Think warm thoughts.
Think cool thoughts.
Lie down and put a pillow on your stomach.
Growing up, if I complained about being cold or hot or not feeling well, Mama would usually reply with one of these phrases. I would try to think hard about something that fit the situation, maybe Granny’s fireplace or the community swimming pool. And I’d usually feel warmer or cooler or better.
(For the record, the pillow thing is a miracle cure for a tummy ache.)
Mama was probably just trying to think of something — anything — to distract me from whatever minor thing was bothering me and buy herself some whine-free time. But what she was really doing was teaching me to use mind over matter and the power of suggestion to control my current reality. She was giving me power in situations that I felt I had no control over.
As an adult, I still use the coping mechanisms she taught me. If I feel like I’m getting sick, I always try to think well thoughts and not give in to it. If I feel down, I can usually think myself back up. If I’m nervous, I think calming thoughts and usually feel the shakies fall away.
Now don’t think I’m saying you can think your way out of real, serious illness and mental health issues. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist, and I absolutely know when to seek the services of a professional. What I’m talking about is taking power over thoughts that trouble you, feelings that plague us, all the minor things that bubble up in a bothersome way on a daily basis and may have been exacerbated by a little thing known as a global pandemic.
Things like our dreams.
Last week I told you about the nightmares I’ve been having in the weeks (ten for me now) since we’ve been home due to the COVID-19 pandemic (if you missed it, you can find it here). After I wrote that essay, I heard from a bunch of you who said you’re having the same problem — bad dreams, vivid dreams, more dreams. I reached out to a couple of people and did a little reading on the subject of dreams and found some basic things that might help us both out.
I will say that I found mostly what I expected to find. It’s mostly common sense stuff, but here it is anyway. And let me stress again that I am NOT a doctor, a psychologist, a therapist, a counselor. I’ve never even come close to playing one in community theater, much less on TV. Ok, now that that’s out of the way, here we go:
- Bad dreams are sometimes caused by anxiety (say hello to my little pandemic friend). Anything you can do before bed to relax might help — warm bath, yoga, breathing exercises, stretching, pleasure reading. Here’s what doesn’t help — screens (tv, computer, phone), social media, watching/reading the news, fretting, the rending of garments, the gnashing of teeth.
- Make your bedroom a comforting haven where you only use your bed for sleep and sex. With so many of us working or learning from home, there’s the temptation to just stay in bed all day long. Don’t give in. Have a dedicated work space and a dedicated sleeping space that makes you feel relaxed and restful.
- If you, like me, wake up from nightmares sweating with your heart racing, remember that it’s only a dream, no matter how real it seems. You might want to keep a dream journal so that you can write your dreams down and get them out of your mind. And if you have a recurring dream or one that you just can’t seem to shake, tell someone about it. Get it off your chest. And after you’ve told it once, retell it, only this time rewrite it to be a happy dream. Change the facts to whatever makes you feel better. Dwell on your changes, not the original bad dream.
- Many of us have been thrown all out of our daily routines. We might be going to bed earlier, sleeping later, or just sleeping more because we’re depressed or just plain bored. Most folks need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night. Really. I know we want ten or twelve and think we need ten or twelve, but we really don’t. The longer you sleep, the more you go into deep REM sleep and the more time you spend there. REM sleep is when you have dreams. More sleeping = more dreams. Less sleeping = fewer dreams.
- Drinking too much alcohol and/or caffeine will give you restless sleep which leads to bad dreams. And eating too much too late affects your digestion which, you guessed it, gives you bad dreams. Limit your intake of all these things in the hours before bedtime.
And the professionals take a page out of Mama’s playbook for this last one…
- Think happy thoughts. Yep. Think happy thoughts right before you go to sleep. Think about a fun day you spent with loved ones, remember that trip you went on and what a good time you had, imagine yourself doing something special that you’ve always wanted to do. Literally go to your happy place in your mind. If you can take yourself there, your dreams will likely follow.
I plan on trying all of these in the coming weeks because my own dreams have not slacked up one tiny bit. And even if they don’t get better, maybe they won’t be so so bad. Plus, I think I’ll put a pillow on my stomach for good measure. You just never know…
Until next time, y’all stay safe, stay healthy, and STAY HOME!