One of the most frequent dream themes is that of anxiety in some form. This may not be because most dreams are about things we fear, but simply because we remember those more than bland dreams. In our dreams, all that can possibly disturb us are our memories, disturbing images and our own emotions. Our dream may be about a snake, or car accident – frightening things that in the dream appear to be exterior to us.

Freud (1) in the early years of the last century pioneered explorations into man’s unconscious life and drew the attention of an organically minded profession to the role of inner unconscious conflicts in deter­mining the sources of neurotic anxiety.

On the physiological side, Cannon (2) brought the holistic view of the organism into the situation and recognised that “anxiety may be produced by a variety of events, which have one common element. There is always a discrepancy between the individual’s capacities and the demands made on him which make self-realization impossible.” Cannon did outstanding work in the field of homeostasis and more recently other writers have enlarged our concepts although clearly there is marked discrepancy between their basic philosophies except for the recognition of the supreme importance of emotional factors in human adjustment.

But whenever we dream its images are not like real life, because a dream is nothing like outer life where things could hurt you, but is an image like on a cinema screen, so that even if a gun is pointed at you and fired it can do no damage – except if you run in fear; so, all the things that scare you are simply your own fears projected onto the screen of your sleeping mind. In the early days of moving pictures, a film was shown of a train coming fast toward them; the viewers all fled in terror, fearing the train would crush them. That is exactly the same response if you are terrified of any thing you dream of. See Masters of Nightmares

Even so, it is our emotions about the image of the snake or situation that disturbs us, and these can be changed. The image is only a mask on the surface of our emotions to enable recognition and enhancement of the raw feelings. If we can recognise what an enormous power our imagination has on our emotions and body, this can start the process of lessening anxiety. Many anxieties can be met by imagining changing the dream, confronting the fear, challenging what oppresses us.

Some of the clearest examples of what stress or the causes of anxiety are, however, can be seen in looking at the body in stress situations. For instance if we fall into or swim in icy cold water, this places the body in stress. What this means in plain language is that because the body needs to maintain it’s temperature at about 98.4 F, being exposed to cold for too long could be fatal. The condition between easy maintenance of body temperature and death through exposure to low temperature is stress.

Therefore, some causes of physical stress could be exposure to extreme heat; taking poison into the system; lack of oxygen; high levels of carbon monoxide (car exhaust fumes) etc, in the air we breath; lack of food; lack of vital nutrients such as iron, protein, etc; insufficient sleep; and so on can lead to enormous anxiety.

When we fall into cold water our body attempts to deal with the stress through its self-regulating or homeostatic processes. The glandular system will probably secrete adrenalin into the blood stream, causing the heart to speed up. But many other activities try to meet the emergency, even to such small things as the liver releasing more vitamin A to deal with the shock to the immune system. See Fear – Self-regulation

Example: It was only after my return to live in a block of flats in London that I realized how infrequently one hears a baby crying in India, how frequently in Britain.  I have already suggested that the early weaning of our babies may be responsible for the slight bias towards pessimism which colours our outlook. Among the Hindus whom I studied, the opposite bias prevailed; they seemed to live in constant expectation of a stroke of good fortune. Each new acquaintance was scanned hopefully as if he might be the agent of their material and spiritual salvation; and in spite of many disappointments, these hopes would rise again.

Pessimism is closely allied to anxiety and clinically these two character traits merge into one another. It is not suggested that basic anxiety and its multiple psychosomatic manifestations are the direct sequence of our breast feeding habits but that cultural patterns in infant care contribute towards the tension and anxiety which is frequently accentuated by their experiences and by parental attitudes.”

Melanie Klein (8) has also clarified our outlook by stressing the importance of identification with the parents which is carried into adult life. At every stage the ability to identify makes possible the happiness of being able to admire the character or achievements of others. The ability to admire another person’s achievements is one of the factors making successful team work possible. Klein’s work with children has shown that even from babyhood onwards the mother, and soon other people in the child’s surroundings, are taken into the self, and this is the basis of a variety of identifications, favourable and unfavourable.

An Aspect of Anxiety

 Any attempt to stress the nature of anxiety must incorporate the contention that anxiety is a natural phenomenon which the individual experiences when values essential to his existence, his sense of being and his identity are threatened. It is to be distinguished from fear in which the threat is peripheral, the intactness of the sense of being is not being threatened, the danger is objective and the individual can evaluate it and can act either in terms of flight or fight in coping with it.

Useful questions:

Can I recognise that the frightening dream is simply an expression of my emotions and has no power to harm?

What emotions am I frightened of, and do I want to continue to run from them?

What I run from controls me, can I therefore imagine turning around and facing the scary images?

See Secrets of Power Dreaming Avoid Being VictimsFacing Fear – The Slow Breath

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