If you wake up from a bad dream:
- Sit up and catch your breath. Get up, go to the bathroom, have a drink of water. If you're afraid of going back into the dream, change your nightgown or whatever you're wearing. If you sleep alone, jot down some points of the dream, or, if you're wide awake, write it all down. This will drain much of the tension out of your body, break the mental set of the dream, and ensure you have it captured for later review.
- Avoid labeling yourself or the dream. It's difficult to understand what we hate and fear, and even if it's only a dream, you're tendency to recoil and label it may impair your clear perception about its message. Just say: "that was a wild one" and resolve to think about it when you have time.
- As you drift to sleep, ask your dreaming mind to help you out by giving you insights in a less frightening form.
As you make a plan to understand your nightmares in general, here are some points to consider:
If you want to learn a reliable method to explore the meaning of dreams, I recommend my first book: Dreaming Insights: A Five Step Plan to Discover the Meaning in Your Dream. If you want to go directly to understanding more about contemporary symbolism in dream themes, pick up a copy of my latest book: The Complete Dream Book. It also discusses how to know an interpretation is accurate for you, and explores sensible, wholesome responses to dream analysis that create balance without disrupting lifestyles.
- Stop being afraid of examining or understanding your bad dreams. What you discover will improve your balance, resilience, and ability to enjoy your life.
- Give up the concern that understanding a dream will force you to make radical decisions about your life and will ruin everything. Dreams tend to point out ways that our strategies are a miss-match with current challenges, or old worries. A wise response to dream insights is usually only a minor adjustment in the way you approach goals and challenges; this is a situation where a minor change creates large rewards.
- Don't assume there is something "wrong" with you causing nightmares. Often sensitive people, empathic people, and those with excellent imaginations are prone to distressing dreams. You may be an artistic soul, not a troubled one.
- Don't neglect your other dreams for insights about the nightmare themes. If something is creating tension in your life, it will be reflected in other dreams as well. If you have a mundane dream about the office on the same nights you dream of prison camps, you have a clue as to the source of your tension already.
- Keep track of the frequency and duration of the nightmare patterns. The sudden onset of troubling dreams often coincides with a stressor that you wouldn't consider as causal, unless you notice the coincidence of the timing. Remember, the real-life catalyst is going to be less dramatic than the dreams, and it may well be a situation you have decided to tolerate, or not worry about, so it's not on your list of possible contributing factors.
- Nightmares often underscore a perspective that is different from your logical, practical and "necessity-based" orientation. If you get too busy to stick with your fitness and health resolutions and stay glued to your desk working overtime, you may have recurring dreams of being wheel-chair bound. This is an exaggeration of the lack of physical mobility you're experiencing, but it comes from a side of your personality that was really enjoying the exercise class, and was hoping for continued vitality. So don't dismiss a dream because your overall perspective prioritizes things somewhat differently. Consider whether a side of you could be "dying" to have more freedom, affection, exercise, or autonomy. Nightmares often beg us to "play fair" with all the facets of our being, and use horrific images to make an impact and argue their case.
- Certain anxiety dreams are classic for new conditions in our lives. Newlyweds have dreams of spousal infidelity the first year, new moms dream of leaving the baby at McDonalds, new professionals dream of catastrophic moments on the job. These dreams aren't usually signs of incompetence, or predictions. Instead, they highlight the way unrealistic expectations dovetail with realistic challenges to create anxiety soup. Extend your timeline, and give yourself a year or two to adjust and settle in.
- National concerns blend with personal stressors in nightmares. During the year of the Simpson trial, Americans dreamed of jealous spouses, and men with knives combined with individual personal images. This year, we're dreaming of planes and bombs, men with guns, all jumbled with images of our families and homes. Treat these dreams with respect as you would all dreams, and know it's natural to blend collective anxiety with personal concerns.
- As you go to sleep, ask for dreams that are helpful and informative, but not scary. To make this work, you must be willing to listen to your dreams by trying to recall and reflect upon them to the extent it is practical for you. You are in effect saying: "Okay, you have my attention and respect. Now could you just tell me the same thing in a way that doesn't scare the daylights out of me?" As simple as this sounds, if you stick with it, you'll see some dramatic changes in the tone and content of your dreams.
Refuse to be intimidated by alarming dreams, and be willing to learn from them. If you approach these "horror movies" from a position of honesty and strength, you're almost certain to crack the code, obtain their gifts, and lessen their intensity in your life.