A while back, when I first started this blog, I mentioned I was working on an unusual project: I was learning how to forget my dreams.
A quick recap: I used to have a lot of stress dreams. They came in all shapes and sizes, from ones about losing teeth, to being sick, to horrible nightmares in which I couldn’t control anything.
Needless to say, these dreams were having a serious impact on me. I would wake up at points during the night, because they had rattled me awake. They left me feeling uneasy during the day, and I would dwell on them, trying to pick apart what they meant and why they had been so frightening. And finally, I found out from my dentist that I was grinding my teeth at night due anxiety, which was causing tooth pain, as well as making one of my fillings come loose. These dreams were leaving me in bad shape.
I tried to read up on how to “forget” dreams, but I didn’t find much material. Most books and web sites about dreams were more interested in interpreting them than helping you forgot about them. Anything I found about forgetting “bad dreams” were the same things your parents teach you when you’re a kid: remember dreams aren’t real, breath deep, try to relax before going to sleep. A couple new age sites suggested trying lucid dreaming, but that was too complicated and impossible for me.
Instead, I did exactly what I told myself I would do: forget. When I woke up after an anxiety dream, I simply tried not to think about it. I focused on other things, like tasks I had to do that day, or I indulged in a form of entertainment. If images from my dreams came back to me during the day, I would allow myself to focus on the image for a few seconds and then put it out of my mind. I simply forced myself not to think about them.
Easier said than done, right? Well, not really. I’m an anxious person, and I’m on medication for it, but I know what does and doesn’t set me off. When I first found out I was grinding my teeth at night, it was during an job search. I had just moved, and though I wasn’t doing much else, looking for a job was secretly eating away at me. I have since found a job, which is one stressor out of my life. I’m still looking for more employment, but knowing I have a little income really helps me rest at night. And now, I try to keep in mind what does and doesn’t bother me, so I know to avoid it, if I can. I’m not going indulge my stress, because now I know it comes out to haunt me at night!
I have also seen a few experts about it, including a physical therapist and a chiropractor. Being able to manipulate my body into feeling relaxed, even when I’m not in my head, makes my brain slow down and calm down. I’ve been doing various exercises to both relieve pain and reduce stress. I’ve found my body’s natural reaction to most things is to tense up, and the less tension my body holds onto, the less anxious I feel.
And has it worked? Definitely. I still have the occasional anxiety dream, but I’m not having them as often as I used to, which was usually every night! Instead, I tend to have more pleasant dreams, or at least more forgettable ones. If I do have an anxiety dream, it’s become more natural for me to just get up and get on with my life, instead of dwelling on hidden meanings and scary images. The meaning isn’t hidden, anyway: I’m stressed, and I need to relax.
These are just things I’ve done so far. I plan to continue looking into “forgetting dreams,” even if my research takes me in an entirely different direction, as it kind of already has. If anyone out there reading knows of any anxiety-less sleep resources, please feel free to let me know. :)