Since social distancing due to coronavirus has started I find myself incredibly tired so early on some nights, completely crashed out on others, and sometimes I just toss and turn and toss and turn.
And man, regardless of the type of sleep, I’ve had some crazy dreams.
I’ve since learned that this is common around the world. Sleep experts think there is a combination of forces at work. In some ways the daily stress is so much it’s making us sleep lighter or more soundly than usual. With dreams, sleeping so soundly encourages our brains to dream more vividly, while sleeping erratically causes us to wake up and recall them more easily.
According to an article by Psychology Today called, “How Dreams and Stories Handle Emotional Chaos” offers a note of reassurance, even if our dreaming is unsettling now:
…one of the reasons we dream is to make sense of what happens to us during the day, even the worst dreams we have are still plot-driven, still make some sort of emotional sense, and still clean some of the psychological litter box. They allow us to function better in our waking lives because they clear out emotional, spiritual, and intellectual detritus.
In an LA Times article entitled “You’re not imagining it: We’re all having intense coronavirus dreams” Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., explains this process further:
When we observe something normal, our brains don’t need to “digest” it, he says. However, when something out of the ordinary happens — like a pandemic — our brains may process the experience through dreaming. That’s why “difficult-to-digest” experiences may give us dreams, Naiman explains.
Dream Work in Your Journal
Your journal can be an excellent tool to process these vivid dreams. Some can pull at you later during waking hours. Some tips:
- Capture very basic facts immediately when you wake in the morning (or even very gently at night so you don’t further disrupt your sleep)
- Keep a pen, notepad and even a small flashlight on your nightstand
- Once you are fully awake take a moment to look at your quick sketch and recall your dream in more details; giving it a title can help
- Remember that any dream you recall is a story from your subconscious; it can be a source of inspiration and release for your thinking brain too
Some options for processing your dreams:
- Write your dream title (from above) in a circle and then brainstorm all the ideas, feelings, details, symbols that come. This is a journal technique called Clustering.
- Write the name of a symbol or character from the dream inside the center circle and try a Clustering that way.
- Close your eyes and take in a central character from the dream or one that repeats in your dreams and take a few deep breaths. Then write what’s called a Character Sketch in your journal. Describe everything about this character from your five senses. Be open to what more this character may have to share with you, what they represent.
- Try an Artmaking activity with a collage of magazine clippings, drawings or doodles to represent what you experienced in a dream.
For me, one really vivid dream stand out. It was a giant monarch butterfly telling me to go back to sleep. She had to return and remind me two more times during that one fitful night of sleep.
The next morning in my journal I was able to connect her reminder to the ‘butterflies’ I’ve been feeling in my stomach during the day. I constantly have that nag in my gut like when my little guy played soccer goalie and I just closed my eyes until the penalty kicks were all done. I became aware of the transformation symbolism of the butterfly — it’s hard work to change from a caterpillar, but we’re working together to save lives in our community and that’s a beautiful thing.
Clustering, Character Sketch, Artmaking and Dreamwork are a sample of the techniques I teach in Journal to the Self workshops. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!