When you were a child, having a nightmare was an excuse to snuggle up with your parents, get a warm glass of milk and let the adults battle the monsters. But as an adult, it can feel like you are waging the war to get a good night’s sleep all on your own. And though the monsters are safely tucked away in a closet many years away, the pressure of deadlines, shifting relationships and even mortality can drive our sophisticated over-stimulated brains into breeding grounds for repetitive images that tear holes in our rest and rob us of peace of mind when we need it most.
Even more baffling is that our minds regurgitate images and sensations from a lifetime of experiences. So the ex you were oh-so-over is suddenly back in your face with accusations and the voice of Vincent Price. Your childhood teacher is asking you for your missing homework. And of course, you’ve arrived to the big work conference with everything you need – except your clothes!
If you can sleep through the car alarm down the street and the recycling trucks, but your own dreams wake you up in a cold sweat, here are some guidelines to leave the nightmares behind and sleep in a land where only good dreams come true.
Accept that your nightmares contain emotional truth. No, you have not, yet, shown up to work without your clothes. But, do you feel safe at your workplace? Do you have allies that would defend you if you made a mistake or is it every person for himself? Remember, you are everyone in your dream. You are the scolding boss, you are your naked self, you are the co-workers whispering to each other. These are all representative of what you feel about yourself and how you think other people view you. Bare in mind, this is all about your perception in life. It is not the truth.
Know that your perception is limited. How you view any situation is often an exaggerated distortion of childhood experiences. Did you feel prepared when you went to school? Did you feel scolded by adults? Childhood experiences – particularly vividly negative ones – can cloud our vision to what is happening in the present. And though you may be able to keep the old stuff at bay while you are fully clothed in your workplace, at night old thoughts and feelings creep out of their hiding places. But in the present, in the here and now, you are not a child getting through the school day. You are an adult with the facilities to take care of yourself and provide all that you need for success.
Did you know you can switch your nightmares into dreams? When you are lying in bed, keep a journal close by and write down all the things you did right today. Everything counts – driving to work safely, eating balanced meals, being kind to a stranger. See how well you are doing and literally rest in peace knowing that in the present, real world, you are well-prepared and doing lots of things right in your life. Then do a gratitude list for all the things you have in your life right down to the sheets you are sleeping in. By pausing to recognize all the abundance you have, you open yourself and go to sleep knowing you are on the right track in your life. Finally, think of a beautiful place you would like to visit and leave this image in your mind as you drift into the land of dreams.
Try using your physiology to your advantage. Yes, the nightmares are “all in your head” but the rest of your body really wants to sleep. And your entire self, heart, head, limbs, even your eyebrows need to rest. So, if you wake up in the middle of the night use your body to your advantage. Take the pillows and put them where your feet are and sleep in the bed in the reverse position that you usually do. Put the comforter on the floor or camp out in the living room. Changing your physical location can kick your mind out of a repetitive pattern of disturbing images and into a new place of rest. Your mind and body are not separate – use one to heal the other.
Finally, remember that your nightmares are really only survival dreams. You survive every time you wake up. Your mind wants to explore what would happen if different fearful circumstances were to befall you. And each time you wake up, you have survived something within you that is afraid. You are victorious. Soon, your mind will relax knowing that you can handle whatever comes your way.
Dreams are a gift, so if you don’t like the ones you are having, change them to be all that you want them to be.
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