We've all had those super weird dreams that leave us wondering, "What the heck was that all about?" But it turns out, our dreams might be trying to tell us something about our mental health.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, people who have frequent, vivid dreams tend to have lower levels of anxiety and depression compared to those who don't dream as often or as vividly (Winson, 1980). So, what gives?
Well, experts believe that the dream process serves as a kind of "rehearsal" for dealing with our emotions and challenges in real life (Domhoff, 2018). When we dream, our brains are able to process and make sense of the events and experiences of the day in a way that can be more difficult to do while we're awake. This can help us feel more emotionally balanced and better equipped to handle stress.
In fact, research has shown that people who can recall and talk about their dreams tend to have better problem-solving skills and are better able to cope with difficult emotions (Kramer, 2012). One theory is that the dream process allows us to work through and process difficult emotions in a safe, virtual environment.
But it's not just the content of our dreams that can be revealing. The way we dream can also be an indicator of our mental health. For example, studies have shown that people who experience frequent nightmares are more likely to have mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (Van den Bout, 2013). On the flip side, people who have pleasant, positive dreams tend to have better mental health and well-being (Gackenbach, 1991).
So, if you're looking to improve your mental health through your dreams, here are a few things you can try:
Keep a dream journal: By writing down your dreams, you can better process and understand the events and emotions that come up in your dreams. This can help you feel more in control of your emotions and better able to cope with stress.
Practice relaxation techniques: Before you hit the hay, take some time to relax and clear your mind. This can help you sleep better and have more vivid, positive dreams.
Talk to a therapist: If you're struggling with frequent nightmares or other dream-related issues, talking to a therapist can be a helpful way to work through any underlying emotions or issues.
Who would've thought that our dreams could hold the key to improving our mental health? So next time you have a particularly bizarre or memorable dream, take a moment to consider what it might be trying to tell you about your well-being.
Domhoff, G. W. (2018). The dream process: An introduction to the scientific study of dreams. In The Oxford handbook of dream science (pp. 3-17). Oxford University Press.
Gackenbach, J. (1991). Dreams and mental health: An empirical approach. American Psychologist, 46(2), 143-153.