How do you stop nightmares? I was asked this question recently and thought I'd share my answer here since it is the same answer I give for many things - how to prepare myself in the moment before I must answer a phone call; how to calm an anxiety attack; how to get myself in the right mental space for writing; and so on.
Soften your mind with roses.
At least, it's roses for me. Roses and wedding dresses, sunlight drifting like gauze through English woods, tea cups on a white lace cloth, cottage gardens. I have several pinterest boards which I use for the purpose of bringing peace to my mind and my body. So when I see the landlords are phoning, or the noise in town gets too overwhelming, or I have half an hour to do some writing and need to shift quickly into a creative mood, I mentally reference those boards, and fill my mind with gentle beauty.
Changing our responses and biases is entirely possible with the practice of reimaging. After all, the reason we have those automatic feelings and thoughts is because certain images were allowed to echo over and again in our minds. Some of them may have come from our families during childhood, some from criticisms we told ourselves years ago and never released. There's also the constant saturation of awful images and dark messages from all kinds of media. We are able to change that by the persistent re-education of our brains.
I'm not talking about gratitude, nor the power of positive thinking. I dislike both those ideas, as I've written about before. I'm simply suggesting a gentle shift of the subconscious preoccupation of our minds to something lovely, warm, safe. So when the phone rings, let it trigger you to think of an image you adore, and take a moment to smile over it before you answer that call. If you do this consciously every single time, you will soon find yourself calm and smiling the moment the phone rings.
If during an anxiety attack you imagine yourself in a rose garden, or wandering through a meadow, or tucked up in a cosy bed, your body will begin to respond to what your mind is communicating, and the panic will ease. It won't be instant, but just keep reminding yourself that the anxiety, with all its terrible imagery and thoughts, is just neural activity in the brain, and you can "reprogramme" it.
As for nightmares - at night, along with washing your face and cleaning your teeth, make your emotional and mental hygeine part of the habitual evening process. Fill your mind with beautiful visual thoughts (nothing verbal, as that gives the old negativity an opportunity to argue). Just sweetness, gentleness, peace.
I hope this idea is helpful to you in some way. Have a lovely day.