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- Hi, I'm Dr. Tracy Marks, a psychiatrist
and I make videos on mental health education
and self improvement.
Today I'm talking about how to handle nightmares.
Anyone can have nightmares for any reason,
but some things that can cause nightmares are anxiety,
depression, medications, pain
and even eating too soon before you go to bed.
Nightmares are common in people
who've had a traumatic experience
and in these cases, the nightmares tend to be recurring
with either the same series of events happening
each and every time or the same theme.
When people have recurring nightmares multiple times a week,
it can become so distressing
that it can make you not even wanna go to sleep.
If you've experienced trauma
and have distressing memories and nightmares,
it is best for you to see a therapist for trauma therapy.
Trauma is best managed with a specific therapy
to help your brain reprocess the experience.
Nevertheless, here's an exercise
that you can do on your own.
It's called exposure, relaxation and rescripting therapy.
It's a type of cognitive behavior therapy
and a technique that's used in dialectical behavior therapy.
Rescripting your nightmare is a way to retrain your brain
on how to handle the traumatic experience
that keeps revisiting you in your dreams.
Here's how it works.
First, you engage in a relaxing activity
like some form of meditation.
Progressive muscle relaxation is a good choice
because it relaxes your mind and your body.
You can find guided meditations on the internet,
but I have an audio download
of a guided progressive muscle relaxation.
You can get it from my website,
but just pick something that works for you
and this can be your relaxing activity that you go back to
after you practice your script.
The second step is to choose a recurring nightmare
that you wanna address.
And you're gonna give it a title and write it down.
Also on my website, I'll have a download of this worksheet
that you can use to write out your script.
It has prompts for you that I'm gonna talk about next.
If you don't have a nightmare that repeats itself exactly,
then think of one that has the same theme
like being trapped or being chased.
Next, you write out the script of the nightmare
as if you're gonna make it into a movie.
You wanna include as much detail as possible
so that if someone were reading it,
they'd be able to actually picture it in their minds.
So you wanna include things like where you were,
who else was there,
how did it start,
then what happens,
how does it end.
You also wanna include sensory descriptions like smells,
sounds and tastes.
Also write down any thoughts that you had during the dream
and these will be thoughts that you had inside the dream.
Were you afraid?
Were you angry or feeling sad?
Next, you identify the worst point in the dream.
Write down how you felt at that moment in the dream.
You also wanna write down how your body felt
when you woke up.
Did you wake up in a sweat with trouble breathing?
When you're thinking about the worst point of the dream,
it doesn't have to be a point at which
something physical happens like you were harmed in some way.
It could be a point in which you saw something
that made you feel powerless to control it.
So for this step, you really wanna think about the moment
and the worst emotion that you felt
and describe it in as much detail as you can
because this will help you for the next step,
which is to think about the worst moment and how you felt
and then think about how you would wanna feel instead.
For example, if you felt powerless,
would you have preferred to feel more in control
or to have had all of the answers at the time.
Let me give you an example of this
and this example is from my own life.
When I was in high school, I had several people die
within just a few months of each other.
The first one was my dog
and anyone who is a dog owner knows that that's a big deal.
And then the last one was my grandmother.
So leading up to her death,
I was already kind of vulnerable
from all of those other deaths and then this happened.
But my grandmother got sick
and stayed with us for a few months to have surgery.
And I was a teenager at the time
and so I just thought it was nice that she was there,
but I didn't really make a big deal out of it
or spend any more time with her.
In fact, she was staying in my room,
which I had mixed feelings about.
So I just kept doing my regular thing.
She eventually left and went back to her own house,
but soon after she got home she died.
And I was shocked because I thought she left
because she was getting better.
I found out later that she had a terminal illness
and all the adults knew that she left our house
so that she could go and die in her own home.
But my brother and I thought
that she went home because she was better.
For years, I would have this dream
that me and my family were in the hospital
while she was in surgery
and the doctors came out to tell us
that she died on the operating table.
But when they went back into the room,
she had been resuscitated.
But before the doctor could come back out to tell us this,
she stopped them and told them
to just let us continue to think she was dead
since we had already been told that.
Years later, we found her living a whole new life in Hawaii.
In the dream, I found her in Hawaii and confronted her
on how she could spend all those years in Hawaii
when she could have been spending them with us.
And I was angry that she didn't tell us
that she had really been alive all these years.
In the dream, she apologized
and that changed my emotion from anger to excitement
that I now had her back.
And that's how it went each and every time in the dream
and I would wake up from that dream very upset
over the fact that it was only a dream and it wasn't real.
And the whole rest of my day would be wrecked
with me thinking about my grandmother
and how much I missed her.
So let's look at why I kept having that dream
and why it was so upsetting the whole next day for me.
The worst point in the dream
was not when the surgeon told us
that she died on the operating table,
it was when I realized that she had been alive for years
and didn't tell me.
And in the dream, I had a lot of regret
about all the things that I could have been doing with her
if I had only known that she was alive.
So the emotions I had when I woke up would be about
how I didn't know she had a terminal illness.
So when she stayed with us,
I didn't make the most of the time that I had with her
because I thought she'd always be around.
So for this exercise, my worst emotion was regret.
I would have preferred to feel acceptance of the situation,
meaning that in the dream,
I would have liked not to feel angry
that she was still alive
because that anger was connected to my own baggage
about how I didn't appreciate her while she was alive.
If I had known while she was living with us
that she only had a few months to live,
I would have interacted with her differently.
But in reality, I shouldn't need to know that.
I could make every moment with people count
as if it's gonna be the last one.
And if I always have that mindset,
I don't have to have regret when my time is up.
So for this exercise,
I would change the emotion to acceptance.
I would wanna see her in Hawaii
and be okay that I missed out on the many years of her life
and take that extra time that I was now given
and make the most of it.
And that actually would parallel what I felt in real life
that I was still grappling with,
which was the regret of not making the most of the time
that I had with her when she was staying with us.
Now for step six,
you rewrite your script that you made in step three.
But just before you get to the worst moment,
you're gonna change the story
so that you end up feeling the way you said
that you wanted to feel in step five.
Keep in mind, dreams are strange
and anything can happen in dreams.
So you don't have to be limited to realistic scenarios
when you rewrite your script.
And that could mean
that the people who have no connection to you whatsoever
can be part of your dream
to help you reach your desired outcome.
So back to my dream and how I would rewrite things
so that I can get to this feeling of acceptance.
Remember I said the worst part of the story
was not being told that she died.
So I would leave that part intact.
The worst part was seeing her in Hawaii.
Now, a detail I left out of the backstory
is that in real life,
my brother and I were in so much denial about her dying
that we didn't go to the funeral.
And at the time, it made sense,
but it didn't help me get closure on this.
So I would rescript the dream to be that she actually died
and I went to the funeral.
And at the funeral,
I had a piece about my relationship with her
and did not have any regrets
about the time that I spent with her.
I would see myself sitting in the church pew
reflecting on how she babysat me for years
and taught me how to crochet
and all the things that I did with her.
And inside of the dream,
I would think about how she had a good life
and how appreciative I was to have the time that I had
to spend with her.
And there are other ways that I could reconstruct the dream,
there's not just one way that you could address this.
For the last step, you wanna take your script
and read it out loud several times to get it into your head.
You'll probably need to read it multiple times
throughout the day.
You really want your brain to learn this.
It's like you're brainwashing yourself
to make yourself believe that this is the way it happened.
You could even record yourself reading the script
and listen to it.
Make sure it's detailed enough
that you could picture it in your mind
as if you were going to make it into a movie.
This process of creating a visual in your mind
helps turn this into a new memory.
It's a fake memory, but a memory nonetheless.
And it's this new memory that can be pulled into your mind
when you're dreaming.
And the last thing that you wanna do
is practice the script just before bed.
Then after you read through the script,
return to your relaxing activity that you did in step one.
Dreams are complicated
and this may not work the first time.
But keep practicing your new script
so that it feels like it's a real experience.
If you continue to have the same dream unchanged,
try tweaking your new script.
Maybe there's a different part of the dream
that's really your worst moment that you should change.
Maybe you could write a different ending
and see if that one works better for you.
I hope this is helpful for you.
Thanks for watching, see you next time.