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Study identifies three themes found in the dreams of anxious people

What do YOUR dreams reveal about your anxiety levels? Research identifies three themes of anxiety disorder – from dreams about an ex to images at high speed

  • Researchers from the University of Düsseldorf analyzed dreams of anxiety patients
  • They tracked the dream content of using diaries, questionnaires and analyses
  • Found that different themes are more common in dreams of people with anxiety
  • Also found that their dreams are less likely to have positive emotions such as happiness







New research suggests that the dream content of people with anxiety disorders may differ significantly from that of healthy individuals, identifying three themes that are more common in the dreams of anxiety patients.

These include dreams of a past love interest, more emotionally intense dreams, and a higher prevalence of high-speed images.

The study by researchers from the University of Düsseldorf, and published in the journal Dreaming, to examine the specific features manifested in dreams of people with clinical anxiety disorders and compare them to dreams of healthy individuals

Two groups of dreamers, 38 people with the disorder and 38 healthy people, were followed using dream diaries, questionnaires and one-on-one dream analysis and then compared.

Research has shown that people with anxiety disorders are more likely to dream about specific scenarios and themes than healthy people (stock image)

Research has shown that people with anxiety disorders are more likely to dream about specific scenarios and themes than healthy people (stock image)

Researchers concluded that there was a significant difference in terms of dream content, and several subjects were found to be more common in people with anxiety disorders.

These include being chased, physically assaulted, frozen with fear, death of loved ones, and accidents like plane crashes and others.

Why do we dream?

Although many researchers have tackled the subject of why we dream, none have yet managed to come to a decisive conclusion.

However, there are a number of theories.

Some evolutionary psychologists believe that dreaming can improve survival because most dream content is negative and therefore provides practice in dealing with a hostile environment.

Meanwhile, other researchers have suggested that dreams may be related to memory.

The concept of active system consolidation proposes that while the brain operates in offline mode while you sleep, memories are reactivated to be consolidated, and dreams are explained as images that reflect recently encoded memories.

This could explain why we often dream about things we did during the day.

However, there are many other theories as to why we dream, and we still don’t understand what function it performs.

The dreams of people with anxiety disorders not only contain more of these negative characteristics, but also less positive ones, with a lower number of friendly interactions or successes.

They also contain more characters, locations, travel and transportation, and verbal communication than the dreams of healthy people.

In addition to certain recurring themes in the dreams of anxiety patients, there were also three common defining features.

These include dreams about a former love interest, including ex-partners.

Another characteristic is that the dreams of people with anxiety disorders often contain a lot of power and speed, for example of fast-moving vehicles.

A third feature was the overall subjective intensity of the dream, which researchers say was higher in the anxiety patients.

When it came to dream emotions, anxiety patients experienced more negative feelings, including anger, fear, apprehension, and sadness, and less positive ones, such as happiness.

This prompted lead author and psychologist Anton Rimsh of the Universität Düsseldorf in Germany suggest that the dreams of anxiety patients “may represent the experience of a terrifying, hostile and dangerous environment in their waking lives.”

He added: ‘We can therefore assume that the presence of an anxiety disorder leads to a higher overall subjective intensity of dream experiences and dream images.

“Consistent with this view, we concluded that the dream content in anxiety patients not only exists in large numbers, but is also experienced by them with a particularly high subjective intensity and emphasis.”

Researchers noted that their sample size was small and that patients with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder were overrepresented.

They said that patients with specific phobias, separation anxiety disorder and agoraphobia were underrepresented, so further research could be conducted, with more participants and a more equal representation of different anxiety disorders.