As if you aren't frazzled enough during the day, now you must deal with being chased by a tornado or haunted by a stalker while you're sleeping! Nearly one in three women has frequent anxiety dreams, according to a poll. Thankfully, you can use your reveries to your advantage. "Considering what the dream's metaphors represent to you can enhance your understanding of yourself, and clarify your feelings about a certain experience," says Milton Kramer, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Suss out what could be bothering you and you'll have more peaceful nights (and days!) in no time.

Theme: unpreparedness

The dream "I'm back in high school and don't know which classes I'm supposed to go to, so I end up missing one—usually Mr. Westerman's world religions class. I become terrified about not knowing when the tests are, then finals come around and I wake up completely freaked out!" —Lori Huffman, 31, Houston

Variations You're rushing to catch a flight but haven't packed or can't find your ticket. A new mother may dream she can't find her baby.

What it means Dreaming about something you've already accomplished (i.e., graduating from high school) can mean you're scared to make mistakes in an area where you usually succeed. "Perfectionist people tend to have these sorts of dreams," says Kramer. One explanation is that you may be tying your self-worth too tightly to how you perform at work. If you usually spend hours fretting over an upcoming event or presentation, give yourself a set time to prepare and then force yourself to put it out of your head. "The outcome doesn't change by agonizing over it," assures Arthur Nezu, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Theme: powerlessness

The dream "I'm walking in a dark alley, and I see a man in silhouette coming toward me—I know I'm about to be in a bad situation or robbed. As his hands reach out and get close to me, I try to scream, but nothing comes out." —Sarah Calderon, 34, New York City

Variation You're trying to run from something, but you can't move.

What it means"You may be facing a difficult decision," says Dr. Kramer. Express your concerns to trusted confidants so they're not bottled up, and try writing down the pros and cons of, say, changing careers.

Theme: natural disaster

The dream "I'm in a house in a rural neighborhood, I look out the window and see tornadoes forming and coming right at me. One will start tearing apart the house and I run to escape, but it follows me everywhere I go. If it disappears, another drops from the sky and chases me. I'm petrified, because all I can do is run." —Kathryn Berthume, 22, Los Angeles

Variations You're trying to escape a flood, or a tidal wave is about to overtake you, and you must save others.

What it means You're most likely feeling overwhelmed by an endless to-do list, mounting responsibilities or a constant stream of bad news. If you're trying to save others, it may be because feel responsible for their misfortune in some way, or feel the need to fix problems that aren't really yours, Kramer says. Until cloning is an option, prioritize: Before bed, make a to-do list and pick one thing you're going to focus on the next day; the rest will have to wait. Nezu also advises spending 15 minutes with your list coming up with alternate ways of crossing off the tasks. Can you send out the laundry and order a gift online instead of hitting the mall? By delegating and making small compromises, you'll be able to focus on the task at hand rather than what's waiting in the wings.