COVID-19’s unexpected side effect: community members report pandemic dreams


Illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Evanston residents and other Americans have reported experiencing more vivid and bizarre dreams during the coronavirus pandemic.

Mikenzie Roberts, Reporter

If hotel rooms, bugs and dust have been haunting your dreams lately, you’re not alone.

Chicago psychotherapist Karol Weigelt, who runs a monthly “dream group” in Evanston at The C.G. Jung Center, said her clients have recently reported stranger, more vibrant dreams.

Researchers across the nation have termed the phenomenon “coronavirus pandemic dreams” or “lockdown dreams” as a response to this trend. One ongoing study starting in March found participants remembered more dreams and reported having more negative dreams than they did prior to the pandemic. Possible explanations for these changes include increased anxiety, waking up more often, altered sleep schedules, isolation and boredom.

Since the outset of COVID-19, Weigelt said her private practice clients are reporting their dreams more frequently. They dream of living in hotel rooms — symbols for a temporary place, she said. Clients have also dreamed of bugs and dust, which she said represent the unseen forces invading people’s lives.

One hotel room dreamer is McCormick first-year Hannah Boruchov, who said she had a dream that she, her three little sisters and her parents were all living in the same room.

“Maybe that has something to do with me coming back to live with them. We’re all kind of together now, that’s my one interpretation,” Boruchov said.

Inspired by Western thinkers Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, as well as the perspectives about dreams found in other cultural traditions, Weigelt encourages participants in her dream group to discuss their dreams with each other to gain insight into the dreams’ unconscious origins. Elements that may seem out of place, like hotel rooms, can have metaphorical meaning in the dreamer’s personal life, she said.

Boruchov said while she’s used to having strange dreams, she’s remembering them more vividly now. She said the change has happened gradually since she moved home.

Though she is not confident about why these changes have occurred, Boruchov said they might root in pandemic-related sleep schedule shifts. She said she’s been sleeping more and sleeping later recently.

The “collective unconscious” — a Jungian idea — may explain why Americans report experiencing similar unconscious patterns, Weigelt said. Emotions surrounding current uncertainty and frequent exposure to pandemic-related news coverage guide the country’s subconscious to produce pandemic dreams, she said.

Weigelt said it’s even common for public figures to make an appearance. Her clients have recalled dreams featuring politicians like President Trump or Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Weigelt said she herself remembers Dr. Anthony Fauci appearing in one of her recent dreams.

“So, when there’s elections, like the last election, Hillary would show up a lot,” Weigelt said, “Bernie Sanders, Trump.”

Todd Frugia, a therapist-in-training at Chicago’s Agave Studio for Psychotherapy and Spiritual Direction and a counseling graduate student at Northwestern’s Family Institute, studied dreams for his capstone project. He said pandemic dream patterns vary from person to person, and there are many different theoretical approaches to understanding dreams.

Those on the front lines of the pandemic — like medical professionals or the infected — are more likely to have trauma-related dreams than those who are less directly affected, Frugia said.

Frugia said those who have upsetting dreams should try “recasting” them. After waking up, he said dreamers should consider interpreting their dreams in the context of their own lives. Keeping a dream journal can also help individuals make sense of their dreams, he said.

“I think (dreams are) a tailor-made poem or art film that you made,” Frugia said. “And just as an art film or a poem can be really mysterious but spark some idea deep within you, so can a dream, and you made it. It’s got characters from your life and settings from your life, and so the chance for a meaningful experience is exponential.”

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