We're All Having the Same Pandemic Nightmares

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For the last month, I’ve been having a repeated set of vivid anxiety dreams. In some, I walk into rooms and find the dead bodies of people I know and/or love. In others, I’m in a crowded room full of strangers and start panicking about social distance. The other night I dreamed I moved back to an apartment in Bushwick that I hated, and the dream person I was living with threw a party. “You’re going to kill all these people!” I screamed. Then he turned into a clown and I woke up.


Apparently, these freaky vivid nightmares are being shared across the globe. The Associated Press reports that the pandemic is “infecting our dreams” in an unprecedented way. The feelings of loss, grief, panic, and anxiety that are almost universal across the globe right now are manifesting in a “collective dreaming”of sorts, with thousands of people reporting regular covid-related nightmares.

This is especially true for healthcare workers, whose dreams Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard professor surveying covid nightmares, says are on par with nightmares experienced by combat veterans. But the pandemic is affecting everyone on different levels—the AP mentions a college professor in Pakistan who dreamed she was one of the only people left on Earth who didn’t have the virus; an Episcopalian priest who dreamed her church was packed for a funeral, and a barista in Texas who dreamed her girlfriend died after getting the vaccine.

The bad dreams are everywhere, and even the seemingly benign ones seem a bit too vivid these days, as the New York Times reported earlier this month. It’s not clear whether the isolation is exacerbating the dreaming, or the quick change of life circumstances, or changes in sleep schedule for those of us who doom-scroll from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. instead of sleeping. But the evidence is undeniable.

Not all the dreams are bad all the time. My roommate told me about a bad dream he had the other night. “All my friends and brother and everyone around me were testing positive,” he said. “It was just one after the other.” It was disturbing and upsetting.

But he did manage to stage a comeback: “And then I dreamed about a bunch of big cat kittens.”




My anxiety dreams almost always involve public and unwanted nudity and/or trying desperately to take a shower and being unable to reach a bathroom to do so. When I have one it’s so familiar it’s actually less stressful than whatever’s stressing me out.

A couple nights ago, though, I dreamed I was in this horrible, tiny, messy apartment where the bedroom was almost filled by the unmade bed and all this junk—clothes, papers—surrounding it. I am one of those people who CANNOT live in a messy space; I am the type to have completely unpacked three days after moving because the stress of stuff “not in place” is like a low but persistent buzzing. So this dream was AWFUL, because in it my husband was the one causing and refusing to clean up the mess. I couldn’t leave and felt hopeless.

But it got worse! My dream husband suddenly unlocked a door in the apartment and revealed a big, neat bedroom with a big bed with a grey cover, laughing at his joke at hiding the neat bedroom from me. I distinctly recall the feeling of betrayal and saying “I never want to talk to you again” right before I woke up.

This seems pretty low stakes but it really nailed all my stressors. I woke up with a headache.