When I was a kid, I used to have this bizarre, recurring nightmare. I was stuck in a playground made of creepy mannequins. (Think: designer scarves strewn over monkey bars and slides lined with plaid fabric.)
As I moved through this playground, swinging on swings and sliding down slides, the mannequins came to life and began to slowly stalk me.
The more I tried to escape them, the more of them I touched and the more of them I accidentally brought to life.
By the end of the dream, I’d be surrounded by a bunch of terrifying, flakey-painted, glassy-eyed monsters.
Yeesh! What a ride. Stephen King, eat your heart out.
Nowadays, most of my nightmares are pretty lame: stress dreams about being late for work, or morning-commute daydreams about losing my job.
As children, our psyches are like evil puppet-masters, wreaking havoc on our still-developing brains. As we get older, the psyche switches up its game.
We experience fewer nightmares, and in their place, we take on a slew of more abstract fears, which society never really got around to showing us how to deal with.
Even worse, these fears can, over time, simmer into chronic stress, boil over into full-blown anxiety or even drug addiction.
The good news is, much of the conventional logic regarding how to face fears and deal with nightmares can also apply to these everyday nightmares.
Learning how to conquer your fears is a great way to beat stress and anxiety, and show that pesky psyche who’s boss. Here are four ways to do exactly that:
Take a long, hard look at what's haunting you.
Most nightmares are, at the root, based in absurdity. The best way to face said absurdity is to shine a spotlight on it.
Why are you afraid of your boss? Because he’s a flesh-eating cannibal? Why are you afraid of speaking in public?
Because the crowd might hurl rocks and shout names? Of course not; that would be ridiculous.
Whatever you’re afraid of, if you sit down and think about it and let yourself delve deep and study it, you’ll find it’s pretty ridiculous.
Unless you’re afraid of camel spiders, that is. Those things are gnarly.
When you get right down to it, fear is the disruption of pattern, the interruption of the known or the loss of control. Fear is what happens when what you think you know turns out to be wrong.
Persistent fear and anxiety are just mindsets we think we have little control over.
The beauty of a nightmare is we have the power to change the equation. What was a terrifying shadow in the dark can, with the flick of a light-switch, be revealed as a cookie-crumb. Or a cat. Or a CAMEL SPIDER -- OH MY GOD.
In facing your nightmare, try to think of a way you can confront it in a controlled environment.
If you’re afraid of public speaking, maybe you could record yourself speaking in private. If you’re afraid of confronting your boss, why not give the conversation a dry run with a coworker?
Make it mundane.
Research shows one of the most effective ways of reducing fear is to establish repeated exposure.
The principle of desensitization applies here. The more times you’re confronted with a thing, the more routine that confrontation becomes. The old “fake it ‘til you make it” might apply here.
After all, finding a serial killer at your door is terrifying.
Finding out a serial killer is scheduled to be at your door, every day this week, precisely between the hours of noon and 2 pm? Meh.
Just do it already.
Unless your nightmare is being locked in a room with a camel spider, chances are, it’s probably not all that serious.
At worst, it might be mildly embarrassing or financially inconvenient.
With that in mind, you could spend all the time in the world analyzing your worst nightmare, making notes about it and considering your nightmare from every possible angle, or you could just walk right up to it and look it in the face.
Chances are, your nightmare will blink first.