Coronavirus

Women are Having More Anxious and Angry Dreams Than Men in the Pandemic, Study Says

We're all also dreaming about death a lot more.
October 12, 2020, 7:45am
Women are Having More Anxious and Angry Dreams Than Men in the Pandemic, Study Says
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto / Pexels

If life has been weird in 2020, our dreams have been even weirder. But, it turns out, these dreams are affecting one sex more compared to the other. 

According to a new international study published in the journal Dreaming, women’s dreams have been more negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic than men’s. 

“I have studied other dreams from periods of crisis: Americans after 9/11, Kuwaitis after the Iraqi occupation, and dreams from a Nazi POW camp,” said study author Deirdre Barrett, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and author of Pandemic Dreams, to Psypost. “So as soon as the pandemic began, I was interested to see how these dreams would be similar to other crises and any distinctive elements they might have.” 

Dreaming has long been a fascination for scientists, psychologists, and regular people alike. While some consider dreams a benign byproduct of the sleeping brain, there's also increasing evidence that dreams help with memory formation, processing complicated emotions, or as a way to practice facing threats or dangers. Dreams might help lead us to new insights and problem-solving; other research has supported that dreaming could be therapeutic.

An online survey was conducted between March 23 and July 15 which included 2,888 participants. They were asked to recount their dreams about the pandemic. A text analysis programme called Linguistic Inquiry was used, and Word Count to quantify six dreaming themes: positive emotions, negative emotions, anxiety, anger, sadness, biological processes, body, health, and death. They then compared the results to a database of dreams from before the pandemic.

When the answers were analysed, the largest difference between pandemic and pre-pandemic dreams was death-related themes. They were three times more for pandemic dreams compared to the earlier ones.

In the overall results, women showed lower rates of positive emotions and higher levels of anxiety, anger and references to biological processes, health and death in their pandemic dreams compared with the pre-pandemic dreams. 

On the other hand, men’s pandemic dreams showed only slightly higher levels of negative emotions, anxiety and death than in pre-pandemic dreams. 

“Our dreams are more anxious since the pandemic began and we’re dreaming about it in a variety of ways—direct and metaphoric. Both men and women’s dreams reflect a lot of fear, and more references to illness and death than in normal times. However, these effects are even more pronounced for women, who also have more sadness, anger and other unpleasant body themes that are not significant for men,” Barrett said to PsyPost.

Barrett focused on gender differences and differences from dreams during normal times. “The survey continues and I intend to do a comparison of emotions and themes from the start, middle and end of the pandemic. I’ve already begun to see a shift from dreams more directly about the illness to ones about its secondary effects: lockdown, reopening amid still high viral levels, homeschooling, etc,” Barrett said.

As our reality makes its way into our subconscious, our collective bizarre and even scary dreams, at the very least, also mean that we’re all in this together. 

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