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Sheer terror provided forward momentum, but the thing chasing you was faster, closing the gap with every step. Heart pounding, lungs on fire, you pushed on, fighting the urge to look back at your pursuer.

As its hot breath hit the back of your neck, you gasped for air and sprung up in your bed. Nothing was chasing you.

Perspiration trickled down your face and neck, but your muscles relaxed as you realized it had only been a dream. You could breathe easier now, but it would be hours before you could shake the feeling.

If you’re having dreams about being chased, you know just how unsettling they can be. Read on as we delve deeper into dreams about being chased, their possible significance, and whether there’s a way to make them stop.

People have always been curious about dreams — where they come from and what role they have in our waking lives. Though there are many theories, science hasn’t been able to settle in on exactly why we dream or what those dreams mean.

But we can make some reasonable assumptions about our own dreams based on personal experience.

We know that stress and poor sleep are related. We also know that stress can trigger dreams and nightmares.

Most of us would consider being chased a stressful event — and it’s one of the most common themes of dreams. It’s an even more common theme of childhood nightmares than those of adults.

In many ways, your dreams are a reflection of your day. In fact, in a 2003 study of 29 people who kept a journal about their day and their dreams, 65 percent of what happened in the dreams was influenced by what happened during the participants’ waking hours.

A 2019 research review suggests that many parts of your life can show up in your dreams, including news events, religious beliefs, chronic pain, and even your mood throughout the day.

So, for example, you might dream of being chased after watching an intense horror flick or after the neighbor’s dog lunged at you. These aren’t likely to become recurrent or troublesome dreams.

On the other hand, frequently dreaming about being chased could mean that you’re:

  • anxious about something
  • experiencing heightened or ongoing stress
  • worried about an upcoming event
  • wishing to avoid something you’d rather not face
  • overwhelmed with responsibilities

Famed psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are among those who believed that dreams hold great meaning. Some research, including the Hill cognitive-experiential model of dream interpretation, suggests that the exploration of dreams can be an effective therapeutic tool.

There’s no scientific consensus on the true meaning behind specific details within dreams. Culture and individual life experiences can lend different meanings to objects, places, and events.

Co-creative dream theory proposes that it’s not the details that provide meaning so much as how you respond to what happens in the dream.

You probably feel it in your bones when a dream reveals a certain level of stress. If you’re being chased by a person or thing you recognize, you may instinctively know what it represents.

Sometimes, a particular detail of a dream just speaks to you within the context of your own life. But if it doesn’t, decoding the meaning of specific details may prove difficult.

Keep a pen and paper by your bedside and jot down your dreams as soon as you wake up. If you frequently dream about being chased, consider what this dream means in your life:

  • Do you feel that you’re being pursued?
  • Is there something you particularly fear?
  • Is there an upcoming event or person you’d rather avoid?
  • Are you struggling with a relationship or having internal conflict?
  • Is there something in your past that you fear is catching up with you?

Think about your surroundings in the dream, familiar people or objects, and what they mean to you personally. Reflect on how the dream made you feel and how those emotions relate to what’s going on in your life.

You can’t totally control your dreams, of course. But you may be able to uncover the source of stress-related dreams. Confronting this source may help you dream more peacefully.

Here are a few things you can do to ease into a less stressful sleep:

  • Don’t eat, exercise, or do anything strenuous or stressful in the hour before bed.
  • Wind down by engaging in calming activities before going to sleep.
  • Learn some deep breathing exercises and other relaxation techniques.
  • Keep stressors like work, clutter, and electronics out of the bedroom.
  • If you wake up feeling stressed out after a dream, leave the bedroom until you feel sleepy again.

If you frequently have stress-related dreams, it may be worth looking into the role of stress in your life. Prolonged stress affects health, both physically and mentally.

If you’re not sleeping well or are unable cope with anxiety on your own, see a doctor. Nightmares can sometimes be a symptom of a sleep disorder. A therapist may be able to help you sort through feelings brought on by persistent nightmares.

Dreams are creative, yet illogical, performances that our brains conjure up when we’re sleeping. We can dream at any time, but most dreams occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Sometimes you remember dreams quite vividly. If you wake up in the midst of a nightmare where you’re being chased, chances are it’ll stick with you. Sometimes, a dream escapes your grasp and you’re left with a feeling but no details of the dream.

Perhaps the strangest of all is the lucid dream, in which you’re aware that you’re dreaming. Even if you think you don’t dream, it’s probably just a case of not being able to recall them.

We all do it, but exactly why we dream remains somewhat of a mystery. It may be a way of sorting through problems, filing away memories, or even training your fight-or-flight response. It may actually serve multiple purposes.

Being chased is a common theme of dreams, particularly among children. Like other nightmares, these may be due to stress or anxiety.

Most people have dreams of this sort on occasion. Though they can be upsetting, there’s no cause for alarm. They tend to stop as you work your way through a stressful period.

But if you often have nightmares, it’s time to evaluate the stressors in your life. Once you identify them, you can start dealing with them. That may allow you to put an end to the chase and get a more restful night’s sleep.

See a doctor if you don’t sleep well or if you’re feeling the effects of prolonged stress.