Nightmares aren’t just for children

Recognize that you are having these dreams because of stress...

In the past few weeks I’ve been having nightmares. They vary, but on the whole they are about being chased. I can’t get away from whatever is chasing me. Once my partner chasing me with a gun. Other times it’s a monster.

I remember having these kinds of nightmares when I was a kid, but haven’t had one in years.

What do these nightmares mean? Why am I having them? What can I do to make them stop?

I’m really busy at work these days and need my sleep. It takes me a lot of time and bad TV in the middle of the night to get back to sleep after I’ve woken up scared with my heart pounding.

There is nothing nice about waking up with your heart pounding in the middle of the night. Let’s look at your questions one by one. What do these nightmares mean?

Sometimes we can wake up and know exactly what a dream means to us. Yeah!

When that doesn’t happen, there are many theories about what dreams (nightmares) mean. I’ll mention just a couple.

One theory is that things in dreams are symbols of other things.

If we used that theory, it is possible to look up things in a book of dream symbolism, read about what that something is supposed to mean, and decipher the dream.

Sometimes what a person reads makes sense. Often it does not. So it can be interesting, but not usually helpful.

Another theory is that the brain takes things from our everyday life and puts them together. Not in a very sensible way.

Using that theory, a dream is your brain processing things that occur, you think or read about, or are exposed to. Your partner, work pressure, maybe something you watched on TV in the middle of the night, and only you know what else, has been combined to produce a nightmare.

Why am I having them?

The answer to this question is actually quite simple.

Adults have nightmares when something is bothering them, they feel worried, and/or they feel under pressure. In short, nightmares, particularly chase nightmares, are a result of feeling stressed.

You mention that you are really busy at work. Are there other things that are also stressful?

What can I do to make them stop?

To make nightmares stop in the middle of the night, wake yourself up as soon as you are aware that you are in a nightmare. Seriously.

This does take some practice. Before you go to bed, tell yourself that you want to wake yourself up if you are having a bad dream, and sleep soundly if your dreams are pleasant.

You’ll notice you’re on the right track when you can wake yourself earlier than usual in the nightmare.

Once awake, remind yourself that it was just a dream. Take a couple of deep breaths. Flex your hands and feet.

As soon as you are able, go to the bathroom. Have a drink of water.

Now finish the dream, in your mind, in a way that works out well for you. Use your imagination. It is a dream, after all.

Recognize that you are having these dreams because of stress. Nightmares can be a pretty clear message that it is time to do something about whatever is bothering you, or to get active with some stress-reducing techniques.

Breathing techniques, biofeedback, self talk, yoga — the list is long.

Look online, get a book, or consult a registered clinical counsellor for ways to reduce stress. Wishing you sweet dreams!

If you wish to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at info@pacifictherapy.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by registered clinical counsellors Nancy Bock, Diane Davies Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Sara Lynn Kang at pacific therapy & consulting inc. It appears every second Friday in the Record.

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