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Dreams or Nightmares?

Whilst living our dreams is something I endorse wholeheartedly in terms of using our imagination and visioning what we want from life, nightmares are a totally different ball game. As a serious issue, unfortunately for some of us, nightmares could be the only dreams we remember.

Nightmares are laden with varying degrees of anxiety, from mild worry to blind panic, and it is usually the feeling they evoke rather than the dream itself that may cause the greatest upset.

Young children tend to have nightmares as they struggle to learn about dealing with their usual childhood fears and insecurities, and it’s quite normal for most children to experience nightmares anywhere between the ages of three and eight.

For us as grown-ups, eating rich food before going to bed has always been something to avoid, given this invariably leads to indigestion and disturbs the quality of our sleep. Heavy drinkers, who decide to give up alcohol, may also suffer frightening dreams for a while after going cold turkey, and certain drugs, such a beta blockers, can increase the frequency of bad dreams.

The strongest trigger, however, is psychological. If we are worried, concerned or miserable about something during the day, then these feelings may prey on our mind at night and could be reflected in some common dream scenarios, which are not so much dramatic as mildly disturbing, e.g. taking a test, finding your loved one with another, being inappropriately dressed or ignored at a party, running but not moving, being chased, feeling paralysed or unable to escape, all of which have their true meaning only properly accessible through the dreamer’s own interpretation.

Dealing with client issues, however, I’ve seen that it tends to be over-medication, illness or suffering a traumatic event that are the main causes of what we call a true nightmare, and whilst these may feel totally debilitating at times for people, there is a way to resolve them.

It’s very important to encourage our little ones to talk about their nightmares, especially if they are recurring ones. For us, as adults, our dreams and especially our nightmares, offer us an opportunity to understand what is going on for us in our waking lives.

Reducing stress factors in your life makes sense if this lies at the root of your troubling dreams. Easier said than done, of course, but practising simple relaxation techniques before going to sleep will certainly help. The best way to cope with bad dream fears, however, is to confront them. One of the ways to do this is to think through your nightmare when you’re awake and to rehearse it, step by step. When it comes to the scary part (i.e. the monster appears or the attack starts to loom), instead of running away, turn around and face it. As a therapist, I would go even further and encourage my clients to not only stay put, but to lash out and fight back, either verbally or physically. The idea is that if you rehearse the confrontation in your waking life (as with any form of mental rehearsal, you are preparing for a successful outcome), you prompt your memory to do the same when it happens in your dream.

Some people go through their dream lives relatively unscathed, having few, if any, nightmares at all, however difficult their lives may be. So, why is it that some of us suffer from them more than others? Studies have shown there are links between personality types/sensitivity to tension in our lives, and the dreams that we have, e.g. ambitious high achievers tend to have more fantastic, dramatic dreams and people more prone to feelings of guilt tend to see more punishing images etc.

There are many ways to tackle the demons in our nightmares and dispose of night terrors altogether, by using our imagination to help embrace the teachings from our dreams and so learn to live more meaningful and enjoyable lives.

If you want to discuss how to do this in a safe way, in a totally confidential environment, please contact us at www.inspirationalwinners.com

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