imagistic activity created by the electrical firing of your brain during REM. They are the connection between the subconscious and the conscious. They are a mystery of the human brain that demands further exploration and study. And as I’ve stated in past posts, the human brain is the next great frontier in our scientific understanding of the universe because it is such a powerful thing. If it’s got something to say, I’m all for listening. Even if that means waking up stressed out every now and then.
Not that you have to take that stress lying down, because, at the very least, even those pesky anxiety dreams, can mined as a source of creativity.
Creative Prompt: Write/draw everything you can remember about a stressful, anxiety dream you’ve had. Consider your five senses. What could you see in the dream? Hear? Smell? Feel? Taste? Get down every last excruciatingly stressful detail.
Then, once you’ve got all of the details down, change some of those details to make them less stressful. Remember, it’s a dream, so literally anything is possible. For example, in my muddy-running dream, whenever I get stuck, I could change into a monster truck with spikes on the tires and just tear that field up!
This prompt is based on a psychological practice called Image Rehearsal Therapy. You can read more about this therapy by clicking here.
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You can follow Noel Kirkpatrick, the author of the article discussed above, on twitter and instagram @noelrk
Thanks for reading, and we'll see you next Wednesday with a brand new page.