How can I wake up without having an anxiety attack?

I have these dreams of men, and they always seem to try to hurt me. It's gotten so bad that I first wake at 4:30, then 4:45, and finally stay awake by 6:00. I'm always the last one to fall asleep and the first to wake. I hate falling asleep. The longest I've went without sleep is three days.

Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Kaileen McMickle, MS, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

No wonder you are scared to sleep if this is what you are going through.

My first thought is that it's possible your dreams are your brain's way of trying to process something that scares you or has scared you.  There's not a lot of research on the purpose of dreams, but one theory is that stuff you don't want to deal with consciously is able to come through via your unconscious brain as a dream (or nightmare).  Another theory is more of Gestalt nature, where all your dream figures represent a part of you--for example, the part of you being attacked would be the side of you that feels weak, whereas the attacker is the side of you that you feel is bad or evil.  Either way, your reactions are definitely legit because nightmares tend to flood the brain in a pretty emotionally raw form.

I am also curious if you had trouble sleeping before you started having these dreams. Is it because of these nightmares that sleep is an issue, or have the sleep issues been a part of your life longer than the dreams?  It may not mean a whole lot no matter what order they came in, but it would be interesting to know if the catalyst was actually the dreams to begin with.  The big question here is if not having these nightmares would improve your sleep and lessen your anxiety about sleeping, overall.

As for the anxiety attacks, there's a lot here you can try.  Your brain is seeing sleep, nightmares, or both as a threat.  The way to signal safety to your brain is to practice some relaxation techniques--mindful breathing can be helpful or if you find it hard to sit still, you can do some walking mindfulness.  Maybe you've heard of the Calm app--it's so great for sleep issues.  They have sleep stories and soundscapes, as well as guided breathing exercises.  

This is speaking more to the thinking process, but remind yourself that the dreams aren't real and they can't hurt you.  That doesn't mean you won't have anxiety and you have to fully believe it, it just means that you don't have to get caught up in the fear response.  You also mention that they "try" to hurt you.  Have you ever done things to fight them off? Or do you run?  It's OK if your response is to freeze--I'm just curious how you view yourself in that dream.  If you are feeling powerless (which would be normal) it may be worth your time to imagine how you want to fight them off.  What weapons would you choose?  What would escape look like?  Imagining you in charge may help change your experience of the dreams.

Also remember that even though panic attacks feel awful, they won't hurt you.  It's a really terrifying feeling to be trapped in your body during an attack, but the response is meant to get us out of danger even though there is no real threat.  If you do a google search for panic attack help sites, there's so many that detail more of this response and how to move through an attack.  

Of course, seeing a counselor might be beneficial if you are sensing that there's something bigger underlying the dreams.  Sometimes just having someone listen and understand can ease some suffering.

I hope that helps and you find something that works for you!

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Jennifer Gerlach
Jennifer Gerlach
Your Story Matters

That is awful! I am sure you are ready to start getting some rest. It's normal for us to wake a few times in the night, however, when we are dealing with high anxiety or stress, those times can turn into being up most night. Given that you are having these repeated dreams, I am wondering what might be going on in your life either now  or in the past that could be triggering stress or maybe memories. It can help to draw the dream out in the morning or even to look for metaphor. In the long run, seeking counseling can help you sort all that out

In the meantime, self-soothing strategies may help you in the night when you wake and can't get back to sleep. This can be anything with your senses----getting a snack like tea and focusing on that taste, smelling something pleasant, listening to some relaxing music, looking through a magazine, taking a shower. Anything you can think of that might help you relax. If it involves needing to get up, that's okay! Getting out of bed can actually help you get out of that mind space and helps you associate your bed with relaxation/sleep vs anxiety making it more likely you will fall asleep once  you lay down.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide.   If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Sherry Katz, LCSW
Couples and Family Therapist, LCSW

The good news about your dreams is that your fears are right at the surface of your mind so you can study them and release some of the harm from the terrifying experiences you had which created these bad memories in the first place.

The bad news is the feelings themselves are sickening.

Probably a therapist would be very helpful for guiding you to unfold these uneasy feelings and their source.

This type of deep work is easier with emotional support from someone.  A therapist can give you this plus is knowledgeable about dynamics of someone having been emotionally harmed by another.

Or, read a lot online and find out which articles resonate with your emotions.

Luckily people are willing to express personal stories of recuperating a sense of peace and safety after being violated by someone.

The information above is intended as general information...  (more)The information above is intended as general information based on minimal information, and does not constitute health care advice. This information does not constitute communication with a counselor/therapist nor does it create a therapist-client relationship nor any of the privileges that relationship may provide. If you are currently feeling suicidal or are in crisis, call 911 or proceed to your local emergency room.

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