Mind Health Science Now + Beyond

Keeping a dream journal gave me clarity about real-life anxieties

I always dreaded when it got dark and the day would end. Instead of seeking comfort in sleep, I saw it as a chunk of time I would never get back. I never remembered my dreams, anyway. So, in the past few years, I developed a habit of stalling when it came to dozing off.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved being in bed under my cozy duvet. But I wanted to stay alert, so I kept the curtains open so I wouldn’t be tempted to sleep. I needed to process the events of the day and replay the conversations I had, often spiraling into regret. Did I say the right thing? What did they mean when they said…? 

The way I saw it, the day is a scattered pile of emotions and memories. At night, I can start sorting through them. Otherwise, I wake up the next day with a mess in my head. The time before I fell asleep was precious. To preserve it, I slept the bare minimum amount of hours I needed to get by. It was worth it, for the clarity and sense of control I felt over myself. But I couldn’t keep it up for long. 

That’s when I had the most vivid dream of my life. I was in my childhood home, laying on my back in the hallway. People walked over me, chattering away and I could not get up. I shouted and shouted but no one noticed. Then I saw myself, an older me, trying to pass. I clutched onto her and she got stuck as well. 

I woke up feeling breathless. Grabbing one of my course journals, I scribbled what I could remember onto the page. Deep down, I knew my brain was trying to tell me something. I had a class to go to, so I left it there. But when I came back in the evening and read through it, I could see the parallels with my real life. I was holding myself back, skipping out on sleep, hanging onto each day, and clinging onto every single detail. That dream was a reality check, that I was harboring so much regret and that I needed to let my past slip-ups go. 

Maybe there was something worthwhile in dreaming, after all. The key is to recall those dreams, as 95% of them are typically forgotten a few minutes after we wake up. The reason this happens is that the hormone associated with memory is switched off. That night, I went to sleep almost as soon as I slid into bed. 

From then on, when I remembered something from my dreams in the morning—even the slightest detail like crawling in a desert—I would write them down into a spare journal. The act of writing my dreams down in a dream journal encoded them as a memory in my head. Keeping this up as a practice trained my brain to store my dreams, at least until the morning came.

Another trick I learned was through mental affirmations. Telling myself that I was going to remember my dreams and that they were important to me, made me more cognizant of them. I began to remember dreams in more detail and could start picking out patterns in my subconscious mind. 

Writing frequently in the morning, even in nonsensical bursts, became a way to start the day with a load off my chest. I felt lighter than ever. This should come as no surprise, as studies have shown that journaling has a positive impact on our personal wellbeing.

If you’re looking to start keeping a dream journal, remember that it doesn’t have to be complicated. There are great dream journal apps like Capture that help you keep track of your dreams with ease, and can even remind you at the beginning of your day. Write down what you remember before you do anything else so that it doesn’t slip out of your mind. If it is a complicated or even dark dream, I also add in what happened in the past few days that might have prompted those emotions. There are also countless templates online that can be followed, which I use every now and then to switch things up. 

At the end of the day, what I needed was time to process, as well as to feel like I was in control of my thoughts. I now enjoy the routine of waking up and writing down the bizarre images my brain cooked up the night before. Keeping a dream journal helped me look forward to shutting down for the night, which had amazing effects on my previously sleep-deprived self. Just as I have trained myself to remember my dreams, I can choose to forget the trivial things that used to keep me up at night. 

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Science Now + Beyond

This is the number one question about dreams that scientists have been unable to answer

A third of our lives is spent sleeping.

This is a seemingly simple fact but one that always shocks me when I have a night of insomnia and I painfully wish for the sun to come out quicker. Almost everyone dreams for at least two of those hours spent sleeping, whether they can remember it or not.

During that time, the average person has between three and six different dreams per night, which are thought to last between five and 20 minutes. Most dreams, particularly the more vivid ones occur during the REM phase of sleep. However, around 90% of these dreams are forgotten by the time a person gets out of bed.

Nonetheless, while scientists have studied and determined the many benefits of sleep for our health (regulates our metabolism, brain function, blood pressure, etc.), there is still no one answer to the question – why do we dream?

In the early civilizations, it was believed that dreams were a way of contacting with the divine world. Roman and Greek civilizations used to emphasize the prophetic powers of dreams. However, the most well-known theory of dreams of the Western World is the Freudian one. In An Interpretation of Dreams, Freud argues that dreams are the mechanisms by which the self can express its suppressed desires.

Nowadays, the Freudian ideas have been discarded, although there are scientists that still believe that there is a close connection between memory, emotions, the processing of information, and the purpose of dreaming.

At the end of the day, most people dream of things that they can recognize.

The memory consolidation theory is one that defends the connection between dreams and memory. It states that it is in the night when the brain processes everything that has happened during the day.

Cristina Marzano and her colleagues from the University of Rome’s Department of Psychology have proven in a scientific study that the neurophysiological mechanisms that we employ while dreaming, and recalling dreams, are the same as when we construct and retrieve memories while we are awake. This would explain why most of the things that we dream of are based on people and events of our lives.

This is related to the mood regulatory function theory which states that dreams serve to problem-solve emotional issues. Neuroscientist Rosalind Cartwright, also known as The Queen of Dreams, has stated that dreams are the mechanisms used by the brain to incorporate memories, solve problems, and deal with emotions. Therefore, dreams are essential for our emotional health.

Of course, there is also a scientific current of thought that argues that dreams have no function at all. This is called the activation-synthesis hypothesis and it argues that dreams are caused by the firing of electrical impulses of the brain during the REM phase of sleep. However, the fact that animals, particularly mammals, also dream, points out to the idea that they must have some evolutionary or survival purpose.

A study from the University of Turku argues that dreams are a way for us to prepare ourselves for possible future threats. This is the threat simulation theory. This study focused on children that had suffered trauma and looked at how their dreams recreated that trauma to prepare them for something similar occurring in the future. Dreams are, therefore, an evolutionary ability, according to this study, aimed at ensuring survival.

One aspect that all of these theories have in common is that we dream more or remember them much more vividly during times of stress and anxiety. Therefore, dreams might be a sort of coping mechanism to help us process information and emotions.

We know that we dream every night. We know where they come from. We know that there must be a reason for them, yet we still haven’t been able to prove any one reason. For all we know, there might not be one reason, it might, in fact, differ from person to person. Until then, let’s keep dreaming.

Love + Sex Love Life Stories

Have you ever felt unrequited love?

Usually when I think of unrequited love, I think of something great. Some sort of grand story full of catharsis. Unrequited is generally special.

A type of love that demands to be talked about for an eternity. Something electric, with compulsive wavelengths. Something like the movies that comes with its own playlist attached to it.

Something with late and long nights spent together in a damp minivan twinkling and spitting out dreams on a whim. Something with vicious fights fueled by our own desire. Something that makes my soul open up just as swiftly as it gets torn apart. And, somehow I wind up bursting at the seams yet feel completely unsatisfied. I always want more. 

Why do we long for the type of love that hurts so much it imprints our hearts? It is difficult to locate the line that separates struggle and triumph, as nearly every love story in popular media blurs the two. But unrequited love is so unbelievably magnificent and sad at the same time that it becomes all encompassing.

Unrequited love is an entire body, overwhelming, feeling. I have broken hearts before and I have had my heart broken, so I can tell you that the feeling never fades, one way or the other. It feels as if you are running fast, and for a long time, yet making no distance at all.

One time I waited two months for a guy to message me back before I realized that he just wasn’t going to. Ever. Again. And that entire time I couldn’t help but wonder why I cared so much. What we had wasn’t at all special, but I still was left longing for a distraction from the heartbreak. I was showered by his passivity instead of his kisses and I wanted him to know how much his absence hurt me, but he was so equally careless and carefree that none of it mattered.

Not even for a second. 

I felt unrequited love again while in a long-distance relationship. This kind of unrequited was different. It wasn’t one-sided. Instead, we felt tremendously for each other. It’s just that our bodies weren’t able to be physically together for some time. We were only long distance for the few months that I would be studying abroad, but it felt like an eternity. I remember being there and using all of my senses to try to gauge what his touch felt like.

Somedays I would wake up and watch the sun from my window, silently knowing that that same sun wouldn’t bounce to him for another six hours, and I would recall how that same sun looked dancing across his back at dawn. I’d lay in bed at night and want to tell him about my day, but I knew that I couldn’t. I was constantly reminded that he no longer took up the space in between my arms when we slept. But I was, and still am, fascinated by the immediate consumption of these moments. I am so grateful to have given him my heart. He still has it. 

The extent of passion is practically boundless. We should feel like we can fly on a whim, or scream and dance, when we are in love. Unrequited love just forces you to confront that intensity, those struggles and triumphs, head on. Some of it is beautiful; some not so much. I like to remind myself that love doesn’t need a reason, love just is. 

Unrequited love is messy, but worth it. It is a collection of fleeting moments. It teaches us that all love should be leaking, dripping, through every difficulty yet also a thread that is continuously weaving through and connecting our bodies and our souls. The whole point of longing is to continue, because there will always be potential to love someone rather than to have loved someone. They can’t be the one that got away if they weren’t the one in the first place.

Movies Pop Culture

10 movies that will absolutely make you question whether you’re real

So you’re in one of those moods again. It’s okay, we’ve all been there: questioning every established law of science, thinking you’re in a dream where everyone is part of a grand scheme, realizing that every rule you’ve believed your whole life could be completely false. Yeah, it’s okay. I mean it, we really have all been there.

[bctt tweet=”Do you ever question every law of established science?” username=”wearethetempest”]

And hey, I don’t really think that’s a bad thing. I mean, there’s a whole world around us telling us about laws of science and what they would like to call “reality.” But that could all be lies, and the real reality is out there for us to discover (or at the very least hypothesize). So if you want your mind  blown, and I mean really blown, check these out:

[bctt tweet=”It COULD all be lies…” username=”wearethetempest”]

1. The Matrix

Hey, sorry guys, I had to start with a classic! Watch our favorites, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne, blow all your expectations of reality out the window. Have you ever asked yourself, “Is this real?” (I know you have.) Well, in a few words, The Matrix is basically that question on steroids. So you choose: red or blue?

2. Inception

What if it was all dream? Well, in Inception you’ll find out.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt work with Ellen Page and other great cast members to protect the intellectual property of high-profile clients through dreams. But what happens when they have unwanted visitors which forces them to go further, entering into a dream within a dream? The plot only thickens from there.

3. Enter the Void

How to describe Enter the Void in one word? Trippy. And I mean that literally, as much of this film is spent on trips from multiple hallucinogenic drugs. But this movie even takes drugs to a whole new level, as they don’t only become mind-altering, but reality-altering for main character Oscar (Nathaniel Brown). Prepare to enter into two hours of the most psychedelic movie you’ll ever see.

4. The Butterfly Effect

Ashton Kutcher has a strange power—going back in time as his younger self. So when the love of his life dies, he has the chance to go back and save her. However, there’s always a catch, as one small change in the past greatly affects the future. Watch Kutcher confuse time repeatedly and see time travel in its most realistic form.

5. Donnie Darko

What if you kept seeing a frightening bunny rabbit named Frank? What if it also told you the world was going to end in less than a month? Well, that’s how this movie starts, for real. This is more than just a psychological thriller (although it is one), as discovering what’s real and what’s not is a game of life or death.

6. Waking Life

If you’re looking for something really really really out there, this is your movie. Existentialism, morality, metaphysics, politics, consciousness, free will, the meaning of life, reality—nothing’s off the table. In strange, psychedelic animation, the main character moves through life where the real and unreal, conscious and unconscious are indecipherable, meeting various characters with different philosophical conversations.

7. Pi

Before Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofsky directed Pi, a black-and-white surrealist psychological thriller. It follows Max, an obsessive number theorist, has social anxiety, cluster headaches, paranoia, and cluster headaches. Through his confusing and scattered narration, we join him on his search to understand the world entirely through numbers. When you’re feeling like the world could all just be a string of numbers, Pi is the movie for you.

8. Melancholia

At the beginning, Melancholia is probably the movie you’d least expect to challenge your perspective and effectively blow your mind. Kirsten Dunst gets married, and she has the perfect wedding with the perfect husband. But her family is really less than ideal, as we find out during the reception. We also discover there’s a planet called Melancholia that is going to collide with Earth at any moment. Yeah, a few other things happen too.

9. Being John Malkovich

Being John Malkovich is great when you’re in that really specific mood of feeling like people are inside your head controlling you. But don’t worry, that only happens to John Malkovich when John Cusack and Cameron Diaz go through a hidden tunnel in Cusack’s office. But there’s some weird stuff going on here, that will definitely make you question what’s going on.

10. Twelve Monkeys

In 2035,  Bruce Willis is one of the lucky 1 percent of humans that has survived a horrific epidemic in 1997. However, the epidemic was man-made, produced through a mysterious organization called the Army of the Twelve Monkeys. He is set on a task to go back in time and save the human race, but accidentally lands in 1990 and subsequently a mental institution. Willis, committed to saving humanity, travels through time and through unexpected corners of life and his mind to find the answers he’s looking for.