When was the last time you woke from a crazy-ass dream all anxious? Heart pounding and confused? For me, it was just a few nights ago. I had a nocturnal panic attack – or I almost did.
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I woke about 4 o’clock in the wee hours of the morning, still half asleep, trying to make sense of where I was and what just happened. That was a dream, right??
Given what this bizarre dream was, I was at least easily convinced it was just dream.So what was so crazy about it, you ask?
Well, there wasn’t a story line to this dream. At least not one I can recall.
My Crazy Dream
It takes place in a movie theater. I have no recollection of how I got the theater, paying for a ticket or what movie I was there to see. I was just there. And this wasn’t a theater of today, either. There was no funky carpet with ribbons and bad 80’s shapes. Just a dark, drab floor. Dark, drab wood planked walls and no concession stands. The small entry was a circular room with the theater doors to the right and the restrooms to the left.
And just one usually would, I decided to use the restrooms first.
The restroom was also circular in shape, with older porcelain wall-mounted sinks linking the walls all around. Nope, this dream bathroom didn’t have toilets.
Yet I still had to wash my hands.
This is where the dream took a turn to bizarre.
After washing my hands, I turned around to dry my hands under one of the many floor mounted hand dryers in the middle of the room. Each stood there, stately and erect like an old fashioned gumball machine. So I pushed the big silver button. WHOOOSSSHHH.
Suddenly, a multitude of overhead dryers, that I surprisingly hadn’t noticed before, blew down with hurricane-force drafts. Have you ever watched those newscasters when they have to pull themselves along using objects because the wind is so fierce??
Yeah, that was me. In my dream.
The dryers were reminiscent of the ones at the end of a drive-through car wash. The force of these things blew me back, unable to take a step forward. I reached for the sinks, hoping I could pull myself along. Fortunately, it worked. One by one, or sink by sink, I was able to pull myself closer to the door.
It was a slow and tiring process. And I woke up before I made it out.
However, I woke up to my heart racing, confused, replaying the dream I just had. WHY ON EARTH DID THIS SILLY DREAM WAKE ME UP WITH MY ANXIETY RUNNING SO HIGH?
So What Happened That Night?
Let’s take a step back for a moment – during my last attempt to be medication free, my anxiety returned, at first, during the night. I started to wake in a panic. Full-fledged panic attacks. In the middle of the night. For no apparent reason. Sometimes I’d awaken to a dream. But more often than not, for no apparent reason. It was nerve-racking because, for the prior 18 or so years, sleep was my only reprieve.
Given that my panic is controlled on medication, I woke anxious this time versus a full-blown attack. For that, I am thankful. But not everyone is at that point, so let’s talk about what’s going on here.
Most likely, it’s a nocturnal panic attack.
What it’s probably not, is a nightmare.
Nocturnal Panic Attacks
A nocturnal panic attack is one that occurs while sleeping, often jolting one awake for no reason. It’s not well understood why they occur, but it doesn’t mean your anxiety is getting worse.
While it took nearly 18 years of panic and anxiety before I experienced such a thing, it’s actually not all that uncommon.
To this day, I still haven’t determined what changed in me. I know that every bout of anxiety left me with slightly different triggers and symptoms, so maybe that’s all it is.
Nevertheless, I don’t like it. So there are a few tricks I use to calm myself back down so I can get back to sleep. Because I love sleep.
So here’s what I did that night:
First, I took a moment to assess myself. Was it just a minor rise in my adrenaline? Or is this something I’ll need to work through?
After determining I’d need a little help, I took to my breath. Like I mentioned, the breath is such a powerful tool in calming your mind and body. I used the 4-7-8 method. My mind totally wandered replayed the weird dream and hand to refocus several times.
I was able to calm myself down enough to not feel anxious, but I was wide awake. So although it probably isn’t recommended, I played a work game on my phone until I felt sleepy again. You know, that whole blue light thing. Hey, I never said I was perfect.
Relief for Nocturnal Panic Attacks
Here’s a deeper look at those tricks and more for you to reference if you have a nocturnal panic attack.
1.Controlled, intentional breathing.
I know I mention this a lot, but that’s because, when done correctly, IT WORKS! 4-7-8 is my count of choice. You can use whatever count feels comfortable to you, but make sure it’s slow enough, controlled and all of your focus is on your breath.
The 4-7-8 Method: Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 7. Exhale through your relaxed mouth for a count of 8. Controlled and focused remains key. Do this as many times as you need to calm.
Watch those thoughts. While it’s not abnormal for your mind to wander (you know, like back to the dream you just woke from), redirect your focus to your breath if it does.
2. Get up and walk around
Sometimes you just need to regroup. You know you’re not falling back asleep right away, so don’t force it.
3. Get up, get a glass of water.
A glass of ice cold water does a body good. And it’s great for bringing the body back to the present.
4. Read a book on the couch.
Try a change of scenery until you’re ready for sleep again.
5. Do a menial chore.
If you’re like me, nothing calls me to bed more than chores. Does your bathtub need a scrub? How about a load of laundry. Yeah, that’s what I thought. 🙂
While it can be scary to wake up with a nocturnal panic attack, remember that you are ok. You are not going crazy. Its happens to the best of us.
What’s the craziest or silliest dream you’ve had that sent you into a panic?
I’m a little bit crafty, a diy-er, a thrifter, a lover of craft IPAs and probably swear a tad too much. I’ve been living with anxiety since high school and learned a lot along the way. Just trying to live my life simple. And sane. Welcome to my corner of the web!