By John Ramos

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — As people try to keep the coronavirus out of their bodies, psychologists say it is weighing heavily on their minds and — not surprisingly — is showing up in their subconscious when they dream.

New Zealander Sharon Lyon is visiting family in Berkeley, but with the ongoing pandemic, it hasn’t been a very restful stay.

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“I’ve only just started to sleep in the last five days. I’m, like, processing what’s going on,” Lyon said.

There is a lot to worry about these days. But when we sleep, our minds don’t stop working, according to Berkeley clinical psychologist Dr. Alan Siegel.

“Google searches, as of mid-April, had increased 400 percent on ‘Why am I having weird dreams?'” he said.

Dr. Siegel has spent much of his career studying dreams and how they work. He says nightmares are often more symbolic than literal, citing the Berkeley firestorm in 1991 as an example.

“Very few of the people dreamed about fire or the firestorm. But they had metaphoric dreams: wild animals chasing them, floods or other natural disasters, but not fire,” said Siegel.

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Currently, lots of people are reporting weird dreams. For some reason, a common one during the pandemic involves bug infestations. Professional dream analyst Lauri Loewenberg says lately she’s hearing a lot about dreams focused on the hands.

“Like, the hands stop working, skin is peeling off the hands or the hands fall off,” she said.  “And I think hands are such a focus because we’re afraid to touch anything!”

Dreams happen during REM sleep which often occurs right before waking. So if they seem more vivid it may be because the alarm clock isn’t interrupting sleep as much these days.  And while they may be scary, those who study dreams say, for people suffering from unresolved stress, nightmares are not always a bad thing.

“Moderate, occasional nightmares, even if they’re really distressing, could be a sign that we are actually coming to terms and finding a resolution,” said Dr. Siegel.

But, he says, if the nightmares are extreme and violent and linger into daytime thoughts, that may mean the stress is becoming overwhelming and it’s time to seek some help.

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Strange dreams have become such a world-wide phenomenon that a group called the International Association for the Study of Dreams has begun documenting people’s dreams during the pandemic. Those interested in participating in a survey being held by the association can visit the group’s website.