The Vine: February 5, 2014
Anxiety dreams. I have them.
To clear out the obvious: No, I have no idea what I'm anxious about, and while I'm willing to hit up therapy if it comes to that, I have to jump through so many hoops to get my insurance to play ball that I'd prefer to go the self-help route first. Which is why I'm here.
There's no set recurring dream; one night, it's My Car Has No Brakes, the next, it's a double feature of Mean Girls Ganging Up On Me and Walking Past The Stove Somehow Set the House On Fire, the next it's I Am Improperly Dressed For This Funeral During Which I Am Expecting An Important Phone Call For Which I Am Unprepared. Term papers, nudity, and missing teeth have yet to make an appearance, but there's always tonight.
For the record, I don't drive and my husband's car is in fine shape; there aren't really any mean girls in my life right now; my stove was just fixed and I wasn't even worried about it when it was broken; there are no upcoming funerals, knock wood, and I have acceptable clothes for them just in case; I am not expecting any important phone calls in the near future. So it's all straight-up, inexplicable anxiety.
This, of course, results in a crappy night's sleep, plus the fun experience of starting the day after eight hours of Everyone Hates Me And I Fail At Life. And like any toxic message, the more I hear it (every night in my dreams!) the more I believe it, so my brain needs to knock it off right now.
So, do you or the Nationals have any advice, short of therapy (which, again, keeping in my back pocket just in case), for how to have happy dreams, or at least bounce back from the messed up ones?
Too Tired To Come Up With A Clever Sign-Off
Let's start with a couple of the usual physical suspects. When do you stop drinking caffeine for the day? Yes, diet Coke "counts," and yes, it can affect you and your sleep patterns even if you don't consciously feel "awake" when you get in bed. What's your alcohol-consumption pattern — do you have a couple glasses of wine with dinner? When do you eat dinner? All of that stuff — the afternoon latte, eating within three hours of when you usually go to sleep, red wine (at least for me, I wake up three hours after going to sleep if I've had Malbec that night) — doesn't just affect your falling asleep, but your staying asleep and the quality of that sleep.
So, lock down your sleep routine for starters. Eat earlier, make sure you go to bed and get up at roughly the same time each day (even weekends), cut out coffee after lunch and booze entirely for a week or two.
That should let you feel a little bit more in control of the situation, because the dreams have to do with control…and I suspect they've started to feed on themselves as a source of anxiety. Some little damn thing annoyed you, like in a parking lot or something, that you didn't register as causing you agita, and it happened weeks ago, and your brain squirreled it away and then rolled that nut across the floor of your midnight brain, and you were like, henh? And the anxiety dream disturbed you in your waking life, and sort of led to another one the next night or two nights later. And now every night when you go to bed, you worry that you'll have another one…and then you do. (Or you don't, and: confirmation bias.)
Put a notebook and a pen next to your bed, and start to think of the dreams as an interesting subject of anthropological study until they go away (and they will, don't worry). Write down everything you can remember, even if it doesn't seem symbolically important, and then either try to go back to sleep or, if you're wide awake, get up out of bed and go do something else so you don't associate your bedroom with emotional discomfort. Leaf through a catalog, listen to Lord Kenneth Clark talk about art, whatever you like.
Patterns will emerge. Those patterns will put you in mind of other things that might not seem relevant, but as my own therapist says, "If you thought to mention it, it means something." Document everything. Mutter aloud to yourself in an unflappable British accent while you write if it makes you feel better, but try to feel curious and interested in why your brain is doing this and what it's trying to tell you (which, again, is maybe just random neuronal firing, or environmental "it's too hot in here" shit poorly translated by your subconscious as Iss-Yews) ("neuronal" is a word, right?). Look at it as an opportunity and not some dire pain in the ass.
And learn to nap. A 20-minute power snooze cures a lot of ills.
If all else fails, you always have counseling as a fallback, but until then, write everything down, try to have a little fun with it even, and remember: everyone in your dreams and any houses or structures are you. (Note: I am not a licensed therapist.) (Hee. Sleep well-ish, and let us know how it's going!)
Tags: health and beauty