What Do Work Nightmares Tell Us?

Posted on October 22, 2013

What Do Work Nightmares Tell Us

With Halloween just around the corner, I couldn’t resist taking a look at nightmares.  Work nightmares in particular.  These terrors fall into two categories for me, there are the, waking terrors, things that happen at work that embarrass or freak you out, such as calling your boss by your spouse’s name during a meeting, (I won’t touch the Freudian implications of that one). Then there are the terrors of the night, those  dreams where you suddenly realize that you have to give a presentation in 15 minutes on a topic you know nothing about.  In this post, I’ll explore the sleeping nightmares and what they are trying to tell us.

Our dreams are messages that we send to ourselves. They tell us what we really think about a person, issue or activity. They are also one of the ways our subconscious tries to solve problems that have been presented to us during the waking hours.  Our dreams, even the awkward ones that make you want to cringe when you think about them, give us some insight into our own minds.  

I once had a dream in which I was in a huge auditorium with thousands of people. My boss was standing on stage with a microphone when he announced that I would be leading the next part of the presentation. Presenting didn’t faze me, nor did being called upon to do the work unexpectedly, the nightmarish bit was that I had no microphone, no slides and no way of being seen or heard. I couldn’t get to the stage and I couldn’t get my boss’ attention to tell him. When I recalled the dream the following morning, it made me laugh…at myself.  I’d been worried about my budget and the tools I had for my job. My concern was that I would not be able to deliver on objectives because I didn’t have the right resources.  I thought I had resigned myself to working with what I had, but apparently, my subconscious had other ideas and wanted to demonstrate the outcome of working without the right tools.

Looking at your dreams is an opportunity to get to know yourself better, but you can’t be too literal. Just because work shows up in a dream, doesn’t mean the dream is about work.  We spend so much time at work that it makes it easy for our minds to call on those elements to send us messages. The opposite is also true. You could have elements of your personal life in a dream that’s really about work.

If you dream about sharpening a million pencils it doesn’t necessarily mean you are worried about dull pencils. You could be frustrated about menial work you have been doing or a repetitive task. The point is, dreams and their interpretation is a very personal thing.  The same item appearing in the dreams of two people can have dramatically different meanings for the dreamers. What we see, feel and hear in our dreams is all about us. Remember, everyone in your dream is you.

There is also some research that suggests that the flow of a dream is a reflection of your subconsciousness trying to make sense of the random images flowing through. Have you ever woken up to the sound of a radio?  If there is a news broadcast playing, then elements of the news can filter into your sub-conscience before you are fully awake and create interesting and random dreams.  This is true for any external stimuli that might leak into your dream.

Interpreting Your Dreams

What’s important to note is that if you have repetitive, stressful or particularly vivid dreams that feel associated with work, you could be sending yourself an important message. Your challenge is to interpret what that message means for you.

  • The human mind is a complex machine. There could be issues that are bothering you, which you are not fully aware of while awake. Your dreams will try to draw your attention to those issues and resolve them for you, but you are always in charge.
  • One of the simplest ways of analysing your dreams is to start with what is happening around you. Your waking life will be full of clues about what’s causing the dreams, its generally something that has happened in the immediate past, the last day or week.  Our subconscious doesn’t usually store things for later review. Something in your immediate world has to act as  a trigger.
  • The biggest indicator of what a dream means  for you is how you feel in the dream. Although scary things may be happening all around you, if the dominant emotion you are feeling is NOT fear, then the dream’s intent isn’t to frighten, believe me, your subconscious knows what buttons to push to frighten you.
  • If you’d like a little help interpreting dreams, check out Susan P. Cooper and Cheryl Therrien’s, “Dream Catchers“.
  • If you are having a particularly bothersome dream, you can always change it. Before going to sleep tell yourself what you want changed or simply tell yourself NOT to have that dream.

Have you ever had a nightmare about work?  Ever come to a realization or a solution based on a dream? What do you do to get rid of scary dreams?