Morning Rituals for Grief: When Nightmares Rip Away Your Peace
It was just a dream, you are safe now. Your brain is trying to process the death
How many ways can you bury your mother?
How many times can one person die?
It seemed like my psyche was playing a cruel joke on me because for months I had a recurring nightmare that my mother was not really dead. She was alive, but then during the dream, she would die in my arms – each time in a different gruesome way and I would have to bury her all over again.
The pain was excruciating. I woke up in the mornings drenched in sweat and overwhelmed by terror and grief all over again.
You might also be having intense nightmares that regenerate the anguish you felt at the beginning which completely messes up the trajectory of your day. You wake up feeling agitated and in the clutches of fear.
With time, I came to find out that because the death of a loved one is too confronting people tend to go into shock and repress memories. We need time to come to terms with the reality of death and dreams are a compassionate way our inner nature uses to help us confront death.
For example, each time I saw my mother dying in my arms, my mind was trying to help me confront and accept the reality of her death. These nightmares were my psyche's way of helping me do this slowly and indirectly enough so that I would be able to tolerate it in more manageable doses over time.
Please take comfort in knowing that as you move forward and process your grief, the content of your dreams will likely change over time, and you can expect that one day you will be dreaming of your loved one in a happier state.
In the meantime, this morning ritual will help turn off your fight or flight response when you wake up from these horrifying nightmares and bring you into a more stable and connected state. With time, you can also use this ritual to begin to confront and interact with these nightmares.
- The starting times here are for demonstration purposes only. You might be waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares in which case, you can try the first part of the ritual up until the breathwork before going back to bed
- Spend as much or as little time as you need on the different activities. For example, you might prefer 10 minutes of light stretching instead of an hour-long sweat session. Also, feel free to switch up the other activities in the ritual
- Your morning starts the night before. Make sure you get good sleep and plan for the next day.
- In grief, when everything feels out of control, setting a small personal intention for the day can help you feel more in control and support. I have included an intention for your ritual and a mantra for the day specific to this ritual, but feel free to modify it to something that resonates more with you
Ritual flow - It was just a dream
Total Time: 30 – 90 minutes
Ritual Intention: I am safe and secure in the embrace of my heart and I release tension from all levels of my being
7:00 A.M: As soon as you get up, immediately turn on the lights and get out of bed.
- Say your mantra, “it was just a dream, I am safe” a few times until you feel relatively calm
- Go to the bathroom and splash some water over your face and change clothes if you need to.
- You can also drink some water or tea
- Read some calming phrases, and listen to soothing music or affirmations
7:10 A.M.: When you are ready, say out loud your intention for the ritual
7:15 A.M.: Practice deep belly breathing for about 5 minutes to relax your muscles, release tension from your body, and bring you into the present moment
- You can also wrap your arms around yourself as you breathe to further soothe yourself
- Next, listen to this meditation to turn down your fight-flight response and return you to a more peaceful and stable space
7:30 A.M.: If you have time, take 10-15 minutes to perform a HIIT exercise like this one to help you shake off the dream by releasing endorphins and resetting your mindset. You can also go for a walk, a run, or biking.
7:45 A.M.: Take a warm to cold shower to wake you up and bring you into your body
8:00 A.M.: Make yourself a warm and rich breakfast like oatmeal and raisins or an omelet.
8:30 A.M.: After breakfast, if you feel up to it, you can put on some calming music and record the contents of your dream in a journal. It is healing to get the dream out of your system and see it on paper. It begins to lose some of its power over you and it is a great first step to managing them. The goal in the morning is not to bury the feelings, but to confront them
- If you are not ready to confront the nightmare, you can also spend some time listening to this Dream Detective Podcast episode.
- 8:45 A.M.: Take a few deep breaths and repeat your mantra for the day before stepping out. If images of the nightmare intrude during your day, wrap your arms around yourself, create a bubble of white light around you and repeat your mantra.
If the nightmares are driving you crazy and you are wondering how you can stop them, you can use image rehearsal therapy (IRT) which is a simple and safe technique you can use on your own to begin exploring and rewriting recurring nightmares.
Mantra for the day: I embrace my grief with the compassion of my heart.
When nightmares become dream visits
It really does get better with time.
As I spent more time processing my mother’s death and engaging with grief, I noticed that my dreams switched from nightmares or release dreams which are just psychological processing dreams to dream visits which are dreams in which your loved one visits you and offers you comfort, guidance and other forms of reassurance that they are doing ok.
The next time you wake up from a nightmare, try to remember that your mind is helping you process your person’s death. You have many more allies than you think.
If you are struggling with other grief symptoms in the morning like anxiety, grief brain, exhaustion, loneliness, or you just miss your loved one like crazy, check out the other articles in this series of morning rituals to support you.