by Gwen Randall-Young
Many of my clients who are working on self healing and creating more positivity in their lives, or who are overcoming anxiety or depression, describe feeling really well for several days and then feeling really down.
I tell them they are experiencing a “dream hangover.” At night, the subconscious works at sorting out our thoughts, feelings, experiences and problems. In our dreams, we often re-experience a struggle we are having in our waking lives.
Even though it is just a dream, the body experiences it as real. If we are in danger in our dream, the body responds the same way as if we were actually in danger. There is an increase in adrenalin and stress hormones and blood pressure can rise as the body goes into “fight or flight” mode.
If the dream is related to a present day loss of someone close through death or the ending of a relationship, the body experiences all the emotions of sadness, hurt and perhaps betrayal and abandonment.
Sometimes, we remember our dreams and that explains why we are feeling down. More often, the dreams are not remembered so a person wakes up with all of those awful feelings. Because they do not remember the dream, they think they are going back into depression or anxiety that they cannot control. Sometimes, they feel they are not making progress after all.
If, in general, they are doing okay and the dark mood is there from the moment they wake up, we can attribute that to a dream hangover. This is different from the case where one is currently in crisis and waking up brings that reality roaring back.
How do we manage the dream hangover? The first step is to recognize you were feeling okay when you went to bed. And you know you were okay yesterday. So this feeling is not related to your waking life.
Realizing that, we then have to shake it off. Imagine wiper blades clearing your windshield so you can see what is out there. Imagine a dog shaking the water off after a bath or a swim. As you get out of bed, don’t take the hangover with you.
Remind yourself you are doing okay and tell yourself it is going to be a good day. Jump into the shower and put on some upbeat music. Give yourself love and compassion.
If we don’t do this, the awful feelings become like emotional quicksand. The more we think about them and the more we identify with them and think they are real, the more we are likely to actually enter a downward cycle.
Our thoughts are responsible for how we feel. During waking hours, we can monitor our thoughts and shut down the negative ones. We can make the choice to focus on the positive and to be happy.
When sleeping, we do not have that control. The “parental controls” are shut off. The mind is free to create any and all images. Like a child who sees a scary movie and can’t get it out of his/her head, we can carry that sadness or depression from painful dream experiences into our day.
Unlike a real hangover, we can eliminate the dream hangover by knowing the feelings came from a dream and in that sense are not real. It is then easier to simply let them go and move on, identifying with our positive feelings and choosing to be in a good mood.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For articles and information about her books, “Deep Powerful Change” hypnosis CDs and “Creating Effective Relationships” series, visit www.gwen.ca ‘Like’ Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.