I don’t know about anyone else, but my dreams are the strongest, most accurate indicator of my mental health. When I’m happy or even just okay, my dreams are normal. Forgettable. I wake feeling no strong emotions and try as I might, I cannot remember a single detail.
Let me have a bad week or be stressed about something and out pops every nightmare and disaster scenario my over-active brain can muster. In fact, I know I’m nearing my breaking point and need to reexamine what’s going on in my world when the zombie dreams come. Yes, that’s right. I have recurring zombie dreams.
Zombies = Girl, get your shit together.
Dreams do in fact have meaning. Our minds work out the biggest, most taxing problems during sleep. While this concept is widely accepted, it is difficult to decipher exactly what your subconscious is trying to tell you. Sometimes people discount dream interpretation as “woo-woo” when in fact dreams are the window to one’s mind. Sigmund Freud was one of the first theorist embrace dream interpretation; he theorized dreams represent unconscious desires and motivations.
I’ve learned a few things about decoding dreams and I am happy to share them.
First, what is the central image (symbol) of your dream? What sticks with you ten, twenty, forty-five minutes after you wake?
Identify the symbol that sticks out the most. Your grandmother’s face? A giant balloon. A four-headed snake? A serial killer running in slow motion? Alien cats biting you all over? Fun fact. I had dreams about carnivorous cats so often one year I developed of fear of the furry creatures.
Once you remember the central image(s), try to recall the emotions tied to them.
Being elated to see a flock of birds in your dream has a different connotation than if you are trembling and terrified. Also, your fears in real life don’t always translate into your dreams. I’ve had dreams where spiders do not bother me even though in my waking life I believe they are evil and need to be destroyed, preferably not fire because they’ll eat me if I try to smush them.
Now, try to think back to other images. How, if at all, are they connected to the central image?
Does the giant bird fly you over water and hover before dropping you in? Does the spider create an elaborate web across your doorway? These are also clues, and possibly a second symbol.
The next step is to put them together and look up the themes.
Dream Moods online dream dictionary is a good resource. It’s usually thorough and accurate. Every now and then I need to do an internet search for a theme if the description is too short, but that does not happen often.
Don’t discount your feelings.
Nightmares are not the only kind of bad dream. More often a dream is considered bad because it is disturbing or because you feel unsettled when you wake, so your should also consider your feelings post-dream. For example, I once had a dream in slow motion. It was so slow it was laughable. What wasn’t laughable was the killer wielding a butcher knife running at glacial speed behind my car that was flooring it at a fast and furious five miles per hour. Even when I woke up, my first thought was WTF, not OMG I’m so afraid. I was unnerved by having a slow motion dream. Clearly, speed, or lack thereof, was a more prominent symbol than the guy running behind my car.
As I said earlier, a dream about zombies is my mind’s way of getting my attention. This means the other attempts at getting my attention have not worked. I’ve pushed past the anxiety, irritable gut, headaches, sleepless nights, bad dreams, and eating problems and continue to do the thing in my waking life that is draining me.
Zombies usually come for me in my grandmother’s neighborhood (the place my subconscious considers my home base). There’s lots of fire as several homes are burning to the ground. I can hear a few gunshots as people are defending themselves against the zombies and I am in my house hunkered down. Then there is silence and I know without a shadow of a doubt I am one of the last left. And soon after that realization, I am surrounded, and the zombies are getting in forcing me to flee to find safer ground. I’m house hopping with my scant supplies and minuscule weaponry, praying for the sun to come up. Apparently, my zombies are also vampiric and cannot withstand the day. I feel terrified, helpless, and overwhelmed every single minute of this dream. I also feel alone. Let’s look at what a dream dictionary has to say about my zombies.
Note: I only posted the entry for zombies, but in actuality I looked up the words in italics because the strongest emotions were tied those images.
To see or dream that you are a zombie suggests that you are physically and/or emotionally detached from people and situations that are currently surrounding you. You are feeling out of touch. Alternatively, a zombie means that you are feeling dead inside. You are just going through the motions of daily living.
To dream that you are attacked by zombies indicate that you are feeling overwhelmed by forces beyond your control. You are under tremendous stress in your waking life. Alternatively, the dream represents your fears of being helpless and overpowered.
As a person who tends to push through emotional turmoil and physical discomfort, my mind and body have gotten good at giving me subtle-and not so much-wake-up calls. Dreams, particularly the bad ones, are more successful than my body at hammering home that message that something is off.
Unpacking your dreams is a great, effective way to delve into your psyche. At the very least, it is important to pay attention to your dreams in order to honor your mind and body and the important messages being sent to you. Your body is working extremely hard to maintain homeostasis and dreams are just one method it employees. If you are constantly having chaotic dreams (and therefore insufficient sleep), research some of your recurring dreams, parse out the themes, and work through them.