COVID-19 messing up with our dreams, women most affected

The anxiety, stress and worry brought on by COVID-19 is not only limited to daytime hours as it is affecting our dreams as well, particularly among women, new research has revealed

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)


The anxiety, stress and worry brought on by COVID-19 is not only limited to daytime hours as it is affecting our dreams as well, particularly among women, new research has revealed.

The pandemic has infused more anxiety and negative emotions into dreams and spurring dreams about the virus itself, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association in the journal Dreaming.

Overall, women's dreams have been more strongly affected by the pandemic than men's - possibly because women are bearing more of the burden of caregiving, job loss and other hardships.

To reach this conclusion, researchers went through results of four studies from around the world about people's dreams during the pandemic.

Previous research has suggested that our dreams often reflect what's happening in our waking lives and that other crises -- including war, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks -- have led to an increase in anxious dreams.

New research found that the same is true of COVID-19.

"All of these studies support the continuity hypothesis of dreaming: That dreams are consistent with our waking concerns rather than being some outlet for compensation, as some older psychoanalytic theories had hypothesised," said Deirdre Barrett, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University's Medical School.

"The higher levels of anxiety, dreams about illness and death in general, and COVID-19 specifically, are in line with that."

One mother in a study by Barrett dreamed that her child's school contacted her to say that the child's whole class was being sent to her condominium to be home-schooled for the duration of the pandemic.

When mothers of young children hear that dream, there is laughter but also usually a strong empathy at the overwhelmed feeling the dream dramatises.

"Your dreams can make you more aware of just what about the pandemic is bothering you the most -- and sharing them with trusted others is a good conversation-starter for talking about these shared feelings,a Barrett noted.

This study of more than 3,000 US adults surveyed in early May found that people who had been most strongly affected by the pandemic also reported the strongest effects on their dream life (heightened dream recall, more negative dreams and more pandemic-related dreams).

Women and people with more education also reported stronger effects of the pandemic on their dreams.

Women's dreams have been more negatively affected by COVID-19 than men's dreams, according to an international study of 2,888 participants.

Overall, women showed significantly lower rates of positive emotions and higher levels of anxiety, sadness, anger and references to biological processes, health and death in their pandemic dreams compared with the pre-pandemic dreams.

Men's pandemic dreams showed slightly higher levels of negative emotions, anxiety and death than in pre-pandemic dreams, but the effects were less pronounced than they were for women.

In another study, researchers analysed the dreams of 796 Italian participants.

Twenty per cent of the dreams included an explicit reference to COVID-19.

"Overall, women reported higher emotional intensity and a more negative emotional tone in their dreams, as did participants who knew people affected by COVID-19," the researchers said.

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