When Life’s Stresses Haunt Your Dreams

I honestly didn’t anticipate writing about dreams again, so soon after my recent Dreamscape post.

But like many of you, recent events – COVID-19, stock market plunge, politics – have amped my stress levels up significantly. My subconscious is struggling to handle the input.

My usual antidote for stress – time in the forest with my dogs – is challenging to acquire during this time of transition between winter and spring. There’s still snow on the ground everywhere, and it’s soft. It’s no fun plunging through unexpectedly, for me or the dogs. Our options are limited. Yesterday’s weather was so persistently yucky that we didn’t venture outside at all.

That was a mistake.

The lack of exercise and simmering stress infiltrated my dreams.

First Dream

Snakes. Lots of snakes, in a river. I don’t remember where I was, or why I was in a river. Even though the snakes were quite large, and brown rather than black, they had yellow stripes along each side so I somehow knew them to be garter snakes and considered them icky but harmless. Except when one bit me on the hand, in that soft area between thumb and forefinger. I yelled, and that woke me up, still yelling (in a muffled way). It was 3:30 am (well, actually 4:30 am because of the Daylight Savings time switch that happened 1.5 hours earlier).

garter snake
The stuff of my nightmares: a garter snake.

I read a People magazine for an hour to relax and banish images of biting snakes before trying to sleep some more.

Surprisingly, I did fall back to sleep. Only to dream again.

Second Dream

This time, I was about to run a race. I knew it would be long, and hilly, and hard. I was nervous. I was staying at a hotel within reasonable walking distance of the start, but I needed to leave well in advance of the start time to get behind the line with the other runners. The day was sunny, and I worried about overheating soon after the race began. At the last minute I decided I was overdressed and needed to change clothes.

This is where it gets weird.

I was wearing nylons – pantyhose – under running shorts. That’s why I was afraid of being too warm.

two runners on road

[For those readers thinking, “Nylons? Really?” let me assure you that in the old days – late ‘70s and early ‘80s – wearing nylons under short running shorts was how we gals kept legs warm in cold temps. The only other alternative was baggy cotton sweats or thick nylon track suits which after the first mile were always way too warm and heavy. Lycra running tights didn’t hit the scene until later in the ‘80s. Photo: me – wearing nylons under shorts – and a friend running Three Rivers Marathon in Kennewick, WA in October, 1984.]

I needed to ditch the nylons, fast.

As I did, I also removed the tape I use on my feet to prevent Morton’s neuroma pain when I run.

[Logically, there’s no reason why I would have to remove the tape. The tape (which I’ve used since the mid-90s) goes on my skin; the nylons would have been worn over the tape. But dreams don’t have to make sense, and time frames can mix and match with abandon.]

Now, adding to my stress, I needed re-tape my feet, fast.

I rushed to find tape and scissors, get my feet taped, put on socks and my running shoes and start heading to the start line. As I made my way along a sidewalk beside a long downhill stretch of suburban street – the race’s early route – I started seeing runners coming up the hill.

Oh no! I’m late, I’ve missed the start! My heart rate jumped and I started running. I realize I’m going to have to make like a salmon, swimming against the current of oncoming runners, because to get an official finish, I need to start behind the start line at the bottom of the hill, no matter how late I am.

But wait, maybe it’s okay; the runners aren’t racing, they’re just jogging, warming up, right?

With that mix of stress and hope, I wake up.

painting of wolf and dreamcatcher
I’d much rather dream about wolves. Wolf and dreamcatcher, by Robert Waghorn (Pixabay).

Superficial Dream Interpretation

A quick online search about the meaning of snakes in dreams indicates they’re one of the most common animals to appear in dreams. They can symbolize fear, uncertainty, hidden threats. If they’re in water, that might indicate emotional suppression. If they bite you, that could point to a situation in waking life that feels unsafe or threatening.

Okay, then. Pretty spot-on for my current life stressors. The “ground zero” for COVID-19 in the US is Kirkland, Washington, very close to where I was born and raised and where I lived 2009-2014 while riding out that recession. Reading news reports, I wonder and worry how my friends living there are faring. Idaho hasn’t reported any cases yet, but it’s only a matter of time. We’re so unprepared.

And then there’s the financial threat to my meager retirement savings from the market “correction” which is related to fears surrounding COVID-19.

Or, maybe the snake is my upcoming root canal.

As for the late-to-the-race dream? I have had that one before, off and on over the years. According to the internet, that can be a symbol of hoping for or needing a change in life, or an unconscious fear of missing an opportunity or missing out on something critical.

Again, that fits nicely with events big and small currently adding stress to my life.

I don’t generally delve into the meanings of dreams, nor am I big on dream interpretation. But having those two in quick succession, and remembering so much detail, got my attention.

And the bit about the nylons under running shorts – that’s 40 years out of date! That had me smiling when I woke up. I love how the subconscious works.

I’m planning a nice long run with the boys in the forest tomorrow, soft snow be damned. Obviously, I need it.

For a fun trip through the history of running togs, visit this feature on Runners World’s website. And yes, that’s a guy wearing nylons while running, circa 1981.

Feature photo: A signed print of a painting by Loren Salazar that is thumb-tacked to the wall in my spare room. Loren was a high school friend of one of my brothers in the late 1960s. His surreal, dreamy paintings were popular when I was in college and often used as album cover art by bands like Heart. My brother invited me to tag along one day when he visited Loren at his condo in the early 1980s, and I bought the print. One of these days I’ll frame it.

8 thoughts on “When Life’s Stresses Haunt Your Dreams”

  1. I always dreamed of snakes pretty much at the moment they appeared in the chaparral. Maybe they were my spirit guide (ha ha). I personally don’t think the COVID-19 is anything to worry about. We have the opportunity to die of something every second of our lives even without it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That late to a race/late to instruct my fitness class/can’t find my college classroom theme is one of my most frequent dreams. I would say that it’s preposterous that I would ever be late to a race, but my last one was cutting it kind of close.

    Liked by 1 person

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