Have you ever had that dream? You know, the one where you are standing in front of 100 people and you are unprepared for the lecture that you are about to give? Usually there is something humiliating happening like your zipper is undone or worse … you are naked. For me the dream is that I try to talk and my teeth start falling out. So every time I try to talk I have to pull out a few molars so that people can understand me. Freud would have a field day with that one.
Have you ever had the dream where there is an emergency happening in your house and you can’t for the life of you dial 911? Every time you try, the keys get stuck or you start dialing the wrong number and have to stop.
Or have you ever had that dream where the bad guys are hot on your tail and chasing you? Sometimes they are zombies, Bigfoot, or just run-of-the-mill faceless villains who are clearly going to kill or maim you if they catch you.
These dreams are pretty common in their themes even if they vary in their details. Often when I have one of these dreams I wake up feeling more tired and more than a little freaked out. I have one dream where my husband and I have a huge fight. Often I find myself still very angry with him when I wake up. Once I made him apologize for his evil dream self. It just helped me let it go and we had a good laugh.
I am not a believer in dream analysis, at least not in the way Carl Jung theorized. I think dreams are usually just distorted reflections of what is going on in our waking lives, a simple example of how the mind and body are connected. When I have one of these intense dreams it is usually a good indicator of my anxiety level.
Anxiety is an interesting emotion. It is both physical and emotional. Our palms sweat, our heart races and we experience a heightened sense of what is happening around us. It is our body’s way of getting us prepared for what is about to happen. Emotionally it can be intensely shameful, nervous or overwhelming. It can also be as simple as a dull ache.
Many of my clients come to me for anxiety. I have a young adult in my practice who wore her anxiety like a badge of honour. She used to tell me that she didn’t have to go to school because of her “anxiety” like it was a pet that needed tending. Sadly, many teens I work with find creative ways to avoid their anxiety rather than embrace it. It can be debilitating without adequate coping. My client now does public speaking, talking to anyone who will listen about mental health and her journey into it. She still has anxiety but so do the rest of us.
We often see anxiety as a negative emotion that we need to battle against. I prefer to think of anxiety as a cousin to excitement and anticipation. Even more than that it helps me to recognize what is important in my life. If it isn’t important then I won’t be anxious about it. If it is important then my anxiety tells me to stop procrastinating, get on with it and prepare so that I can enjoy what will, I hope, turn into success or at the very least get what ever it is over with.
My best advice about anxiety: face it. If you avoid what makes you anxious then you may be missing out on something really important. Anxiety avoided can turn into a monster that will control you rather than the other way around.
So just like in my dreams, anxiety is a gift. It reminds me to check my zipper to avoid embarrassment, reach out for help when I need it or run away when that is the only option. Regardless of which action I pick I am the one with the choice.