11% of Us Dream About Being Trapped at Work

Among the many strange consequences of lockdown has been a change in our collective dreaming habits. Many of us have found ourselves unsettled by recurring nightmares concerning our professional activities. 

According to instantprint, a Rotherham-based printing company specialising in roller-banners, posters and business cards this is a widespread phenomenon. They commissioned a survey of a thousand office workers spread across the United Kingdom. Around 75% of them reported having nightmares about work since the start of the first lockdown, in March 2020.

The exact focus of these dreams varies from person to person, but we can spot a few common themes. 17% dreamed about being unprepared for a workplace task, while 3% dreamed about a colleague unexpectedly dying. Somewhere between these extremes is a common variety of dream: one in which the dreamer finds themselves actually trapped in their workplace. 11% of respondents experienced a dream of this sort. But what might it actually mean?

What do dreams about being trapped mean?

Dreams about being stuck in a situation are typically associated with a deep-rooted desire to escape, either from an obligation, a relationship, or a career. If you’re dreaming about being trapped at work, then you might therefore judge that you secretly want to quit your job and find another.

There are reasons to be sceptical about this conclusion. Firstly, the situation we all currently find ourselves in is an extreme one. General elevated levels of stress are likely to produce unusual dreams. Secondly, if you’re working from home, then it doesn’t make a great deal of sense that you’d dream about being trapped at work.

While it’s easy to over-analyse dreams, they do serve several important functions – even the bad ones. They allow us to process our experiences, and put them into an order that our brains can easily deal with when we wake up. If you spend hours on a given task one day, you might find that you wake up with an entirely new fluency in it, and a new perspective to bring. Your workplace nightmares might well be your brain’s way of coping with the novelty of your new working-from-home circumstances.

What can we do about it?

instantprint sought the expertise of Dr Sarah Jane Daly, a senior psychology lecturer from the University of Huddersfield.

She recommended four tips to keep nightmares at bay. Firstly, we should set work-related boundaries, even when we’re at home. Clock in and out every day, and don’t be tempted to answer emails when you’re not properly at work. Secondly, we should practice self-care though exercise, reading, meditation, or just generally unwinding. Thirdly, phones and laptops should be put away at least an hour before bedtime. Finally, we can prompt good dreams by spending time thinking about a particularly pleasant memory, or contemplating a heart-warming photograph, shortly before bedtime.

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