Relax! Is it time to take a mental break?
By now it should be starting to become apparent that we can’t work on dreams without working on our self, and vice versa. Our dreams are a product of our mind, and all that we think and feel, and consequently say and do, comes from what is going on in our minds.
As a result, the common stress and anxiety that we feel day to day can have far reaching implications. If we think of our dreams when we are happy and healthy as like clear, vivid, full colour, high definition film or TV, then dreams when we are stressed or anxious are like trying to watch TV when the aerial has gone, or when static interrupts the channels. It as if we can see something is going on, sometimes we can make a vague picture, or understand the odd word, but we can’t grasp enough of what is going to make sense of it all. Anxiety is like static in our brain.
Often we suffer from a consistent but “low-level” anxiety. This means we are not majorly stressed by worrying about a particular big bad thing (such as the stress of a partner or loved on passing away, moving house, divorce, changing jobs, adding or losing new members to the household and so on), but more that we have a constant sense of worry, of things being not quite right, even though we aren’t sure exactly why. With low level anxiety like this we may have confusing or stressful dreams that try to work through our concerns, or we may experience the exact opposite. Sometimes when we are so distracted with stressful thoughts through-out the day, the dreaming mind likes to take a bit of a holiday when we are asleep, and use the excuse to forget about all our hassles and concerns and let our imagination loose on something fun and light and happy and above all – stress free. This can be a great release for us, a way to cope with pressures that otherwise might feel too much to bear.
The trouble is, we are so used to thinking these stressful thoughts that when we wake, the first thing that pops into our head are all the things we have do that day, all the things we didn’t finish yesterday, all the things we have to worry about tomorrow. And any memory we might have had of a happy, stress-free dream vanishes like snow under a blow torch.
Now, if we can learn to remember our happy dreams, we can carry that feeling into our waking lives and feel less anxious. If we can learn to remember our problem solving dreams, we can apply those solutions in our waking life and feel less anxious. And when we fell less anxious, we are more likely to remember our dreams, because we won’t be worrying the first thing when we wake up, right? So this is what we refer to as positive reinforcement.
The trick is to break the negative loop that makes us feel anxious and forget our dreams. We can do this by a few different approaches. Try different ones and see what works best for you, it may mean focusing on one thing or a combination of methods.
- Identify the cause. I am personally a great believer in trying to identify the cause of my anxiety. It is usually something I have put off doing that I know I really should, or something I don’t want to think about. I find, by simply doing the task at last, or facing up to the thing I have been avoiding, is often enough to make my anxiety vanish.
- Make a list of what you can control and what you can’t. Tell yourself there is really no point worrying about the things you can’t change, but then put steps beside the things you can and give yourself a nice, unstressed time period to do these things in. If you feel powerless but anxious about global warming, chose some activities that make a real difference in your life, such as taking up recycling, catching public transport, or even joining an action group; if it is economic concerns, try drawing up a personal budget, making an appointment with a financial planner or setting out a plan to get rid of your credit card debt. What ever it is, recognise that you can take control over your own situation. As you gain a a sense of personal power, low level anxiety often diminishes or goes away completely.
We can use our awareness to reduce the static that anxiety causes in our minds
- Practice self awareness. Anxiety is often a gnawing feeling at the back of our mind, and even though we feel uncomfortable, we don’t admit it to ourselves. If we start to recognise that we are in fact stressed, we can start to do something about it. If we practice paying attention to what the first thoughts are that come into our minds when we wake in the morning, this is often a good clue. We should all most of the time wake thinking “mmm, what a lovely sleep, what fascinating, beautiful dreams, oh I am so lucky to be alive! What a wonderful day I have ahead!” (Wouldn’t it be nice?) On the other hand, if we wake thinking “Got to get up, got that meeting today and didn’t finish the presentation yesterday so best get in early, and didn’t do my ironing last night but need to wear my good shirt for the presentation, and think it’s rubbish day today, and when is the credit card payment due?…” You get the picture. As we start to notice what we think, we can start to change it if we don’t like it. We can take back control of our run-away thoughts.
- Practice physical and mental relaxation. We all have our own ways. For some it is meditation or yoga, for others it is golf or running, or sewing, gardening, fishing or making model planes. Whatever it is that makes you relax, take time out, and focus the channel of your mind so you get rid of that static, it is a good idea to make time for that in your life. It really can make a difference.
- Remember to breathe. I know it sounds crazy because we all breathe to stay alive, sure. But whenever you feel anxious when you are awke, when you first wake from sleeping, just stop the run-away mind for a moment and breathe. Do it consciously, deliberately – think about it. Beathe in and out deeply. Do this at least three times and chances are you will better than you could have expected for such a seemingly simple thing. Breathe…….breathe………………breathe………………………………..
So it may seem strange to some to say that fishing or paying off the credit card will help you remember your dreams better, but the fact is, the more we can free our minds to do what they are meant to do, which is help us, teach us, heal and inspire us, the better our minds will be able to serve us. Our dreaming lives and waking lives are not as separate as we may think. A few small changes in one area can result in great rewards in another. And the beauty is, that once we start making positive changes, the reinforcing loop will help keep us going for the better.