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Wellness: Beneath a Dream

Posted April 28, 2016

Wellness is a special blog series that aims to promote an honest, open, and supportive culture of physical and mental health on campus.

In this installment, Ferris State University Masters of Social Work student and KCAD Counseling, Disability and Tutoring Services intern Sarah McLaughlin shares her thoughts on how to manage stress and anxiety by reflecting on your dreams.


Picture walking across a rickety wooden bridge that is suspended hundreds of feet over a huge river filled with boulders. There are dangerous rapids below and you have to walk to the other side. The planks on the bridge are far apart, uneven and loose. 

I had a dream a few years ago that represented what you just pictured. I remember waking up and feeling anxious and confused. After reflecting on my thoughts and events in my life, I realized the path over the river symbolized my nervousness about graduating high school and for the future path ahead. Although I was not conscious of my fears, worries, stress, or anxiety, my dream brought out my true feelings and provided me with necessary insight into my subconscious mind.  

Think about your last dream. Were you able to understand why you had that dream? There are many common dream themes and associated meanings. If you have dreams about your teeth falling out this could mean you are currently stressed about a situation in life or stressed about the way you look physically. Falling dreams can typically relate to feeling that you’ve lost your sense of control in your life. Dreams that have themes of being naked could mean you are feeling guilty, shameful, and vulnerable or that you are afraid of being exposed physically. 

KCAD Dream BoardA dream board located outside of the Activities and Resources Center in KCAD's 17 Fountain St. NW Building (click to enlarge)

The dream example I used earlier falls under the theme of a test dream. I was being tested on whether I could make it across the bridge or whether my path would be broken. Test dreams are associated with being worried about failing, or about our future, or just generally feeling stressed and anxious about life. 

The relationship between a dream and its meaning is not always as clear or predictable as these common themes may suggest. According to Sigmund Freud, dreams represent our subconscious desires, thoughts, or motivations. Some say we dream in order to solve problems in our lives, incorporate memories and process our emotions. Diving into our subconscious mind, which stores all of our habits, memories, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, is important in order to understand ourselves and our dreams. 

We often ignore, push aside, or distract ourselves from our subconscious mind. Mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks can unfold if thoughts and feelings are ignored on a regular basis. Instead of ignoring your dreams, pay attention to them, as they are likely trying to get your attention.

You can explore the association between your dreams and your subconscious by dream tracking, practicing mindfulness, and engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy or other forms of psychotherapy. For starters, try this: track your dreams by writing in a journal. Keep the journal close to your bed and jot down your dream(s) when you first wake up. 

Practicing mindfulness in our daily lives and being mindful of our dreams can make us more aware of our thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviors. By being aware, you can take better care of yourself and care for your relationships with others.  Here is a link to a brochure on mindfulness.

Don’t ignore your dreams! They just might provide you with some much-needed insight on what lies beneath your conscious mind.

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