Alicia Goluszka | The DePaulia
Money, politics, sex and religion. Those are among the top taboo conversations topics in America. Dreams are right up there with them.
When it comes to talking about what happened in our dreams, the common consensus is “don’t.” No one wants to hear about your dreams, just like no one wants to hear about your workout. And yet we can’t help it. Especially right now as a phenomenon of sorts is taking place: quarantine dreams.
Over the last several weeks of quarantine, people have been reporting their vivid dreams to friends, family members and internet strangers alike.
Look up the hashtag #pandemicdreams on Twitter and your feed will be flooded with people reporting dreams of Matthew McConaughey fixing their garbage disposal or feeling like they’re back in high school but at their current age. One person joked that it feels like Martin Scorsese is directing their rather dark dreams.
In the past two months, the subreddit r/Dreams has been overwhelmed with people seeking answers to their nighttime musings. The moderators are a team of novice dream interpreters and experts alike.
Lauri Lowenberg is a professional dream analyst who has made appearances on “The View,” “The Steve Harvey Show” and is a regular consultant on “The Today Show” and “Dr. Oz.” Her business has been booming as a result of pandemic dreams.
“I have seen a 40 percent uptick in traffic to my website since March 15 and have been inundated with media asking me about this phenomenon,” Lowenberg said.
The first thing everyone wants to know is why we are having such vivid dreams. Lowenberg explained that there are two reasons.
“[For one], most of us are sleeping more because we don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. and get ready for work,” Lowenberg said. “An alarm is the biggest killer of dream recall there is.”
The second reason we’re dreaming more frequently, Lowenberg said, is because we tend to dream about what affects us most during the day. When our days are stressful, so are our dreams.
Annie Herz, 21, of Southport Corridor, said her dreams usually fall in line with her daytime fears.
“I can usually figure out [my dreams] quickly and I tend to ignore them as just my brain working out fears, thoughts or scenarios in my life,” Herz said
Lowenberg said that dreams are a continuation of our thoughts from the day and bring our regular concerns to life in a symbolic way.
Emma Ludman, 20, reported having predominantly bad dreams lately.
“I’ve had a lot of dreams where I have been placed in stressful, life or death situations,” Ludman said. “I’ve been having dreams where I am forced to spend time with or confront people who have hurt me or who I am no longer close with.”
Lowenberg said that while dreams can be scary, we shouldn’t shy away from them.
“Look at your dreams as helpers,” Lowenberg said. “They are not only allowing you to express your fears and anxieties in your head, but they are also a means by which you can ‘check in’ with your mental health.”
One way to prevent bad dreams from disrupting your sleep is to redirect your thoughts from negative to positive and thereby retrain your brain.
Ludman said that she has an “almost foolproof” formula that works for her when she wakes up from an occasional nightmare.
“I take a couple deep breaths and then immediately try to clear what I just experienced out of my mind,” Ludman said. “[For me], it is crucial to distract your mind or throw it off before you go back to sleep.”
Walking around her room, switching to the opposite side of the bed and drinking a glass of water have also proved beneficial to Ludman for combating nightmares.
Additionally, journaling right before bed is guaranteed to provide you with a better night’s sleep.
“Write out all your concerns; get them out of your head and onto paper (or laptop),” Lowenberg said. “Once you have sorted out all your thoughts and got them out of your head, turn out your light, and as you drift off, think [positive thoughts]. This is how you reprogram your brain.”
We’re in this together, or at least that’s what advertisers and tone-deaf celebrities are trying to make us think. But when it comes to our dreams, we really are in this together as dreams that are pandemic-specific are common for a lot of people at the moment.
As such, Herz has noticed her dreams all involve the grocery store.
“I’ve had a fear of [grocery] shopping ever since the beginning of the stay at home orders,” Herz said. “One of my grocery store dreams was that I was able to shop freely, unconcerned with safety. The dream was about feeling relieved that I could shop without precautions like masks or gloves.”
Since our dreams are all relatively similar to one another’s, it makes sense that this once taboo topic is being widely talked about. The website I Dream of COVID has been a hub for just that.
After 10 days of quarantining in the Bay Area, Erin Gravley realized the characters in her dreams were social distancing.
“It was a normal dream except that people were standing six feet apart from each other, not shaking hands,” Gravley said. “It made me think of ‘The Third Reich of Dreams’ and I was curious if other people were having COVID-19 dreams too.”
In Charlotte Beradt’s book “The Third Reich of Dreams,” Beradt tracked the subconscious effects of authoritarianism and terror in Nazi Germany. That is, how trauma and oppression showed up in people’s dreams.
Beradt found that people experienced similar dreams to one another, which is known as archetypal dreams. While the coronavirus pandemic is by no means a direct parallel to Nazi Germany, the same dream revelation is taking place and being documented on I Dream of COVID all the while.
At first, Gravley reached out to her friends on Instagram, asking them to tell her their dreams.
“[When] people started responding, I realized [COVID dreams] might actually be a thing, so I thought I would make a website and formalize a project,” Gravley said.
Grace Gravley, Erin’s sister, designed the logo for the website, but soon, as more and more dreams poured in, the two decided to adorn each submission with an illustration. Now Grace creates drawings daily.
Initially, the website was meant to track the aforementioned pattern. That was until the Gravley sisters started to collect upwards of 1,000 dreams and media outlets got word.
“We realized there was something cathartic, or at least community building, in reading others’ dreams,” Gravley said. “So now we hope people find some comfort in the site.”
One thing that surprised Gravley was how intimate the process of collecting people’s dreams from all over the world has felt.
“There was something about the format, the anonymity and the volume that made me feel like I was in a confessional booth. It quickly became something more than just reading dreams,” Gravley said. “It felt like a pact I had made with all these strangers. I can’t fix the pandemic, I can’t help with your health, mental or physical, your money worries or anxieties, but I can read your dreams. All I can say is that I’m listening.”
Times are scary, stressful and surreal, both in real life and in our dreams, and it can feel like a challenge to try to combat it all at once. Expressing your thoughts and feelings, whether on the internet, in a journal or in conversation can be helpful.
“I definitely talk about [my dreams],” Herz said. “I tell my friends when my dreams are funny and weird, my family members when they’re concerning and my significant other when they’re strange and confusing. Putting it all out there has been really therapeutic for me during this unprecedented time.”