Why You Dream You Forgot Your Mask - Meaning of Recurring COVID-19 Maskless Nightmares

Why You Dream You Forgot Your Mask – Meaning of Recurring COVID-19 Maskless Nightmares

I have had a number of dreams where I am in a social setting or someone’s home or something like that, and suddenly realize that no one is wearing masks, and they’re not maintaining social distance. And I wake up feeling very anxious and unsettled after that.

Are Maskless Nightmares the New Stress Dreams?

Maskless nightmares are far from the only kind of sleep disruption people have been experiencing this year. Ever since the pandemic turned the whole world upside down, many have reported having trouble sleeping, increased fatigue, and more vivid dreams.

….this particular stress dream adds credence to the “threat simulation theory,” which argues that dreaming is a sort of defense mechanism, a way for humans to work through their fears and anxieties in a low-threat environment. In other words, by allowing you to repeatedly and safely play out a situation where you are without a mask, and putting yourself and others at greater risk of contracting COVID, your brain is helping you better prepare for and avoid that situation in real life.

According to the Scientific American. So, if you’re too busy during the day to process how stressed you feel about having to constantly be shielding yourself and others from disease, you might end up working through those feelings in your dreams later. ~ The Cut

What Pandemic Dreams May Come

Harvard researcher says many having nights full of bugs, masks, and natural disasters

“When we dream, our brain is in this state where visual areas are much more active than when we’re awake, and on average, emotional areas are a little more active. Our prefrontal cortex right behind our forehead, which controls the most precise linear logic and also censors inappropriate social things, as well as the right way to do things in our professional thinking, is very much damped down. Our verbal areas are somewhat less active. So, I think we’re thinking about the same things that we were most focused on by day, but in this other state of consciousness. We have more intuitive thinking and less linear thinking about things.”

Early on, I saw an awful lot of dreams that seemed to be sort of practicing mask wearing or social distancing. In about half of them, the dreamer would be out in public and realize they didn’t have their mask and panic or realize they had gotten too close to someone. In the other half, they would be doing what they were supposed to, and other people would not have their masks on or be crowding in the dream or be coughing on the dreamer. And they seemed like just these anxiety dreams. As you’re learning a new skill, you often kind of dream about what you’re trying to learn.

Is there anything we can do to try to control what we dream about?

The best way to do that is to think of what you would like to dream about. You could pick out a person you’d like to see in your dream tonight, or a favorite place. Some people enjoy flying dreams, or some people have just had an all-time lifetime favorite dream. So pick what you’d like to dream about. And if it’s a general one, like a person or place, just visualize that person or place. Or you can put some photograph of what you’re trying to dream about on your nightstand so you look at it as the last thing before you go to sleep. If you have a particular favorite dream you’re focusing on, you might try to replay that in detail before falling asleep. And that would make you likelier to have a similar dream. And that both makes it likelier that you’ll dream about that content, and it also makes it less likely you’ll have anxiety dreams. ~The Harvard Gazette

A Dream Analysis Expert Explains Why You’re Dreaming That You Forgot Your Mask

I keep having a recurring dream in which I’m at an insanely fun party. Suddenly, I’m overcome with regret when I realize that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and no one is wearing masks or practicing social distancing!  -Unmasked

In the first scenario, the question is, “If I have good news, do I share it?” In the second, it feels more like, “Should I have said what I really feel?” Either way, your healthy unconscious mind is reaching for some type of daytime discussion. You’re left wondering if you did the right thing or not, and that’s why the feeling of regret is present.

Our dreams typically operate with the intention of creating better communication between our conscious and unconscious mind. Perhaps the dreams’ solution to these dilemmas is simply to bring the discussion forward. When—and how—we choose to express ourselves is always better when we first consider who’s on the receiving end, and how our words might go over, before deciding whether or not to share. ~ Oprah Daily

Have you had a maskless dream? You’re not alone

“Dreaming is our mind’s way of trying to transform and process difficult psychic material,” she said. “I see it as a sign of healing, trying to heal.”

Dreaming is, she said, how our unconscious minds deal with whatever is taking our focus during the day. It might be the pandemic, or it might be relationships or work, or an amalgam of all of that and more.

“Probably Freud was one of the first people to write about dreams, and he called them the ‘royal road to the unconscious,’” Steinberg Galluci said. “He felt that dreams served a variety of functions, one of which is to deal with the residue of the day, what goes on and what is unfinished, perhaps. That comes out in our dreams.” ~ CTpost

Dreams Help Process Emotions

Taken together, these recent findings tell an important story about the underlying mechanism and possible purpose of dreaming.

Dreams seem to help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences certainly are. Our dream stories essentially try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it. This way, the emotion itself is no longer active. This mechanism fulfils an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, especially negative ones, this increases personal worry and anxiety. In fact, severe REM sleep-deprivation is increasingly correlated to the development of mental disorders. In short, dreams help regulate traffic on that fragile bridge which connects our experiences with our emotions and memories. ~ Scientific American

COVID-19 Dreams? Here’s What They Mean

What’s more, doctors aren’t surprised to hear reports of anxiety-related dreams about COVID-19. At least one small study after 9/11 showed a significant increase in something called “central image intensity” (the central image is considered the emotional focus of a dream). The researchers concluded this arose from increased emotional arousal after the trauma. As the number of COVID-19 cases has increased, a Harvard researcher reports receiving thousands of responses to an online dream survey she created. These showed clusters of COVID-related dream content around specific topics, including fear of getting the virus, frustration over social distancing and sheltering at home, and forgetting to take steps to avoid the virus.

Doctors aren’t certain whether such dreams carry much meaning beyond possibly being a sign a person is under more stress than usual. “I wish it were the case that we could draw a point-to-point correlation between what happens in our dreams and some meaningful information during the day, but we can’t always do that,” Rubman says. “We can’t say I dreamt about ‘X’ so it must be that ‘Y’ is bothering me. However, if we are anxious or distressed or feeling a lack of control during the day, it can certainly show up in some way in our dreams.

There is data to show that REM sleep helps people sort through the information and stimuli they are bombarded with every day, says Rubman, who compares this with separating mail—throwing out the junk mail, and keeping the bills and important letters. Dream content about standing in line without a mask may be sorted into the “important pile” because it indicates that the dreamer is concerned about their own safety or the safety of those around them.

Yale Medicine providers suggest trying these strategies to help with bad dreams and nightmares:

  • Create a healthful daytime routine. It should include exercise, healthy meals, and techniques for stress relief.
  • Do dream imagery rehearsals. This essentially means rewrite the script of a recurring disturbing dream before you go to sleep—try adding a happy ending. For instance, says Dr. Canapari, a child who likes the Harry Potter series could imitate a spell from it that made the thing they were most scared of look ridiculous.
  • Establish a calming bedtime routine. Dr. Won advises spending time relaxing—flipping through a magazine or doing some light reading. “Don’t watch a documentary on the Ebola virus or something like that,” Dr. Won says. “Do things that will help you feel more relaxed.”
  • Avoid alcohol before bed. Alcoholic drinks not only disrupt sleep, they can also cause more intense dreams. ~Yale Medicine

Nightmares of Social Distancing

People are having scary dreams about the virus, and about each other.

The dream reports have been sorted into three groups, representing three kinds of social distancing threats: from oneself, from other people, and from public places.

I constantly have dreams that I have gone to a store and forgot my mask or forgot to social distance. (F, 47)

Forgetting to wear my mask and being shamed in an elevator. (F, 64)

Panicking because I forgot to wear a mask in public. (M, 24)

Dreamed I was at a party and then chastised myself for being so stupid. (M, 60)

I dreamed I was driving to the store and forgot my mask which panicked me. (F, 66)

We had a chance to go somewhere for a social event, but the whole time I was worried that we should be social distancing. (M, 62)

I was upset because I was at a party and then realized I was drinking even though I was pregnant and then I realized everyone wasn’t social distancing. (F, 27)

Having a dream relating to the pandemic is most likely among people who have been personally impacted in terms of physical health, and especially mental health. Pandemic dreams are more likely to be reported by women and people with higher education, too, but the single factor most associated with reporting a pandemic dream was answering “yes” to the question about experiencing negative mental health (anxiety, stress, depression) during the COVID-19 outbreak. ~Psychology Today

Invitations From The Dead

My mother and grandmother are deceased. At the beginning of the outbreak, they both came to me in my dream. I was totally surprised and happy to see them again. I asked why they were there and they said in unison, “We are here to get you.” I knew what that meant and asked, “Now?” To which they both nodded yes. I said let me pack first, they smiled at each other, laughed and said, “you won’t need anything”. But they let me pack anyway. Instead of clothes, I picked up a photo frame that was showing movies of my life and memories with them. I laughed and cried and realized, it’s been a good life but I was still hesitant to leave. They slowly walked out of the room and faded away. I knew I was supposed to follow them and headed for the door. I haven’t dreamt about them or the virus since. I hope it was my fears manifesting themselves and not a sign of what is coming.

In Death Shall Have No Dominion, Charles Jackson observes, “The dead have largely lost their social importance, visibility, and impact in American society. Connection between the world of the dead and that of the living has been largely severed and the dead world is disappearing. It is a radical departure because for three centuries prior, life and death were not held apart.” The dominion of the dead in dreams, however, has not diminished. The most distinctive characteristics of dreams include the breaching of waking logic, social taboos, and denial. Although modern trends may have decreased belief in the veracity of the dead returning in dreams, they have done nothing to stem their occurrence.

Dreams from the pandemic survey feature summons from the dead worthy of folktales. One woman is invited to break lockdown for a family picnic, but, upon arrival, discovers that the other attendees are the deceased branch of her family, rather than the living. Another dreamer arrives at a fancy party, and is offered a seat next to a corpse. A woman orders an Uber and a hearse arrives for her instead.

The loss of loved ones and desire to be with them again has people dreaming about the deceased in normal times. But currently news stories of ambulances carrying off people who are not seen by their families again or of bodies in refrigerated trucks parked outside hospitals and nursing homes stir up a new horror about mortality—and pandemic dreams are often about the immediate awareness that we could die of this.

One woman sees her deceased loved ones in a classic tunnel of light, but then she sees something else behind that vision:

I dreamt I was having a near death experience. I was in a dark tunnel with a light at one end. My dead relatives were there beckoning me towards the light. My mom said, “Come dear.” I realized it wasn’t really her, and I shouted, “That is not an expression my real mother would use—show your true selves!” The people turned into demonic vampire bats. They were biting a man who had died, and sucking out his memories. I could see hollow outlines of those already emptied floating at the end of the tunnel of light. I fled—presumably to the living.

Covid: How the pandemic is affecting your dreams

Faced with the Covid-19 threat, our brains were overwhelmed and they transferred the stress to our sleeping state.

Now, more than a year on, as many people have become used to pandemic life, we set out to find from you if your dreams had also adapted to the “new normal”.

Are masks, empty streets and social distancing now simply a backdrop to our everyday dreams? What do you see when you nod off?

We received just a sample of dreams from our readers, but scientists have been researching the issue for months now. Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School in the US, has collected some 15,000 dreams in an online survey of the public.

So far, around two-thirds of the respondents are women and one-third men.

Her resulting book, Pandemic Dreams, focuses on the pandemic’s first wave. She says that when it initially hit, many people dreamed about threats like insect attacks or being unable to breathe. Then during lockdowns and home-schooling, a common theme was being trapped in prison or being forced to take a surprise maths test.

However, after about six months, Dr Barrett told us she noticed a significant uptick in people describing dreams about forgetting to wear a mask or being out in public and seeing others not wearing a mask.

Dr Barrett suggests that initial dreams, which tended to express fear of catching the virus, decreased as dreams about social anxiety rose.

“Many dreams became ‘I forgot my mask’ and a social shame came over the dreamer. They were more concerned about getting out of there before anyone noticed that they had made a mistake,” she says. ~BBC

The Psychological Experience of Taking Off Our Masks

“Isolation for the rest of life is not the answer, eventually we’re going to have to go through this,” Ho says. “As long as you feel like you’re taking proper precautions for yourself and those around you, it’s important to expose yourself a little bit at a time to different scenarios every day.”

If you’re feeling anxious, it’s probably not smart to visit an indoor mall right away where no one’s wearing a mask. Instead, Ho advises pairing small exposures with things you used to look forward to.

Visit your favorite store or museum, spend a day at the park, opt for small dinner parties and meet friends you’ve missed for outdoor coffee. Even just saying hello to people you pass on the street can help you ease back into socializing.

It’s equally as important to acknowledge that, even when you’re feeling anxious, you are still in control. If you want to continue wearing a mask, wear one. If you want to practice social distancing, do so. Voice your concerns if you have them, because, while everyone copes in their own way, there are likely others around your sharing the same experience.

“Assert your own needs and know that everyone’s comfort level is going to be different,” Ho says. “You don’t have feel like you need to absorb everyone’s level of comfort right away.”

Humans are resilient creatures, and we learn as we go. As we rebuild our trust in each other and cope with our collective trauma, a new version of the world will continue to open up around us. Allowing yourself and others the time to adjust will make the transition from masked to unmasked all the more easier. ~ Very Well Mind

Why You Dream You Forgot Your Mask - Meaning of Recurring COVID-19 Maskless Nightmares

Check out the book. Photos: Dierdre Barrett

Pandemic Dreams by Dierdre Barrett PhD

Since the COVID-19 pandemic swept around the world, people have reported unusually a vivid and bizarre dream lives. The virus itself is the star of many–literally or in one of its metaphoric guises. As a dream researcher at Harvard Medical School, Deirdre Barrett was immediately curious to see what our dream lives would tell us about our deepest reactions to this unprecedented disaster.

Pandemic Dreams draws on her survey of over 9,000 dreams about the COVID-19 crisis. It describes how dreaming has reflected each aspect of the pandemic: fear of catching the virus, reactions to sheltering at home, work changes, homeschooling, and an individual’s increased isolation or crowding.

Some patterns are quite similar to other crises Dr. Barrett has studied such as 9/11, Kuwaitis during the Iraqi Occupation, POWs in WWII Nazi prison camps, and Middle Easterners during the Arab Spring. There are some very distinctive metaphors for COVID-19, however: bug-attack dreams and ones of invisible monsters. These reflect that this crisis is less visible or concrete than others we have faced. Over the past three months, dreams have progressed from fearful depictions of the mysterious new threat . . . to impatience with restrictions . . . to more fear again as the world begins to reopen. And dreams have just begun to consider the big picture: how society may change.

The book offers guidance on how we can best utilize our newly supercharged dream lives to aid us through the crisis and beyond. It explains practical exercises for dream interpretation, reduction of nightmares, and incubation of helpful, problem-solving dreams. It also examines the larger arena of what these collective dreams tell us about our instinctive, unconscious responses to the threat and how we might integrate them for more livable policies through these times.

Deirdre Barrett, PhD is a dream researcher at Harvard Medical School. She has written five books including Pandemic Dreams and The Committee of Sleep, and edited four including Trauma and Dreams. She is Past President of The International Association for the Study of Dreams and editor of its journal, DREAMING.

Why You Dream You Forgot Your Mask - Meaning of Recurring COVID-19 Maskless Nightmares
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Why You Dream You Forgot Your Mask - Meaning of Recurring COVID-19 Maskless Nightmares
Are you having nightmares you forgot your mask in public! You are not alone. Here is what the dream experts say about the recurring dream of forgetting your mask during COVID