Your Dreams Are Real So Pay Attention

By Dr. Carder Stout

Did you ever have a dream as a kid that sent you scurrying to your parent’s room? You were convinced that the dream was real, but your parents reassured you it was not. They may have said, “Don’t worry. It was only a dream. It wasn’t real.” As you curled up between them and fall back asleep there was a whisper of safety tucked in next to you. The two people you trusted most had delivered a message that was designed to lull you back to sleep. And it did.

No wonder most people disregard their dreams. We’ve been conditioned to believe that they’re insignificant and unimportant — we discard them like the unread sections of the morning paper. We live in a culture that is focused on what is real. We want to know more about the things we can see and touch — like how to make a heart in the foam of a decaf latte or who makes the softest t-shirts. There is so much external stimulation drawing us out, we have forgotten how to look inside.

When we sleep we hover in a realm that traverses the unconscious and the conscious. The images in our dreams are meant to help us rebalance ourselves when the psyche becomes damaged and fractured. They are a lantern in the darkest of night to shepherd us back to health and well-being.

Dream Analysis

Humans are spiritual beings. We are comprised of both essence and matter. We have a shape from flesh and bone that encapsulates our purest self — the soul, which is our most authentic being. It is the part of us that feels deep love and resounds in great joy. It is our elemental self lodged in faith and understanding.

As soon as we experienced pain, loss, or fear we began to develop the counterpart to the soul — our shadow. Our shadow consists of the qualities we repress, deny, or dislike in ourselves. It is the dark side of our personality. The shadow grows as we experience suffering and hardship in our human form. Each one of us is a hybrid blend of shadow and soul. We are a balance of what is seen and unseen.

All of the figures in our dreams represent aspects of ourselves. There is not one but many of us present at any given moment. You are a mother, a father a businesswoman, a friend, a chef, an artist, a hero, a diva, a little boy and a romantic all in the same breath. The multiple people living inside you are called personas. So, if you dream about an encounter with a painter or writer, you are dreaming about the creative energy inside your psyche. If you dream about having lunch with a group of children, you are viewing the childlike qualities that remain with you.

Try to remember all of the people, places and symbols in your dream. It may help to keep a dream journal so you can write them down first thing when you wake up. The symbols that we dream about have significance. If you dream about traveling in a red car to a house with a blue door, mind the details. What do the colors red and blue mean to you? A door may symbolize making a transition in your life. We call this process unpacking the dream images. Often dream images will unlock memories from our childhood, perhaps even our earliest memories we forgot even existed.

And what about nightmares? Well, don’t worry. The monsters in your dreams are not real. They are dark symbolic figures that represent the aspects of yourself that you do not like. So, these monsters that are chasing you are actually not trying to harm you but get your attention. They are asking to be seen and attended to because they have been neglected and their fangs have come out. The more that we try to ignore them, the more agitated they will get and the more apt they are to show up in your dreams.

Dreams are important and happen to us for a reason: Listen to them with excitement and curiosity. They will help you to understand yourself in a deeper and more honest way.

Dream Glossary — Common Dreams

These are common dreams that many people have during different phases in their lives.

Losing teeth: This is a dream you may have when moving through a transition in life, i.e. moving, changing jobs, breaking up, etc. It simply means that you are growing out of one phase and into the next — like a child losing his/her teeth. Embrace the change!

Falling: This is a dream you may have when you are feeling overwhelmed. Symbolically, the earth beneath your feet has vanished and you don’t feel like you have solid footing or a firm foundation in life. Maybe you have taken on too much and need to slow down. Take care of yourself.

People You Know: When you dream about people you know it is only natural to interpret this at face value. This is not the case. Remember that the people in your dreams represent aspects of yourself. If you dream about a close friend, then think about their strongest character traits. If you think of them as being humble then you are dreaming about the humble side of yourself.

Flying: This can be a wonderful or scary dream. If you’re up in the sky looking down and feeling blissful like a bird, this simply means you’re gaining a new perspective on something. If you’re afraid, then this could mean you’re holding onto old ideas and do not want to change your understanding.

Losing Someone: This is another unsettling dream. We tend to be afraid that we will never find them again. If you dream that you are losing your child it refers to ignoring those childlike qualities in yourself. So, play more and stop being such a grown-up. If you lose your spouse there may be a need for you to address the masculine or feminine energy that pulses through you. Remember, you are the perfect blend of both.

Being Chased: This can be a frightening dream, often demonstrating that some unresolved part of your personality needs attention. Perhaps you are being dishonest with someone or are ignoring something that has been difficult to admit. This is a shadow dream and whatever chases you is simply an unwanted aspect of yourself. Do not ignore this or it will get bigger. If you feel you cannot move and are stuck this means that you feel helpless and are not sure how to address the issue.

Dying/Being Killed/Death: These can be disturbing and confusing dreams. Do not worry — this is not a premonition that your death is near. These dreams refer to a part of yourself having a symbolic death. What in your life that is slowly slipping away? Is it your anger or your lust? Is it your dream of becoming an actress? When something in us dies we go through a natural grieving process so don’t be surprised if you feel sad. You are saying goodbye to something you have known. This can actually be a good thing as you may be losing something that was not serving you anymore. If it is someone who is killing you then you are probably in conflict about letting go. Your narcissistic need for adoration could be killing your hope for real intimacy.

Naked: This can be an unsettling dream. It refers to the fact that you feel unprotected and vulnerable, as though the shield you have put up is not working and people can now see the real you. This may create anxiety, because in our most natural form we are exposed for all to see. You may feel unprepared and shy to show the real you. Don’t worry, you’re beautiful.

Water: Water represents the unconscious. Submerging in any body of water means exploring your psyche. Enjoy!

5 Signs You Are in a Toxic Love Relationship

By Dr. Jill Weber

It can be hard to see the signs of a toxic relationship when you are in the middle of it.

The dominant emotions in a toxic love pattern are insecurity and anxiety. You can’t take for granted that you are safe in the partnership. You don’t feel at peace that your needs will get met. When apart, you agonize over whether or not your partner is still into you. You live with angst and fear about how things will turn out in the future with your partner. You wonder if/when you will see your partner again. You live for the highs, but mostly you experience the lows. You too easily give up your responsibilities and commitments to spend a moment of time with your partner. When your time with your partner comes to an end, you feel empty and anxious all over again.

People who fall into dysfunctional love dynamics tend to go in and out of denial. At times they may make excuses for their behavior or that of their partners’. At other times they become so emotionally wrought with upset over the union, they can barely function or cope with daily life demands.

Toxic love is typically associated with strong highs, where both partners feel jubilant and passionate, and the lowest of the lows, often resulting in depression and generally feeling “stressed out” for long periods of time. Just like a drug, the reward centers of the brain light up when the highs are high and the brain’s happy chemicals plummet when the lows occur. The highs and positive feelings may be short-lived, but people often stay in these dysfunctional unions for a surprisingly long time, sustained by the anticipation of the next endorphin rush.

Typically with toxic love there is a repetitive kind of romantic trauma that takes place in your partnership. The nature of the trauma is different for everyone but the general theme is you disagree or argue about something — their lies, their mistreatment of you, your lies, your mistreatment of them are common conflicts — then you make up and have one brief moment of bliss. Then, the cycle repeats all over again.

The destructive pattern in the relationship can be because your partner has an addiction, including drugs or alcohol, has another romantic relationship, spouse, or complete other family and fits you in on the side. Or perhaps you or your partner have commitment/intimacy issues so that no matter what you do, you’re never able to become really close.

Whatever it is you are competing with makes your partner seem like a rare conquest. You spend your emotional resources and energy trying to get more — working to capture that special conquest that is your toxic love partner. It feels good when you get them for a moment, but the high is short lived and followed by an ever sinking low.

When a person partners with an unhealthy match, an addictive kind of relationship dynamic takes hold. The thoughts are all about getting your needs met or how they go unmet. What you or your partner are not thinking about is the other person’s ultimate well-being or happiness. You are each consumed with getting whatever you need from the other.

Here are five signs you are in a toxic love situation:

  1. Chronically second guessing yourself and doubting when you are upset with your partner, “am I overreacting…maybe I am being too sensitive…”
  2. Making excuses to friends and family members about your partner’s poor behavior “he had a tough week at work….he thought he had told me that he wasn’t coming, but I misunderstood…”
  3. Taking yourself away from your own feelings “just let it go…it’s really not a big deal…don’t be overly dramatic…”
  4. Anger that never seems to quite get quenched or resolved when you communicate with your partner.
  5. Continually trying to ‘fix’ things in the relationship. Working overtime to please or make things right. Feeling overly guilty and working to make amends about things that really may not be your responsibility.

Don’t Miss the Bliss Boat: 3 Ways to Achieve More Happiness

By Jenna McCarthy

Merriam-Webster defines happiness as a state of well-being. Dictionary.com calls it a condition of pleasurable satisfaction. Do you want to know what I call it? Pretty much a luxury. After all, if you’re homeless or hungry or in prison or suffering any sort of discomfort, you’re not worried about something as intangible as happiness, right? Think about the last time you had a massive hangover. Even if every last thing in your life was going swimmingly, you probably didn’t lie on your couch counting your blessings with each throb of your head. You couldn’t. You were too busy popping Advil and downing Cokes and fantasizing about French fries while you perfected your woe-is-me moan, right?

Exactly.

You can’t imagine the lengths scientists go to in an effort to understand the mysterious beast we call happiness. In one fascinating study, researchers discovered that blowing cold air up participants’ noses put them in better moods than when they blew hot air up their noses. (Are you picturing this experiment? Honestly!) The takeaway here isn’t necessarily that you should go snort some dry ice or even open your freezer and breathe deeply when you’re in a crappy mood, although it sounds like there’s a chance that might help.

Random studies aside, while it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what happiness is, scientists are pretty clear when they’re defining what it’s not: Happiness isn’t skipping through life feeling giddy all day every day. It’s not having all the toys and things money can buy or a seven-figure bank account, although I’ll admit those things would be extremely fun and probably wouldn’t make most of us miserable. Happiness isn’t a destination — you know, like heaven or frequent flier elite status — that when you reach it, you’re automatically granted the privilege of staying there forever.

At the end of the day, happiness is a result of who you are, what you do and how you behave. You can’t wish yourself happier, but you CAN change or adopt certain behaviors that will undeniably improve your state of mind as well as your state of being.

Despite what you may passionately believe right now, there’s not a pair of shoes, a piece of furniture, a bit of electronics or any other sort of gadget or gizmo in the universe that will make you truly happy. This isn’t just my theory; it’s a scientifically proven fact.

The concept itself is called hedonic adaptation, and essentially what it means is that no matter what fabulous or amazing thing we acquire, it’s only a matter of time — generally around three months, give or take — until we go back to the EXACT same level of happiness we were at before we acquired it.

How to Get More Happiness

So if things won’t make us happy, what will? The answer is experiences. Think sharing a meal out with friends, taking a trip with your family or hiking a beautiful trail with your favorite canine companion. Unlike a new pair of boots or an iPhone 9-thousand, in addition to being inherently enjoyable in the moment, these things also satisfy deeper, more meaningful needs for connection and vitality — needs that have far-reaching benefits on our health and well-being.

Below are 3 practices that have been scientifically proven to increase happiness:

  1. Mindfulness. Harvard researchers confirmed scientifically what Buddhists have known since the fifth century BC: no matter what people are doing — whether it’s something inherently enjoyable like having sex or playing with their kids or something significantly less fun like commuting or working — they’re happiest when they’re focused on what they’re doing instead of thinking about something else.
  2. Gratitude. It’s research-proven fact that one of the most common habits of highly happy people is the keeping of a gratitude practice. In fact, research has found that regularly expressing thanks can help improve everything from insomnia to immune system function.
  3. Resilience. When disaster or tragedy strikes, the resilient are able to go zen because they understand that nothing is permanent. Nothing at all. Psychologists have a saying: if you can change your attitude, you can change your life. So when things aren’t going your way, you have a choice. You can dwell and stew and ask the universe WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS? Or you can say to yourself “well this feels pretty miserable and hopeless today, but let’s see what tomorrow brings.”

Why Fighting Can be GOOD for Your Relationship

By Dr. Amie Gordon

 

One unfortunate side effect of navigating life with another person is conflict. Whether it’s a silly fight over a pillowcase that leaves you and your partner giving each other the silent treatment for a day (true story) or a more serious disagreement over sex or money, you and your partner are two separate people who will not always see eye to eye. If you are one of the many people who thinks conflict is the sign of a bad relationship or who tries to avoid conflict at all costs, I’m here to tell you that conflict, when done right, is actually good for your relationship.

It’s not whether you fight, but how you fight that matters. It takes two people to start a fight, but only one to end it.

In some really cool research, Dr. John Gottman brought hundreds of married couples into the lab and watched them fight. He then kept in contact with the couples and every few years checked in to see if they were still married and if so, how they felt about their relationship. Then Dr. Gottman did his really cool thing — he figured out what the couples who stayed happy in their marriages did during their fights that was different from the couples who divorced or stayed in unhappy marriages.

And what did he figure out? That there were four behaviors that often spell disaster when they show up in the middle of your fights.

The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse

Criticism is the first of the four “horsemen of the apocalypse” as Dr. Gottman calls them. It’s okay (and can be healthy) to complain about what’s wrong in your relationship. The problem arises when complaining turns into criticizing. A complaint focuses on the event or behavior you want to change, while criticism attacks your partner’s personality. When you find yourself generalizing that your partner “always” or “never” does something, you are falling prey to criticism.

So what do you do? Your frustrations are real, but complaining is not going to help you solve your problem. Instead, you need to state your complaint without blame. Let your partner know that you are unhappy about something, but don’t make it their fault, and avoid the terms “always” and “never.” If you can, express your need in a positive way.

The second horseman is defensiveness. Raise your hand if, like me, you find this one particularly difficult. When someone suggests you’ve done something wrong, is your instinct to react quickly with, “It’s not my fault,” followed by some excuse? Do you sometimes find yourself doing this preventatively — defending yourself with righteous indignation before you’ve even been accused? Another way that defensiveness crops up is responding to a partner’s complaints with complaints of your own. It’s so easy to respond to your partner’s complaint that you didn’t take the trash with a quick “well you didn’t do the dishes” that you might not even realize you’ve done it.

You might well deserve to be defended, especially if your partner is criticizing you. But defensiveness never helps solve the problem, it just makes your partner feel like they aren’t being heard. Instead of being defensive, take responsibility. Because somewhere in there you are responsible, at least a little bit. So when your partner lets you know that something you do bothers them, consider if they might be right and look for your part in the problem.

The third horseman is contempt. Everyone has angry moments, but when you begin to feel contempt for your partner, that’s a clear sign that something needs to change. Dr. Gottman found in his research that contempt is actually the best predictor of divorce. So what exactly is contempt and how do you avoid it? It’s the feeling that you are better than your partner, and it comes out when you make derisive comments with the intention of being insulting and hurting your partner. If you are calling your partner names, mocking your partner, and being sarcastic or rolling your eyes, you are likely feeling contempt. Sometimes you might tease your partner in a spirit of playfulness, which is beneficial. But if you find yourself teasing in a mean-spirited way, such as making fun of something you know they are sensitive about, that is a sign of contempt. Calling your partner an idiot, and meaning it, is a surefire sign your relationship is in the dumps.

The fourth horseman is stonewalling. Stonewalling is not so much about what you do, but what you don’t do. Imagine how a stone wall would react as you told it how you were feeling. When you sit in stony silence or utter single-word answers, you are disengaging from an interaction. This happens in response to feeling overwhelmed by your partner’s strong negativity. If you get overwhelmed it is important to take a moment to calm down, but becoming completely disengaged is bad because it means you can’t work through the issue and instead your problems keep building up and up and up. When you feel overwhelmed, it’s okay to step away rather than keep fighting it out. You need to let yourself calm down. But instead of just shutting down and disengaging, talk to your partner. Let your partner know that you need to take some time to calm down and you’ll return to the conversation when you feel more relaxed.

So those are the four horsemen, the four behaviors that make conflicts go sour. And these four behaviors feed on each other — criticism from one partner often leads to the other partner’s defensiveness, which may promote feelings of contempt, and, eventually, stonewalling. If you can learn to reign these behaviors in both by avoiding engaging in them yourself and by not taking the bait when your partner falls prey to them, you will be one BIG step closer to turning your conflicts into productive conversations.

7 Sleep Strategies For Energy and Focus

By Dr. Michael Grandner

What if I told you that I had a workout that could guarantee to make you 10–30% faster, stronger, and more agile. Among its side effects, it also improves your metabolism, reduces cravings for unhealthy foods, gives more energy for training and exercise, improves healing and recovery, promotes better overall physical and mental health, and can even improve your relationships. The best part of this workout is that it’s pretty much free and you can do it in your own home. The only downside is that to get the benefits, you have to do it every day. Would you do it?

If you want those benefits, let’s get you sleeping better.

Sleep loss affects the brain in many ways. Some of the most obvious ways that daytime tiredness due to sleep loss affects us is through slowed reaction time and poor decision-making. In fact, the effects of sleep loss have been shown in the laboratory to be equal to or greater than the effects of being drunk!

In addition, your ability to learn and form new memories is dependent on sleep. As is your ability to regulate emotions, so if you notice that you’re extra depressed, or stressed, or short-fused, consider that your lack of sleep is not letting your brain process emotions properly. When you deprive yourself of sleep, you are sabotaging your creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. You are also sacrificing your ability to multitask and be effective.

If you are looking to maximize your energy and performance, here are 7 sleep strategies for improving mental and physical fitness:

  1. Keep a regular schedule. Imagine you eat lunch at noon, every day. Sunday, lunch is at noon. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday Friday, Saturday, lunch is at noon. Every day. Over and over and over. What’s going to happen? You will start getting hungry at noon. The time will become a signal to your body that it is time to eat. So at 11:00 you’ll start getting hungry, and by 11:45 you’ll be starving. That’s what you want to do for sleep. If you sleep all over the clock your body never trains itself to get sleepy at a certain time. So it never knows when to get ready to sleep. That will make it harder to get good quality sleep.
  2. Give yourself enough time to wind down. Ever get in bed and have your mind start racing? Replaying every bad decision you ever made? Worrying about not forgetting that thing tomorrow? People will say that they can’t help it, their mind is just very active. Sorry to say that it’s not about you. You spent your whole day working, busy, and distracted and this may be the first opportunity your mind has had to have some alone time with you. So if you’re going to do that anyway, might as well not do it in bed. Pick a time during the day (maybe in the evening but it doesn’t have to be) and make all your lists for tomorrow. Get it all out, so that by the time you’re in bed, your thoughts have already said their piece.
  3. Get plenty of light during the daytime, especially the morning. The biological clocks that control your sleep-wake cycle run on 24-hour rhythms. Sometimes, though, they need some help. If you don’t have a very strong daytime signal in the system, you might have a weaker nighttime signal. In other words, if your brain wasn’t exactly sure where in the 24 hours daytime was, it won’t be optimized to prepare your body for the night. The way to address this is to make sure your body gets plenty of light during the day — especially in the morning. And not just room light — regular sunlight is about 50–100 times brighter than indoor light, even on a cloudy day. That’s the kind of light your brain is looking for.
  4. Avoid excessive liquids at night. This is not rocket science. If you drink a lot of water at night, you’re more likely to have to get up more often to have to go to the bathroom. So restrict water intake 2–3 hours before bed.
  5. Practice active relaxation. Many people consider sitting and watching TV to be relaxing. It’s not. Watching TV is distracting, not relaxing. Distraction just puts a pause button on your mind and doesn’t relax you at all. Relaxation is an active process. There are two different types of relaxation: mental and physical. And they both skills that require practice. Physical relaxation helps you identify and reduce tension in your muscles and mental relaxation can help slow down your thoughts. There are a number of techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and autogenic training which relax the body, and visual imagery exercises and meditations that can relax the mind.
  6. Get rid of your clock. What’s the first thing that everyone does as soon as they wake up during the night? Look at the clock, right? OK. What’s the SECOND thing? Think about it for a minute… It’s math. Right? How much time was I asleep? How much time do I have left to sleep? For most people, doing math is not really relaxing or soothing. If anything, it can be quite disruptive, especially if you don’t like the answer. If you need to wake up at a specific time, set an alarm. If the alarm hasn’t gone off yet, just get back to sleep. Stop obsessing over the clock. If anything, it will just keep you up longer.
  7. Get out of bed if you can’t sleep. This is probably the best advice I can give you. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed. It turns out that persistent insomnia really only has one main cause: staying in bed when you can’t sleep. You see, normally, most of the time we spend in bed we are asleep. When something happens that causes us to lose sleep, it can leave us tossing and turning and worrying and thinking while we are in bed. So we are not able to sleep. What do we do to make up for that? Why, try harder, and spend lots of time in bed. Awake. This is the problem. The more time you spend in bed awake, the more you program your brain to wake up in bed. And that’s what creates a long-term insomnia. The best way to avoid this is to NOT spend extra time awake in bed. If you can’t sleep, get out of bed!