How to break free from the grip of terrifying nightmares
MOST people experience nightmares from time to time.
Whilst they can be very unpleasant, having the occasional nightmare isn’t usually cause for concern.
However, frequent or recurring nightmares can interfere with sleep, contribute to anxiety and stress and have a detrimental effect on wellbeing. If you want to reduce unwanted nightmares, try the following steps.
■ Practise relaxation – before you start working a nightmare it’s important to do something to relax as much as possible.
Try paced breathing (for example breathing in for a count of five and out for a count of seven), listening to relaxing music or doing a guided imagery exercise.
You can download free relaxation resources from moodcafe.co.uk.
■ Choose a nightmare to work on. Pick a nightmare that you feel able to manage now. If you have more than one nightmare, pick the least distressing to work on first.
Gradually build up to working on very distressing nightmares. If your nightmare relates to a trauma you have experienced, skip the next step to reduce the possibility of reliving the trauma.
■ Write down a description of your nightmare. Include as much detail as possible including what you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste in the nightmare.
Describe the environment, the situations that occur and any other people that appear. Include the thoughts and feelings you experience in the nightmare.
■ Pick an alternative outcome for the nightmare. The changes should start prior to anything bad happening in the nightmare.
You are aiming to make a change in the story that prevents the distressing or traumatic outcome that usually happens in the nightmare.
Be creative here. For example, you could use magical thinking like having superhuman powers to There are techniques to change the narrative of your bad dreams escape danger.
Come up with an ending that will leave you feeling peaceful when you wake up.
Now write down the full nightmare from start to finish incorporating the changes you have made.
■ Rehearse and relax. Read through your script until you are familiar with the changed dream.
Each night visualise the changed dream from start to finish.
Practise relaxation (see step 1) before going to bed.
Practise rehearsing your dream and relaxation during the day where possible too.
Dr Ellie Milby is a counselling psychologist