Work dreams come in many forms. There's the exciting "I finally got a promotion" dream, the awkward "I kissed a married co-worker" dream, and the boring "just another Tuesday at the office" dream.
And then, there's the kind of work dream that awakens us from our sleep in a cold sweat. The horrible "I drew a blank during a presentation in front of the CEO" – type dream, also known as the work nightmare.
As awful as work nightmares can be while we're having them, though, they can actually be very constructive, says Lauri Loewenberg, dream expert and author of the book "Dream On It, Unlock Your Dreams Change Your Life."
"Whether [nightmares] are about work or something else, they mean your inner self is on red alert," Loewenberg says. "Nightmares mean something in your waking life has gone on long enough and your inner self has had it. I always liken a nightmare to a slap in the face from the subconscious saying 'Wake up already. This is a problem that needs to be corrected now."
So what could your bad dreams be telling you about your job? To help you figure it out, Loewenberg analyzed the real dreams of four workers, each surrounding a different theme common in nightmares.
1. The nightmare: Missing a deadline
"Years ago I worked for AAA Auto Club South in Tampa. When I was overly stressed, I always had nightmares that I was trying to get the president of our company to the airport to catch a flight but something always went wrong. One time I would forget his luggage. Another time it was his tickets. One time he got stuck in the doors of the elevator. Or there was traffic and I couldn't get to the airport. But when I had these nightmares, I knew my stress level was high."– Diane Jones, DJ Public Relations, Florida
Loewenberg's explanation: "Missing deadlines is a common dream Diane Sawyer told me she gets. On an outer level, this is common if you have a job where you are always up against deadlines and the dream is trying to make sure you are on your toes and on time. But on a deeper level, you may want to ask you are happy with your job and if not are you feeling like you are running out of time to get the job you truly want or to be in a place in your career where you feel you should be. In what way is your life's clock ticking?"
2. The nightmare: You're in over your head
"I was working at a fast food franchise in Midtown [Manhattan], and had to help the owner get publicity. He hired Geena Davis to help with back office stuff but she kept yelling at him, 'You have no money! This will never work!' Separately, he'd also hired a famous political heiress to work the front counter, but she kept flipping her hair and saying, 'I don't work! This grease is killing my skin!' Both celebrities then quit and walked out the back door, leaving me with a restaurant full of media to deal with. I shoved several raw chickens at them and said, 'Look! Food recall!' and ran away."– Rosemary Valenta, communications professional, New York City
Loewenberg's explanation: "As stressful as this dream is, it is giving the dreamer some good advice. It seems like there is some sort of situation in her life she is trying to manage. It may indeed be something with her job, but she also needs to look at her personal life and ask herself 'where in my life am I trying to feed others needs,' hence the restaurant setting. The message is in the people who are unqualified for the job. This is the way her dreaming mind is telling her it's time to get rid of or stop doing what isn't working and perhaps start over, just as it would be better to fire unqualified servers and hire ones who know what to do."
3. The nightmare: Public humiliation
"I have a client who has dreams (or nightmares) about a Facebook page that is created to chronicle all the mistakes he makes at work. It includes comments from his friends and co-workers about his status and, here is the nightmare, he can't log in to make any changes." – Steve Langerud, director of professional opportunities at DePauw University
Loewenberg's explanation: "Oh dear. This suggests the dreamer may have slipped up at work in some way and is now dealing with a certain level of embarrassment and concern of how others now view him. Interestingly enough, I am noticing a dreaming trend in which Facebook post dreams are beginning to replace the good old naked dream. It used to be that when we did something in waking life that we feel stupid about, we'd get the naked in public dream. Now I'm hearing more and more from embarrassed individuals that are dreaming their mistake was posted on Facebook. I believe the message in this particular person's dream is in the fact that he can't log in to change or delete the posts. His dream is showing him that he can't change what has already been done so take it as a lesson and move on.&rdquo
4. The nightmare: You've hit a dead end
"After spending all day exploring all of the different hosting possibilities for my soon-to-be-launched website, I dreamt that my CTO called me and said, 'I'm really sorry to say this, but with further research, I've learned that it's just going to be impossible to keep the website up if any visitors come to it.'" – Liza Kindred, owner, StyleStartups.com
Loewenberg's explanation: "Whatever is told to you in a dream, no matter who says it, it is really coming from yourself (dreams are a conversation with the self, after all). Through the dream she is telling herself the site will never launch. That is a good indication of the chatter that may be going on in her head during waking hours. Perhaps in real life it is taking far longer than she thought it would to get her site ready. When something takes way longer than anticipated, I think we all say to ourselves, 'Ug. This is never going to happen,' even though, odds are, it will. I believe the message of this dream is that it's time to change up her thinking and be more positive... and patient! As a very successful entrepreneur named Henry Ford once said, 'Whether you think you can or whether you think you can't, you're right.'"
So, next time you have a bad dream about work, stop to think about a little deeper. It could be sending you a message you really need to hear.