Strategies for Coping with Nightmares

Unfortunately, nightmares are part of PTSD for many people. They aren’t easy to get rid of. However, if you get nightmares, here is a list of things that you can do to try to make them a little easier on yourself:

– Did I mention that relaxation is really good for you? I did actually; so many times that you might be getting tired of hearing it. I even posted a relaxation exercise here. Some people felt triggered by that one (and I thank them for telling me), so I posted a different one here. I keep talking about relaxation because it’s good for you. Try to do some every night before you go to bed. It will make you less tense, and if you’re less tense you’re less likely to have nightmares.

– Anniversaries of your trauma events are likely to be particularly difficult. But, any days when you’ve been triggered, upset, stressed, or even excited (in a happy way), you’re more likely to have nightmares. Knowing this, you can work to compensate: on days like that, try to do more to relax before going to bed than you normally would. Then, as you lie in bed, take some time to look around the room, and remind yourself that you’re home, and that you’re not in danger. Putting this thought in your head right before you fall asleep will make it easier to bring yourself back into the here-and-now if you do wake up with a nightmare.

There’s a couple of things you can do to set up your bedroom to make it easier to cope with nightmares:

– Keep the room dark enough to sleep, but leave a small nightlight on to make it easier and quicker to orient yourself if you wake up from a nightmare.

– Keep the space uncluttered; have a couple of objects around the room that will help you to quickly and easily orient you to the here and now. Any object that you didn’t have at the time that the trauma happened can work; that way, if you do wake up with a nightmare, you can quickly scan the room to know where and when you are.

– Use your grounding skills: usually, waking up from a nightmare means waking up drenched in sweat. Lying in bed, drenched in sweat and shivering will do absolutely nothing to help you recover from your nightmare. So get up, run to the bathroom, and splash some water on your face. Get in the shower, and have a nice warm relaxing shower. Lavender-scented soap is also relaxing. Put on warm dry pajamas. Turn on soft, relaxing music. Fix yourself a cup of tea or warm milk (or another beverage that soothes you). The idea at this point is to soothe and comfort yourself, to help yourself recover as quickly as possible, rather than allowing the suffering to continue.

If you tend to have the same nightmare over and over again, there’s a type of therapy for that.

If your nightmare is overwhelming and terrifying to even think about, please don’t try this on your own – find a qualified mental health professional to help you.

The treatment involves writing out your nightmare in detail, with a different (positive) ending. You basically train yourself to re-imagine the nightmare with a positive ending, and then train yourself to take control of the nightmare. This takes a lot of work to do successfully, and it’s hard to do by yourself. So please reach out to get some help if you need it.

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I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

 

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Guided imagery exercise #2: By the water

Everyone – this blog is meant to be your space. Expressing your needs and preferences is valued here.

Thank you for providing me with the feedback that not everyone here finds the view of the woods to be relaxing.

So, I’d like to walk you through the guided imagery exercise again, but with a different view, for those who prefer to look at water to relax.

If there’s one thing you’ve learned from your own experience with PTSD, it’s that your brain is pretty good at imagining (that you’re in danger). Well – guided imagery is basically taking the brain’s ability to imagine, and using it to help you relax rather than to rev you up.

First, a word about skills: they do not develop overnight. Tying your shoelaces is a skill; you can do it today because – as a little kid with clumsy fingers – you practiced.

This is no different – getting good at it will take practice. So, if your mind wanders the first time you try it, keep trying. You will get better at it with practice.

You can imagine any kind of restful place. Today we’re going to use a walk along the water.

If these images are not relaxing for you, you can imagine a different place that you find restful.

First, find a quiet place where you can sit for at least 20 minutes without being interrupted.

Imagine that you’re standing on a dock, overlooking the water:

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Guided imagery is about imagining the space as vividly as you can — everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel.

Feel the wooden dock under your feet.

Feel the breeze on your skin.

Hear the waves gently lapping at the shore.

Listen to the seagulls.

Look out on the water.

Smell the fresh, clean air.

Take in a slow, big, deep breath… and let it out slowly…

Slowly walk down toward the beach.

Feel the sand under your feet.

Walk along the beach. Take time to explore some driftwood that you come across:

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Feel the sand and let the water lap gently at your feet.

Feel the warm sunshine on your face.

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Take your time to slowly explore these pictures,  to imagine, as vividly as you can, being in that place. Include sights, sounds, smells, and your sense of touch.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are – that happens, and it’s all good.

You may also find that your arms or legs feel stiff or heavy; you might have small, involuntary muscle movements. You might cough or yawn. Don’t sweat it – that happens too.

When you’re ready, slowly bring yourself back into the present.

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is copyrighted. The photos gracing today’s post were taken by Wojtek Rajski, and I’d like to thank him for generously allowing me to use his work. Please do not copy photographs from Coming Back Home without permission.

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Let’s go for a walk in the woods! (Guided imagery relaxation exercise)

Hi!

If there’s one thing you’ve probably learned from your own experience with PTSD, it’s that your brain is pretty good at imagining (that you’re in danger).

Well – today we’re going to take your brain’s ability to imagine, and use it to help you relax rather than to rev you up.

This exercise is a type of guided imagery.

First, a word about skills: they do not develop overnight. Tying your shoelaces is a skill; you can do it today because, as a little kid with clumsy fingers, you practiced.

This is no different – getting good at it will take practice. So, if your mind wanders the first time you try it, keep trying. You will get better at it with practice.

You can imagine any kind of restful place. We’re going to use a walk in the woods, because juicy delicious pictures of the woods are what the photographer is serving today.

If the woods are not a relaxing image for you, you can imagine a different place that you find restful.

First, find a quiet place where you can sit for at least 20 minutes without being interrupted.

Imagine that you’re standing at the foot of a trail, going for a walk in the woods:

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Guided imagery is about imagining the space as vividly as you can — everything you can see, hear, smell, and feel.

If the first thing that jumps out at you is the trail marker – you’re not failing! You’re on the green trail; what else do you see? What can you imagine feeling, hearing, smelling if you put yourself in that place?

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Feel how rocky that trail feels under your feet.

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Look at how peaceful those trees look. Smell those pine trees…

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Are wild blueberries in season? Can you find some on these bushes?

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Listen to the sounds of that stream. Touch it – think of how cold it would feel on your fingers.

Can you hear birds chirping in the background?

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Take, a big, deep breath of that clean air. Fill your lungs with it.

Feel the warm sunshine on your face.

Take your time to slowly explore these pictures,  to imagine, as vividly as you can, being in that place. Include sights, sounds, smells, and your sense of touch.

Don’t worry if you sometimes zone out or lose track of where you are – that happens, and it’s all good.

You may also find that your arms or legs feel stiff or heavy; you might have small, involuntary muscle movements. You might cough or yawn. Don’t sweat it – that happens too.

When you’re ready, slowly bring yourself back into the present.

 

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…

You can find me on Twitter and on Facebook.

~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.

 

*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.

**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel welcome to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.

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