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How To Stop Nightmares: A Method From My Therapist

A girl stands in the dark with the stars, night sky and moon behind her as a method for how to stop nightmares
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I expected to be asked about my sleep when I went to therapy, a person’s ability to rest is a good indicator of the state of their mental health, but I didn’t expect to be asked about my dreams. I get a lot of bad dreams and they tend to come in waves, with stormier seas when I’m in the midst of a difficult time. When I spoke to my therapist about this, she explained that bad dreams can often be our mind trying to simulate situations that our subconscious doesn’t trust us in, which is usually the situations we dread the most too. Your mind puts you through this symbolic trial again and again hoping you’ll figure out how to deal with it in case you need to in real life. Which to me, was a lovely, almost positive spin to put on bad dreams. They’re a challenge to make us stronger. Here’s how you win.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live” – Albus Dumbledore

Your mission, should you choose to accept it

I’m going to try and explain this as simply and concisely as I can – here goes. To beat said trials, you need to have both practice and confidence. You need to convince your mind that you’re capable and that you can handle the situation. In order to do that, you need to know more about how you handle situations and come up with a game plan.

Suggested for you: How to Be More Confident: Learning to Love Who You Are

Before you go to sleep

As you’re laying in bed before sleep, run through your most recent bad dream or highlight the key recurring themes. As you go through it, decide how you would deal with each obstacle and how, in an ideal world, you’d want the dream to go. You need to confront the villain of the dream and make sure you end it in a happy place, doing something that makes you happy.

For example, if you frequently have a bad dream where you’re chased through the woods, you might want to confront whoever’s chasing you and tell them to leave you alone. You might want to start chasing them instead. You might want to reason with them and ask them why they’re chasing you in the first place. Then, when you’ve confronted them, in whatever fashion you like, you need to finish your dream somewhere happy: my happy place has always been in my bedroom, playing with my dog.

Note that this works best when you’re in a phase of having bad dreams, I don’t recommend you do this every night for the rest of your life – the focus on bad dreams and their plots may actually encourage bad dreams to manifest.

After you wake up

If you find yourself waking up from a bad dream, you can repeat the above process, for the exact dream you just had. If you wake up feeling shaky, take a few moments to regain your composure, find some peace and then run back through it. It may help to do this on paper, sometimes the act of writing something with your hand can help cement it in your mind. Once you get practised at taking control of the plot, you’ll start to find some solace in finding your power and rewriting your dream with you in a position of power.

Rule #1: You have everything you need

This rule is something you should keep in mind whilst rewriting your dreams – we’re working to build confidence and capability, so you need the belief that whatever you need, you already have. Plus, we’re playing by dream world’s rules too, so it’s not unfathomable that you have a XX in your pocket.

This also stands for your own skillset. Be it the words you need to articulate yourself, the emotional ability to stand up to someone or to forgive someone, or physical ability, you already have it. As I said, we’re playing by dream-world’s rules.

Rule #2: You must always confront the problem

Imagine the villains in your dream like a bear. Intimidating and difficult to confront, but something you should never turn your back on. Remember, the objective here is to build faith in yourself, running away is an admittance of defeat. I’m not saying this should translate into real life, but in a dream, where there are no real threats, you are in control and you’re always safe. Show those villains who’s boss.

If you’re really struggling to confront something or can’t imagine how you would, use the Boggart method (hello, my fellow Potterheads). Come up with a ridiculous method of dealing with it. Make your attacker trip over their Victorian dress, turn your angry teacher into a Chihuahua – sure, it’s not conventional, but it’s your dream, you own it.

The result

Eventually, your dreams will start to follow your plots, rather than their own. As you repeat the storyline in your head, you’re cementing the habit of being powerful, of being in control and taking hold of situations to ensure you win. This isn’t realistic for real life, but it will give your mind trust in your capability in the real world and the dream one.

I can’t promise this will free you from bad dreams, but with some practice, it can help soothe recurrent dreams and themes, as well as your waking mind.


Sweet dreams. Love, Ella-Rose xx

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