Are you a dreamer? According to psychologists, everyone dreams—sometimes five times a night. And it’s not all sugar-plum fairies. Surveys show that some 50% to 80% of us dream about work, with a significant portion admitting they often wake up in a cold sweat and experience work nightmares once or more a week.
“Dreaming about work is incredibly common,” says dream expert Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, author of Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life. “Work is the largest part of our waking life. It’s also a big part of our identity.”
While work dreams are often banished to the wacky and inexplicable files—perhaps it was that midnight Chunky Monkey—those who study them warn not to dismiss them so quickly. After all, they are the language of the subconscious, created by you for you as a means of working out issues in your waking life. Those that are frightening or emotionally charged are all the more significant.
“Recurring dreams and nightmares happen because your subconscious is trying to get your attention,” says Layne Dalfen, founder of The Dream Interpretation Center in Montreal, Quebec. “You may not even realize what’s bugging you.”
Dalfen says there are five entry points to interpreting a dream, which can in turn help you understand and resolve the real-world issue: feelings, symbols, word play, plot and actions. If you feel panicked in a dream, ask yourself what’s making you anxious in your life. If there’s a distinct item, character or color that stands out, consider what significance it holds to you symbolically. Also think of the double meanings in the language—if you’re being pursued in a dream, is there some goal you yourself are pursuing at work? Finally, the basic plot and action of the dream may represent an overarching theme you’re working through, like a loss or a failure.
While dreams can be extremely personal, it turns out that some are nearly universal. According to several dream researchers and counselors, the following represent the most common workplace anxiety dreams and what they mean.
Late For Work
The Dream: Usually in this dream you either can’t get to work on time or are missing a deadline.
What It Means: Loewenberg says this dream is a really good indication that you feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity or what you really want in your career.
Sex With A Coworker
The Dream: It involves inappropriate intimacy with a colleague or, more often, a boss. Usually there isn’t a real attraction in waking life, so the dreamer wakes up feeling confused or concerned about what it means.
What It Means: If it’s a coworker that you’re not attracted to, Loewenberg believes it represents knowing that you need to unite with them on a project or goal, or that you want to take on a skill or personality trait they possess. Alternately, if it’s a boss, Ian Wallace, a psychologist and author of The Top 100 Dreams, says it may symbolize a subconscious recognition that you have a big idea, and you’re trying to give yourself the power to act on it.