It has been over a year since the novel Coronavirus upended our lives. To help curb the spread of the virus, governments all over the world imposed lockdowns. Forced to shelter-in-place and unable to travel, we escaped into the dream world. Some found solace in dreaming, while others reported increasingly strange dreams due to COVID-19.
Now that we are starting to see some light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, it may be helpful to explore how the pandemic influenced our dreams. As we awake from the COVID-19 stupor, dreaming will vary depending on our pandemic experience. After all, context and experience can significantly shape dream scenarios.
Dreaming during the pandemic: Dream researchers who collected COVID dreams discovered common themes. The virus itself, being infected by the coronavirus or loved ones getting COVID, is a common pandemic dream. Dream scenarios in this vein are fueled by our own anxieties about catching the virus.
Strange pandemic dreams can also take on a metaphorical or esoteric nature. For example, several dreamers recall from their dreaming experiences being swarmed by bugs, envisioning invisible monsters such as shadows lurking or being attacked by an unseen creature. For others, the pandemic manifests as natural disasters, including tsunamis, tornadoes, wildfires, and earthquakes.
Death is another theme in dreams that frequently came up during the peak of the pandemic. This apparent global threat has heightened feelings of mortality, hence death and dying were recurring dream scenarios for people everywhere. Dreams about mortuaries or graves are just some of the death-related dreams brought on by the pandemic.
Another dream study during the pandemic revealed that women’s dreams, in particular, have been more strongly affected by the pandemic. One mother, for instance, dreamt that an entire class was sent to her condo for homeschooling. Researchers think that these pandemic-fueled dreams are associated with women being saddled by more responsibilities and stress from caregiving, home upkeep, job loss, etc.
Effects of isolation: As the pandemic kept raging, various mental health issues started manifesting in dreams. The lockdowns and restrictions made people feel lonely and isolated, so dreams of being imprisoned or confined started cropping up more. In cases where people are living in cramped quarters or locked down with several roommates, dreams about the invasion of privacy and being overwhelmed by crowds are commonplace.
On the other hand, people who normally do not have dreams or do not remember their dreams started having more vivid and memorable dreams. According to experts, these vivid dreams are partly due to people sleeping more and enjoying longer REM cycles. REM sleep is usually the phase with the most brain activity and associated with vivid and strange dreams.
Transitioning to the new normal: Now that countries are implementing vaccine rollouts, people are decidedly more optimistic. Places like Australia, New Zealand, UK, US, and Taiwan are opening up and experiencing some semblance of normalcy. The hope is that the rest of the world will follow. This optimism is inevitably starting to manifest in dreams. People are dreaming of getting vaccine jabs as they look forward to their vaccine schedule and being immune to the virus. There are also more dreams of reunions and weddings as people anticipate spending quality time with friends and family after a long period of isolation.
Post-pandemic dreams: Although people are already planning their post-pandemic lives, there is still work to be done. For instance, COVID-19 hotspots remain as countries like India battle surging cases due to more infectious variants and slow vaccine rollout. Hence, the need for vaccination to achieve herd immunity is essential to get the world back to pre-COVID life.
The extraordinary situations arising from the pandemic will also have long-lasting impacts on our waking life and the dream world by extension. Dreams may have become an escape to some people at the peak of the pandemic, but this time it has created a place of hope as dreamers envision a fresh start and an opportunity to reconnect. In the past year, COVID-19 has put our lives at a standstill and we retreated into dreams. Now we are at the precipice of a new beginning. A chance to turn our dreams into reality. Perhaps the lessons from this pandemic will help us live more consciously and conscientiously knowing how interconnected our lives can be, especially during difficult times.