Running Scared: It Won't Stop Your Nightmares

IMAGE "I've been having the same dream as long as I can remember. I'm walking down a busy city street at midday. All of a sudden, the sun disappears and I'm all alone. I can't see anyone, but I know someone's following me. I try to run, but my feet stick to the ground. I try to scream, but nothing comes out. I know he's going to get me. I can feel it. I'm helpless and terrified."

A Distressing Dream

A nightmare is a very distressing or frightening dream that usually forces at least partial awakening. The dreamer may feel any number of other disturbing emotions in a nightmare, such as anger, guilt, sadness, or depression, but the most common feelings are fear and anxiety . Nightmare themes vary widely from person to person.

Nightmares and Night Terrors

Nightmares are different from night terrors.
  • Nightmares tend to occur late in the sleep cycle and are usually not accompanied by screaming or moving. The dream may be elaborate and intense, and the dreamer realizes soon after waking that it was a dream.
  • Night terrors, on the other hand, occur during deep sleep and may be accompanied by loud screaming and thrashing about. The sleeper is hard to awaken and may not remember much more than an overwhelming feeling or a single scene. Children who have night terrors also have a tendency to sleepwalk and/or wet their beds.

Your Very Own Nightmare

In previous times, nightmares were considered to be signs of devil or demon possession, or a mark of evil. Despite their bad reputation, nightmares are no different from other dreams. In fact, what constitutes a nightmare varies from person to person and from dream to dream. The meaning of dreams is largely symbolic and contextual, so what's frightening for one person can be harmless—or even funny—for another.

A Sign of Anxiety

Nightmares are just long, anxiety-provoking dreams, but chemically and neurologically are no different than more pleasant dreams.Anxiety themes represent one of the largest categories of dreams. Some examples include exploding buildings, being chased by unseen evil, and showing up at school unprepared for an exam. Anxiety nightmares are messages from your unconscious regarding some unresolved conflict or trauma in your waking life.

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