The seven most common workplace anxiety dreams and what they mean

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.

Unprepared For A Task

The Dream: This one is marked by anxiety over not being ready for a big presentation, event or work task. It’s often specific to the profession, like an actor not knowing her lines.

What It Means: It can usually be connected to an upcoming event that you’re nervous about, in which your performance will be judged. If it’s recurring and not tied to anything specific, Loewenberg says it may suggest a lack of confidence.

Being Naked At Work

The Dream: This dream involves being either completely naked or inappropriately dressed in the office. Usually the dreamer is panicked, but no one else in the dream seems to notice.

What It Means: According to Wallace, this dream symbolizes feeling vulnerable and exposed at work. You may also be concerned about how others perceive you.

Getting Stuck In The Elevator

The Dream: Workplace elevator dreams usually involve an elevator stalling, moving sideways or dropping down rather than going up.

What It Means: Loewenberg says elevators represent our ability to progress in our careers. If it’s not moving smoothly upwards, it reflects your fear that your career is not progressing as it should.

Can’t Find The Bathroom

The Dream: The dreamer is usually wandering the halls and unable to find the bathroom. Alternately, he may be in the bathroom and can’t close the door, or the toilet is exposed without any doors.

What It Means: Wallace says any dream about a bathroom represents your fundamental needs, and if you cannot find one at work, it means your needs aren’t being met or you’re having trouble expressing them. If you can’t secure the bathroom door, you may need to establish clearer boundaries with colleagues.

Driving To Work

The Dream: Often the dreamer is driving and loses control of the car. Alternately, she may be on a train or bus that is swerving or off course.

What It Means: Wallace believes this represents your drive in your career and your efforts to make progress toward an objective. If the vehicle is spinning out of control, it means you feel that you don’t have enough control in your waking life.

See Also:


The 20 Most Common Workplace Anxieties

Bored In The Office: Is It the New Productivity Killer?

The Dangers Of A Messy Desk

Is Your Body Language Costing You A Promotion?

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