What Do Dreams Say About Your Fears and Mental Health?

What do dreams say about your mental health

Have you ever spent the day stressing about a project or work event, only to find yourself dreaming about the situation going awry when you fell asleep? Dreams are a reflection of thoughts in your subconscious mind, so it’s natural that when you think of something a lot during the day, it enters your dreams at night. In the same way, stresses or concerns you’re experiencing about your mental health and wellness may appear in your dreams when your mind is relaxed. Dreams are a biophysical experience that can affect your physical and mental health because they require you to engage your mind in ways similar to when you’re conscious. Find out how your thoughts influence your dreams and what this can mean for your dreams and mental health. 

What Are Dreams?

A dream is a collection of images, emotions and sensations that a person experiences involuntarily throughout various stages of their sleep cycle. There’s a common misconception that humans can only dream during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, but the reality is that people can experience dreams during any of the four sleep stages, including the three NREM (non-rapid eye movement) stages. Studies show that people awakened from NREM sleep report dreaming more than 50% of the time.

Dreams can be fragmented or illogical, but on some level, the mind is aware of the dream. Humans typically dream approximately 2 hours each night, with each dreaming lasting anywhere from 5-20 minutes. However, most of these dreams are forgotten by the time a person wakes up. A key factor affecting how much a person dreams is the number of hours they sleep per night. The amount of sleep you need depends on your genetics, your neurotransmitters and your environment. 

How Thoughts Influence Dreams

Thoughts you experience while awake have a critical impact on what your subconscious mind focuses on while you’re asleep. It’s the thoughts that come from your subconscious that determine what you see and experience while dreaming. So what do our dreams tell us about our thoughts? Research indicates that individuals who suppress negative thoughts during the day are more likely to experience a “dream rebound” phenomenon in which those negative emotions manifest as sadness, anger or fear in a dream. Experiencing nightmares or stressful dreams may indicate that you were having negative or stress-filled thoughts in the hours leading up to your bedtime. 

Specifically, night terrors occur during the deepest parts of NREM sleep when the brain is least active. These types of dreams are most likely to occur a few hours after an individual falls asleep. When someone is deeply affected by their dreams, it’s important to identify the stressors or cause of the thought that’s resulting in the recurring dream. When nightmares or stressful dreams are the result of medication, you may need to speak to your physician or psychiatrist about altering the dose. 

Are Dreams Connected to Your Fears? 

Dreaming and health can be connected in several ways, specifically when anxiety or stress you’re experiencing in your life manifests itself in the form of a dream. By understanding the content of dreams, it’s often possible to see what fears are troubling your mind and how you can take steps to reduce the occurrence of the same unpleasant dream in the future. Check out these common dreams and what they can mean. 

Losing Teeth

A dream that involves losing one or more teeth can represent a sense of great personal loss in your life or a loss of control. If you’re grieving a loss or feel circumstances are beyond your control in reality, this common dream may materialize while you’re sleeping. In some cases, losing teeth in a dream can also represent a yearning for something like starting a family or completing a creative project. 


Almost everyone has experienced falling in a dream at some point in their life. You feel the sensation of falling before being jolted awake at the point where you’d hit the ground. When this happens in a dream, it can indicate one of two things: fear or anxiety that you’ve dropped the ball on something in reality, or that you feel out of control or lack a sense of being grounded in your daily life. 

Being Late

Dreams about being late to something, whether work, school or an event, are widely acknowledged as anxiety-driven dreams and typically indicate something is stressing you out in your real life. Perhaps you feel pressure to meet a deadline, feel like you aren’t on track with your professional life or simply aren’t confident in the direction your life is taking at the moment. 

Someone Chasing You

Dreams where you’re being chased have a meaning that’s easy to understand and applicable to many situations, perhaps explaining why this dream scenario is so common. Whether you’re being chased by a person, an animal or a giant boulder, this dream represents running from something or avoiding a responsibility in your life. 

What Is the Connection Between Dreams and Mental Health Conditions?

A connection between dreams and mental health exists, although this alone isn’t a replacement for a professional diagnosis. While your dreams may indicate it’s time to seek mental health treatment, they can’t provide you with the answers to what condition you’re living with. Vivid dreams are often associated with depression, anxiety and even schizophrenia. A 2021 study on dreams in patients with anxiety found that the dreams these individuals experienced contained more negative and emotionally challenging elements than those of individuals who didn’t have an anxiety disorder. In the United States, 19.1% of adults are living with an anxiety disorder. 

The relationship between mental illness and dream meanings isn’t clear-cut, and while the nature of the dream may be common across the disorder, the content of the dream is specific to the individual. To get an accurate diagnosis and discuss dream contents with a trained therapist, seek professional support in Florida. 

Should Your Dreams Encourage You to Seek Help?

If you’re living with mental illness, dream meaning isn’t the best way to determine what condition you require treatment for. While sharing the content of your dreams or instances of recurring dreams with a psychotherapist can be helpful during treatment, facilities like Restore offer more comprehensive ways of assessing your health and creating a treatment plan that works for you. Contact us today at (877) 594-3566 to speak with a trusted counselor and get started.