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Having weird dreams during the coronavirus outbreak? You’re not alone

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Millions of Canadians have been at home for weeks now in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus — and for some, the impact of isolation is starting to catch up to them in strange ways.

For Corey Herscu, a Toronto father of three, vivid and stressful dreams are increasingly common.

“My dreams aren’t necessarily scary, [but I feel more] confused or overwhelmed — like I’m going in circles,” he told Global News.
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“One was that Toronto was all water, my wife and kids needed me and I couldn’t find my boat.”

Dreaming more often and having strange dreams are extremely common during times of high stress, according to registered psychotherapist Jupiter Vaughan.

And self-isolation doesn’t help.

“Being trapped at home for days and weeks … is unhealthy and it can lead to having [weird] dreams,” Vaughan said.
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During sleep, your brain processes the stress, anxiety and other feelings you have when you’re awake.

“If every day you’re watching the news, and it’s making you scared or uncomfortable or worried about your relatives or yourself, and this goes on ad nauseam for months, it will impact your dreams,” Vaughan said.

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He explains your brain as having several “folders” for the things in your life. One folder for your spouse, another for your work, another for your worries and fears and so on.

READ MORE: More than half of Canadians feel lonely, isolated during coronavirus pandemic

“When you sleep, the subconscious can just run freely and pick something totally random [from any of those folders],” Vaughan said.
“It can be an ex [partner] from eight years ago or something that’s really present, like the coronavirus.”

In Herscu’s case, his dream about Toronto being covered in water likely represents the “powerlessness” he feels amind the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“He wants to help his family, but he can’t. Normally, he can,” Vaughan said.

“I’m assuming he’s the provider and typically his role is breadwinner, protector. All that is taken away from somebody in this situation.”

According to experts, it’s important to pay attention to the emotions evoked by your dreams after you wake up.

How do you feel when you wake up?

In some circumstances, dreams can be a way for our brain to decipher what we’ve learned and observed during the day.

“If you’re finding that you’re having recurring dreams, it can be helpful to pay attention to the emotion evoked by them,” said Renee Raymond, a registered psychotherapist at CaRib Counselling and Psychotherapy.

“The pandemic can provoke strong emotional responses to daytime stressors we may or may not acknowledge throughout the day.”

READ MORE: Newborn dies after severe COVID-19 case forces mom to deliver nearly 4 months early

Raquel Russell, who is isolating in Orangeville, Ont., with family, had this experience on the weekend.

During a nap, Russell had a nightmare where the coronavirus took on the form of “large slug worms.”

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“They were crawling all over my body, [and] I was afraid that there would be too many and I would eventually be suffocated,” she said. “I started having a small panic attack and [that] woke me up.”
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Raymond says it’s important to reflect on what’s “showing up” in dreams like these to address the concerns you might have.

“It can be really helpful to think about what you’re doing during the day that may be unhelpful (like the over-consumption of news about COVID-19),” Raymond said.

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It’s also helpful to incorporate more “self-care activities” to allow your mind to be stimulated by things you find enjoyable and fulfilling.

Establish a bedtime routine

A healthy, consistent bedtime routine can be instrumental in addressing your scary dreams. During the pandemic, this means limiting your exposure to coronavirus-related news.

“It helps to reduce our consumption of TV, social media and upsetting news,” said Laura Bloom, a registered social worker and psychotherapist at Bloom Counselling and Social Work Services.

“That means turning off Netflix, avoiding Instagram and not consuming stress-inducing pandemic updates at least a couple hours before bed.”

READ MORE: Canada lost 1 million jobs in March due to coronavirus

If this doesn’t work, try to limit the amount of news you consume per day.

“Avoid social media updates and only check for new information from reputable sources about once a day,” Bloom said.

“Before bed, try talking to a friend, meditating, listening to music or reading.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

Meghan.Collie@globalnews.ca

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