I recently read an article in Scientific American (and the research that it linked to) entitled "The Science Behind Dreaming." It cited three different studies on brain activity and dreaming: one on why individuals are most likely to remember dreams when woken up after a REM cycle, one on the correlation between brain activity during dreaming and the role of brain structures (namely the amygdala and hippocampus), and one on the connection between dreams and complex emotions.
The article concluded as follows: "Dreams seem to help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences certainly are. Our dream stories essentially try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it. This way, the emotion itself is no longer active. This mechanism fulfils an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, especially negative ones, this increases personal worry and anxiety." This concept is fascinating to me – the idea that dreams create memories and serve the purpose of processing complex emotions that we are experiencing.
There are many situations and reasons why a person may not even be cognizant of the fact that they are experiencing certain emotions during the day. These can include the fast pace of life that keeps us preoccupied, ways we distract ourselves (entertainment, social media, drinking, drug use, shopping, socializing, etc.), being repressed or in denial about our true feelings, or pushing emotions aside when they arise because they are too painful, complicated, or inconvenient to deal with. With this ever-expanding list in mind, its no wonder that our brains are working overtime to process emotions and situations that we have not sorted through during waking life.
Have your dreams ever brought emotions to the forefront that you were not formerly aware of (or fully aware of)? Has this helped you process any negative emotions? Do emotions feel amplified in your dreams? Is this sometimes unsettling to you? All stories are welcome. May your dreams help you effectively process your emotions!