I’ve outlined some of the basic causes of nightmares elsewhere on this site, as well as steps you can take to alleviate nightmares. However, there’s also an array of mental strategies that can teach you how to stop nightmares. Learning how to lucid dream can be a great tool for dealing with nightmares. Likewise, because they are often emotionally vivid, nightmares can function as a “backdoor” to launch you into a lucid dream. Here’s how this works: when a nightmare confronts you with a frightening and illogical situation, you’re more likely to question its reality. Like all dreams, nightmares incorporate certain dream signs; once you recognize them, these dream signs can act as triggers for you to perform a reality check in the dream.
Common nightmare dream signs include being chased by a monster or other “bad guy”, being trapped or hiding somewhere, crying, or feeling intense pain or fear. As with regular dreams, journaling about your nightmares will speed the process of identifying your dream signs. If you have been practicing reality checks while awake, recognizing any of these dream signs can remind you to do the same in your nightmare. By recording your scary dreams, you may also recognize a dream sign whose appearance changes the nightmare into a happier dream: let’s say the entrance of a fish riding a bicycle has consistently changed your nightmares into fun dreams. Another reality check you can perform in a nightmare is to try and make this happy dream sign appear; when it does you’ll know that you’re actually dreaming and have the power to change your dream.
Once you’ve become lucid in a nightmare, there are two main ways to stop the nightmare: you can take a shortcut by saying “Wake up!” within the dream, which will usually end the nightmare by waking you up. The second method is to confront your fear: once you recognize that your nightmare is part of your subconscious trying to tell you something, you can choose to listen to its message. After that, you can dissolve the nightmare and direct your lucid dream the way you want. Just knowing that you’re actually dreaming is enough to negate the threat represented by the nightmare; if you want you can simply dismiss the scary creature or scenario by flying away or spinning around to teleport yourself somewhere else. Confronting nightmare figures can also reap rich benefits in terms of understanding your subconscious. Like all dream figures, nightmare figures are projections of your own mind: by asking them why they’re chasing you, you may be able to gain insights into issues you have been mulling over, or a problem you’ve been dealing with in waking life.
In this light, nightmares can actually be beneficial to us because they make us sit up and take a close look at our waking lives. If you want to know how to stop nightmares or recurring dreams, it helps to ask yourself if an issue in your waking life could be to blame. Nightmares don’t have to be the result of traumatic experiences: they can be caused by unfinished business in your life or even from the past day. Big life events such as marriage, pregnancy, or switching careers can be often be triggers; or a nightmare may be trying to tell you that you need to make a change in your life, especially if it is a recurring dream.
It’s important to record your dreams, and the interactions you had with dream characters in them, in order to locate symbols and scenarios that might reflect issues in your waking life. Record your nightmares scene by scene, including how you felt, whether you were able to do anything to change the dream, and your feelings upon waking. It also helps to describe your dreams to someone willing to listen and give feedback; just talking out a scary dream can make you feel a lot better. If you want more suggestions for how to stop a nightmare, you can also use image rehearsal therapy, also known as dream rehearsal therapy, to envision a better ending to your nightmare and meditate on the happier outcome as you go to sleep. Some therapists also advocate playing out the events of your nightmare and acting all the different parts: this will remind you that you’re running the show in your dream, and make you more likely to realize it if the nightmare recurs. If you’re having trouble achieving lucidity in your nightmares, you might make use of dream herbs for nightmares to aid you in more quickly becoming lucid in your nightmares.
Nightmares tap into the darker parts of our subconscious, and scare us because of their unfamiliarity and the sense of danger that characterizes them. However, nightmares are just as much a product of ourselves and our minds as any other dream. By getting more in touch with your subconscious through lucid dreaming practice, you can learn how to stop nightmares. What’s even better is that you can learn to consciously listen to what your nightmares are trying to tell you. Nightmares are warnings, messages and reflections of what’s troubling us in our lives. By heeding them when asleep, you’ll be better equipped to deal with the challenges you face when awake.