Anxiety nightmares are a very real thing. Interestingly, despite the common and severe worries that those with anxiety suffer from every day, not everyone with anxiety is going to develop nightmares. Some actually have very restful sleeps, only to wake up and start experiencing anxiety-related stress
But nightmares are still fairly common, since anxiety often badly affects the mind. The good news is that there are strategies that can stop nightmares and improve more restful sleep. We'll discuss those tips in this article.
Nightmares = Anxiety?
Unfortunately, the only surefire way to stop your anxiety nightmares is to stop your anxiety forever. Make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test now to learn more about what you can do to permanently stop anxiety.
Types of Anxiety and Nightmares
Nightmares are complex, because they're not only caused by anxiety - they can also cause anxiety. Those that have nightmares often may find themselves losing sleep and experiencing stress and anxiety throughout the day. You should strongly consider taking my free anxiety test now to learn more about your anxiety causes.
It's important to understand what dreams are and why your anxiety may cause nightmares. Contrary to popular belief, most dreams do not have meaning. They "can" have meaning, but dreaming isn't designed to tell you something about yourself. It's your brain trying to create memories and mental connections, and your mind turning those thoughts into stories so that they make sense to you.
So it's no wonder that so many people with anxiety have nightmares - they suffer from so many fearful thoughts that their brain can only turn those thoughts into some type of fearful story. It's also no surprise that some people with anxiety never get nightmares, because not all memories are going to be translated into some type of frightening storyline.
It's also important to remember that some people may have their anxiety caused by things that create nightmares. For example, childhood abuse can lead to both nightmares and anxiety, but one is not causing the other. It's possible to experience both nightmares and anxiety for related reasons, despite no causal relationship between them.
Seeing Your Dreams How They Were Meant to Be Seen
Regardless, the first thing you need to do is remember that your dreams do not necessarily have any meaning. There's no reason to try to interpret your dreams unless asked to by a psychologist. Trying to figure out why you had a specific dream is only going to cause you distress in the long run.
Make sure you understand this mindset, because a surprising number of people with anxiety have a tendency to make decisions based on their dreams. That's not to say that you cannot - indeed, some of the world's most amazing ideas for inventions came from dreams - but you need to be able to recognize that even if you learn something about yourself from the dream, it's not your subconscious mind trying to ensure you learn more.
How to Stop Nightmares
Stopping your nightmares can be a bit tough, because again your nightmares may not be directly anxiety related. But there are some strategies you can try that often have an effect on how you dream. Consider the following tips:
- Write Out Your Thoughts Before Bed Sometimes a recurring negative thought can become a nightmare if it's left unchecked. Luckily, your mind has a tendency to forget things if you write them down, because it knows they're on paper somewhere permanently. So when you have nervous thoughts before bed, make sure that you write them out in some type of journal so they're gone from your head when you sleep.
- Fill Time With Happy Things What you do during the day can also have an effect on nightmares. When you have severe anxiety it can be hard to be happy. But do whatever you can to fill your day time with activities that are more likely to create happy memories. For example, stop watching dramas, reality shows, and horror movies, and try your best to watch comedies and cartoons instead. Switching activities in this way will ensure that your days are spent with more positive thoughts, which in turn should become more positive dreams.
- Create Upbeat White Noise If you can fall asleep with a bit of noise, consider adding some type of upbeat sounds in your bedroom. Some people choose upbeat music, but another choice may be a humor podcast or something with happy and laughing voices that you keep on a very low volume while you try to sleep. Sometimes the quiet of night can create an environment that may be a bit more prone to negative nighttime emotions, and so upbeat noises in the background may help.
- Exercise Exercise has a powerful effect on sleep. If you exercise enough during the day you'll sleep easier and your mind will release neurotransmitters that can have a very beneficial effect on your mood. Exercising can make a big difference in your ability to create memories as well, and possibly improve the way your mind translates those stories.
- Have a Relaxation Strategy When you have a nightmare, it's often hard to fall back asleep. If you find that you rarely sleep after waking up from a nightmare, come up with a game plan that you can initiate the moment you wake up that helps you become more relaxed. For example, some people find that leaving the bedroom and walking into someplace comfortable like the living room helps. Others give themselves a bit of TV to help take their mind off the nightmare. Some even find that lovemaking with their partner can make a big difference. There are plenty of strategies you can try that will improve your mood more quickly and possibly help you fall asleep as well.
These are all potential ways to cut back on your nightmares, and possibly improve your ability to sleep. But in the end, the best thing you can do is try to cure your anxiety. Take my free 7 minute anxiety test to find out more about how to treat anxiety and what your anxiety says about you.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.