Are you a dreamer? According to psychologists,
everyone dreams—sometimes five times a night.
And it’s not all sugar-plum fairies. Surveys show
that some 50% to 80% of us dream about work,
with a significant portion admitting they often wake
up in a cold sweat and experience work nightmares
once or more a week.
“Dreaming about work is incredibly common,” says
dream expert Lauri Quinn Loewenberg, author of
Dream on It: Unlock Your Dreams, Change Your Life.
“Work is the largest part of our waking life. It’s also
a big part of our identity.”
While work dreams are often banished to the wacky
and inexplicable files—perhaps it was that midnight
Chunky Monkey—those who study them warn not to
dismiss them so quickly. After all, they are the
language of the subconscious, created by you for
you as a means of working out issues in your
waking life. Those that are frightening or
emotionally charged are all the more significant.
“Recurring dreams and nightmares happen because
your subconscious is trying to get your attention,”
says Layne Dalfen, founder of The Dream
Interpretation Center in Montreal, Quebec. “You
may not even realize what’s bugging you.”
See: The 10 Most Common Workplace Anxiety
Dalfen says there are five entry points to
interpreting a dream, which can in turn help you
understand and resolve the real-world issue:
feelings, symbols, word play, plot and actions. If
you feel panicked in a dream, ask yourself what’s
making you anxious in your life. If there’s a distinct
item, character or color that stands out, consider
what significance it holds to you symbolically. Also
think of the double meanings in the language—if
you’re being pursued in a dream, is there some goal
you yourself are pursuing at work? Finally, the basic
plot and action of the dream may represent an
overarching theme you’re working through, like a
loss or a failure.
While dreams can be extremely personal, it turns
out that some are nearly universal. According to
several dream researchers and counselors, the
following represent the most common workplace
anxiety dreams and what they mean.
Late For Work
The Dream: Usually in this dream you either can’t
get to work on time or are missing a deadline.
What It Means: Loewenberg says this dream is a
really good indication that you feel like you’re
missing out on an opportunity or what you really
want in your career.
Sex With A Coworker
The Dream: It involves inappropriate intimacy with
a colleague or, more often, a boss. Usually there
isn’t a real attraction in waking life, so the dreamer
wakes up feeling confused or concerned about what
What It Means: If it’s a coworker that you’re not
attracted to, Loewenberg believes it represents
knowing that you need to unite with them on a
project or goal, or that you want to take on a skill or
personality trait they possess. Alternately, if it’s a
boss, Ian Wallace, a psychologist and author of The
Top 100 Dreams, says it may symbolize a
subconscious recognition that you have a big idea,
and you’re trying to give yourself the power to act
Unprepared For A Task
The Dream: This one is marked by anxiety over not
being ready for a big presentation, event or work
task. It’s often specific to the profession, like an
actor not knowing her lines.
What It Means: It can usually be connected to an
upcoming event that you’re nervous about, in which
your performance will be judged. If it’s recurring
and not tied to anything specific, Loewenberg says
it may suggest a lack of confidence.
Being Naked At Work
The Dream: This dream involves being either
completely naked or inappropriately dressed in the
office. Usually the dreamer is panicked, but no one
else in the dream seems to notice.
What It Means: According to Wallace, this dream
symbolizes feeling vulnerable and exposed at work.
You may also be concerned about how others
Getting Stuck In The Elevator
The Dream: Workplace elevator dreams usually
involve an elevator stalling, moving sideways or
dropping down rather than going up.
What It Means: Loewenberg says elevators
represent our ability to progress in our careers. If
it’s not moving smoothly upwards, it reflects your
fear that your career is not progressing as it should.
Can’t Find The Bathroom
The Dream: The dreamer is usually wandering the
halls and unable to find the bathroom. Alternately,
he may be in the bathroom and can’t close the
door, or the toilet is exposed without any doors.
What It Means: Wallace says any dream about a
bathroom represents your fundamental needs, and
if you cannot find one at work, it means your needs
aren’t being met or you’re having trouble
expressing them. If you can’t secure the bathroom
door, you may need to establish clearer boundaries
Driving To Work
The Dream: Often the dreamer is driving and loses
control of the car. Alternately, she may be on a
train or bus that is swerving or off course.
What It Means: Wallace believes this represents
your drive in your career and your efforts to make
progress toward an objective. If the vehicle is
spinning out of control, it means you feel that you
don’t have enough control in your waking life.