What Do You (Stress) Dream About?

One charming thing about my brain is that I have nightmares on the regular. Despite my fascination with horror movies, when I was a kid I was terrified to the point of not sleeping by them solely because I was afraid I’d have nightmares. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized my nightmares are seldom influenced by anything I watched during the day. They are an independent entity and they come so often than I got used to them. In fact, I seldom have a nightmare that makes it difficult for me to go back to sleep.

I read somewhere that it’s believed there’s actually a nightmare trait -a gene that makes a person predisposed to having nightmares- and I believe it. My youngest niece suffers from the same nightmare issue. Her sleep got a lot better once I gave her some of my coping mechanisms. She used to call recurring dreams “reruns” and get annoyed with them. “Ugh! I had another bad dream last night, but it was a rerun! I already did this!”

As annoying and sometimes disturbing as those nightmares can be, I’d take them over stress dreams any day.

Or night, as it were.

I’ve had stress dreams since probably junior high or high school. I get stressed, my dreams get stressed. They’re different from nightmares because stress dreams are more likely to trigger my somnambulism.

They’re also different from nightmares because stress dreams are relentless. If I have one, then that’s going to be my night. No amount of changing position is going to save me. I’ll wake up, roll over, and go right back into it.

My stress dreams are usually about the situation that has me stressed. That’s usually work. A busy library with no help and an inability to do my job is pretty common. Or I’ll dream about past jobs as a substitute for my current one. Usually I’m back at Wal-Mart trying to remember how to do my job.

But sometimes my stress dreams take on a fun twist.

They evoke the same feelings as my usual stress dreams, but they’re more like the nightmares I have. Like the time I dreamed about the 10 plagues, but not in a fun, Dr. Phibes way. Or the time I dreamed about stabbing zombies in the eye with the handle of a rat tail comb. Normally, these nightmare-adjacent dreams would have been nothing for me. Instead, I was left feeling wound for sound as much as drained.

Sometimes the stress dreams will co-opt dreams that I don’t consider bad and warp them. I frequently dream about tornadoes and sharks (but not together), which might be nightmares for some people, but for me they’re not because I’m never scared in any of them. Unless they’re stress-related. Then these dreams take on an anxiety-inducing quality that spills over into my waking hours and wrecks my day.

My stress dreams have become more and more frequent over the past few years to the point that recently I couldn’t remember the last time I didn’t have one. My body adjusted to them apparently because they stopped wearing me out as much as they used to, but my mind still struggles.

It’s bad when I crave the bizarre dreams, the absolute nightmares, but I really would prefer them.

Those I can sleep through.