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5 ways to to talk to your young child about the opioid epidemic

Published: Monday, November 27, 2017 @ 1:00 PM

Experts provide these five tips for age-appropriate ways to talk to kids about the lethal opioid epidemic Educate yourself first in order to avoid misinformation Use vitamins as an analogy to how medicine can be helpful but becomes harmful if taken the wrong way Talk often and broaden the conversation as your child gets older Be honest and tell them that drugs can make you feel temporarily good Reveal any genetic factors

The trend is frightening and cannot be denied. To quote the Department of Health and Human Services: "Our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented opioid epidemic." 

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In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose and drug overdose deaths nearly tripled during 1999–2014, with 61 percent of those resulting from opioids. The opioid crisis is heightened among baby boomers and millennials in their 20s and 30s, according to HealthDay.

The crisis is clear, but the solution for parents of young children is not. It's tough to balance drug awareness and prevention for young kids against frightening them or inadvertently educating them about where to find opioids and other drugs. Parents are often left feeling helpless in the tide of drug abuse and opioid deaths that bridge all age groups, income levels and racial distinctions.

RELATED: Georgia among the top states with opioid overdose deaths

But there are steps parents can and should take, according to addiction and medical experts. Nonmedical use of prescription opioids was highest among adults ages 18-25, many of whom likely began using drugs and alcohol in adolescence, often early adolescence, Dr. Robert DuPont, president of the Institute for Behavior and Health, told U.S. News and World Report.

To counter early-onset drug and alcohol use, the conversations should begin as early as preschool age, according to Tina Muller, program manager for the family wellness department at Mountainside Treatment Center in Canaan, Connecticut, who spoke to U.S. News. 

Muller and other experts provide these five tips for age-appropriate ways to talk to kids about the lethal opioid epidemic:

Educate yourself first

To talk intelligently with your child, you'll need to know what opioids are, how they work in the brain and body and how to spot signs of use, according to Margie Skeer, an associate professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University.

"Parents shouldn't convey misinformation," she said. "If their children find out that what they've been told isn't accurate, they may turn instead to their peers for information."

Skeer recommends online resources like the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens website. It's particularly important to note the long-term effects that nonmedical use of opioids can have on adolescents. Around puberty, the brain starts a massive restructuring process and during this time the results of certain activities can get 'hard-wired' into the brain. "If a young person is engaged in academics, sports or learning a musical instrument, those connections get set in the brain," she said. "If they spend a lot of time using drugs, those could be the connections that stick. That means they'd have an increased chance of developing a substance use disorder later in life."

Use vitamins as an example

Muller advised parents to broach the subject with preschoolers without explicitly talking about opioids. Instead, use vitamins as an anology. "Explain to them that vitamins are good for you and will help you to grow up to be big and strong, but they can also be harmful if you take too many. This will start the understanding that while medicine can be helpful, it can also be harmful if taken in wrong amounts or in the wrong way."

RELATED: Prescription heroin: The alternative approach to opioid addiction?

Talk often; broaden the conversation as your child gets older.

The conversation should expand as children get older. When you take medications, explain what they are for and the importance of taking them correctly, Muller suggested. In the middle school years, she recommends asking children what they know about drugs. "What have they seen on TV or heard from their peers? Has their favorite musician or actor been in a drug scandal? Open up the lines of communication."

Skeer added that parents should continually remind themselves that this is a critically important topic. "Pretending that opioid use is not a problem - or thinking that a child is a 'good kid' and therefore doesn't need to hear and talk about it - is a mistake. Being a 'good kid' does not mean that an adolescent will not be curious or be tempted by peers."

Be honest: drugs can make you feel good

Drugs are alluring and kids should find that out from you, so they don't get a hard sell from someone else. Speaking in U.S. News, Nasir Naqvi, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, chose these words for parents to use: "Drugs can make you feel good, and like many things that make you feel good, they can also damage you, especially because you can lose control and they have harmful effects on your body." Naqvi recommended acknowledging that drugs can temporarily make you feel euphoric or like you're escaping your life. If you only discuss the negative repercussions you may lose your credibility.

RELATED: No slowing of opioid epidemic: 5 alarming signs even more will die from overdoses this year

Reveal any genetic factors

Find out for yourself and then let kids know if addiction runs in your family, Howard Samuels, owner and CEO of The Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles, told U.S. News. "It's in the DNA," he said. "You have a higher risk of alcoholism or addiction if you have a family history. In 25 years in this field, I've done thousands of assessments, and 80 to 90 percent of the time when someone is struggling with substance abuse, there was a family member who was an alcoholic or an addict." Letting his own kids know about their family's addictive streak has made them more apprehensive about drugs, Samuels said.


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7 things to know about the human plague, symptoms and how to protect yourself

Published: Tuesday, June 27, 2017 @ 3:39 PM

What You Need To Know: The Plague

Two new cases of the human plague have been confirmed in New Mexico Tuesday, according to health officials.

» RELATED: Possible plague case in Georgia 

This year, New Mexico has seen three cases of the plague, the first of which was reported in early June.

>> Read more trending news 

All three cases required hospitalization, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.

Here are seven things to know about the plague:

What is it?

According to Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plague is a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis that affects humans and other mammals.

» RELATED: Stray cat's plague death prompts 'fever watch' 

What is the history of plague?

Historians and scientists have recorded three major plague pandemics, according to the CDC.

The first, called the Justinian Plague (after 6th century Byzantine emperor Justinian I), began in A.D. 541 in central Africa and spread to Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The “Great Plague” or “Black Death” originated in China in 1334 and eventually spread to Europe, where approximately 60 percent of the population died of the disease.

» RELATED: The 'Black Death': Are gerbils, not rats, to blame for plague? 

Lastly, the 1860s “Modern Plague,” which also began in China, spread to port cities around the world by rats on steamships, according to the CDC.

In 1894, French bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin discovered the causative bacterium, Yersinia pestis.

Ten million deaths resulted from the last pandemic, which eventually affected mammals in the Americas, Africa and Asia.

It was during this last pandemic that scientists identified infectious flea bites as the culprit in the spread of the disease.

More about the history of plague.

Where in the U.S. is human plague most common?

Human plague usually occurs after an outbreak in which several susceptible rodents die, infected fleas leave the dead rodents and seek blood from other hosts.

These outbreaks usually occur in southwestern states, particularly in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, according to the CDC.

» RELATED: Lyme disease risks could increase after mouse plague, experts warn 

According to the World Health Organization, an average of five to 15 cases occur annually in the U.S.

Since 1900, more than 80 percent of those cases have been in the bubonic form.

Worldwide, there are approximately 1,000-3,000 cases of naturally occurring plague reported every year.

More about plague in the U.S.

How do humans and other animals get plague?

Usually, humans get plague after a bite from a rodent flea carrying the bacterium.

Humans can also get plague after handling (touching or skinning) an animal (like squirrels, prairie dogs, rats or rabbits) infected with plague.

According to the CDC, inhaling droplets from the cough of an infected human or mammal (sick cats, in particular) can also lead to plague.

» RELATED: Rare tick-borne illness worries some medical professionals 

What are the types of plague and their symptoms?

Bubonic plague (most common)

  • Tender, warm and swollen nymph nodes in the groin, armpit or neck usually develop within a week after an infected flea bite.
  • Signs and symptoms include sudden fever and chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches.
  • If bubonic plague is not treated, it can spread to other areas of body and lead to septicemic or pneumonic plague.

Septicemic plague

  • Occurs when bacteria multiply in the bloodstream.
  • Signs and symptoms include fever and chills; abdominal pain; diarrhea; vomiting; extreme fatigue and light-headedness; bleeding from mouth, nose, rectum, under skin; shock; gangrene (blackening, tissue death) in fingers, toes and nose.
  • Septicemic plague can quickly lead to organ failure.

Pneumonic plague (least common)

  • Pneumonic plague, which affects the lungs, is the most dangerous plague and is easily spread person-to-person through cough droplets.
  • Signs and symptoms (within a few hours after infection) include bloody cough, difficulty breathing, high fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness.
  • If it is not treated quickly, pneumonic plague is almost always fatal.

» RELATED: What is Lyme disease and how to avoid it 

How is plague treated?

Immediately see a doctor if you develop symptoms of plague and have been in an area where the disease is known to occur.
Your doctor will likely give you strong antibiotics (streptomycin, gentamicin or others) to combat the disease.

If there are serious complications like organ failure or bleeding abnormalities, doctors will administer intravenous fluids, respiratory support and give patients oxygen.

How to protect yourself, your family and your pets against plague

You and your family

The CDC warns against picking up or touching dead animals and letting pets sleep in the bed with you.

Experts also recommend eliminating any nesting places for rodents such as sheds, garages or rock piles, brush, trash and excess firewood.

Other ways to protect yourself and your family include wearing gloves if handling dead or sick animals, using an insect repellent with DEET to prevent flea bites and reporting sick or dead animals to your local health department or to law enforcement officials.

» RELATED: Ticks the season: How to prevent, find and get rid of ticks this summer 


Flea medicine should be administered regular for both dogs and cats.

Keep your pet’s food in rodent-proof containers and don’t let them hunt or roam in rodent habitats.

If your pet becomes ill, see a veterinarian as soon as possible.

More about plague at


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An hour-by-hour, easy guide to improving your energy all day long

Published: Wednesday, June 06, 2018 @ 1:29 PM

Don't let your age determine what you can and can't do. These tricks will help you run circles around younger people.

Is “just −so −tired” your constant state of being?

Batteries drained? All out of oomph? Exhausted?

There are so many ways to describe that blah, no energy feeling that can strike throughout the day. And while sometimes the explanation is obvious (binge-watching an entire season of Santa Clarita Diet last night may not have been the best idea), other energy sappers are not as noticeable or just creep up over time.

»RELATED: 7 ways to boost your energy inexpensively 

"Stress, poor diet, poor-quality sleep, lack of exercise and limited bright-light exposure during the day can all contribute to fatigue," psychologist Shelby F. Harris, director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, told Consumer Reports.

If certain symptoms accompany your fatigue, you may need to see a doctor, according to CR. They include unexplained weight gain or loss, fever, shortness of breath, morning headaches or difficulty concentrating.

For other folks who feel drained, self-help is an option. Harris and other health experts shared these quick ways to boost your energy throughout the day. Bye bye, blahs!

7 a.m.

Even chirpy morning people need some time before they're fully functioning. "It can take up to two hours to get the brain fully alert," Matthew Edlund, a doctor and director of the Gulf Coast Sleep Institute in Sarasota, Florida, told Real Simple. He explained that one reason you're lethargic is that your core body temperature has dipped during the night to keep you in deep, restorative slumber. 

To jar yourself back to peak energy more quickly, open the blinds and do a few stretches in front of the window. Light lets your brain know it's time to stop producing melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy, Edlund said. The physical activity will raise your body temperature out of the sleep-inducing range and increase blood flow to your brain.

7:15 a.m.

Take a “scentsational” shower. For a quick morning energy boost while you bathe before work or school, use bath products scented with citrus, eucalyptus or mint. "When you smell these scents, a surge of energy flows through the body, which clears the mind of clutter and gives you a quick lift," Ann Marie Chiasson, a Tucson-based integrative-medicine physician, told Real Simple.

8 a.m.

Pack in some protein. Eating lots of protein is essential for staving off fatigue, especially early in the day when your cortisol levels are high, Beverly Hills-based endocrinologist and metabolic specialist Eva Cwynar told Forbes. She suggested putting eggs on the breakfast menu, having a slice of ham on the side or adding protein powder to your oatmeal. If you eat only carbohydrates, you'll crash early and hard, explained Cwynar, who is the author of The Fatigue Solution: Increase Your Energy in Eight Easy Steps.

If you're not a breakfast person, try to manage at least a banana and about 22 raw almonds, Real Simple advised. Or sip a bottle of drinkable fruit yogurt or kefir, adding 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed for a fiber boost.

»RELATED: Want to lose weight? Give your breakfast an energy boost

10 a.m.

Shake up your routine. Any time you provide yourself with a novel experiences, your brain responds by releasing a rush of neurotransmitters, such as the dopamine that makes you more alert, according to Real Simple. Whether you hit a morning slump while watching the kiddos play in the yard or completing yet another report at the office, just taking something ordinary and switching it up can give you a quick hit of energy. Answer the phone with your other hand, for example, or skip to the mailbox or speak in just one-syllable words for five minutes. 

12 noon

Plan something to look forward to. Along with a light, protein-packed lunch like turkey chili, RS recommended taking part of your lunch hour to research something that will brighten your days to come. "Browse the Web for plane tickets. Or check out reviews for a movie you want to see over the weekend. Anticipating a pleasurable reward can set off a blast of energizing dopamine."

2 p.m.

Make a two-minute play date. Just a few minutes of fun brain-teasers will activate the reward system of the brain, which releases a surge of energizing neurotransmitters, according to RS. It recommended the Cup O' Joe brain-training app for the iPhone for memory games and reaction-time tests that are also actually entertaining.

3 p.m.

Fill out tomorrow's to do list. Rumination activates some parts of the prefrontal brain regions that have been associated with depression, Boulder, Colorado–based clinical psychologist Joan Borysenko told Real Simple. That means agonizing over what's on your must-do list for tomorrow will drain enjoyment from the evening ahead. If you take a few minutes during the afternoon slump hours to create tomorrow's to-do list, you can prevent this energy-sapping reaction. Should your mind try to dwell on what you didn't accomplish today, you can quickly get back to the fun and relaxation knowing you have a game plan in place.

(Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

4 p.m.

Cut off the caffeine. Coffee and tea are both great pick-me-ups earlier in the day because of their caffeine content, according to CR. But it's a good idea to limit caffeine overall to about 400 mg (that's about two to four 8-ounce cups of coffee) and stop visiting the coffee machine no later than 4 p.m. or so. "Caffeine can disrupt sleep when it's consumed even six hours before bedtime," CR noted.

9 p.m.-10 p.m.

Power down, sleepyheads. To trigger your brain to start producing that sleep-inducing melatonin, about an hour before bedtime dim the lights, switch off the TV and put away (out of reach, ideally out of the bedroom) all your smartphones, tablets and computers.

10 p.m.

Listen to a meditation or relaxation app. To separate physical fatigue from the mental drain caused by life's demands and worries. Harris recommended listening to a meditation or relaxation app right before bed. (Make sure you power off the phone right afterwards.) "Mindful meditation quiets your mind, so your brain isn't hijacked by anxious or racing thoughts of the day or by what has to be done in the future," Harris said. "It centers you and helps set the stage for sleep."

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Stream and dream: How to binge-watch Netflix and still get sleep

Published: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 @ 4:19 PM

Netflix Releases Most-Binged Content In 2017

Scientists and your average insomniac have long known that factors from stress to overly hot bedrooms to a partner's snoring can cause poor sleep.

Now, there's another item for the list, one that goes in the "life is unfair" column − because it turns out that binge-watching Netflix (your source of joy, stress reduction and water cooler conversations) can cause poor sleep and insomnia. 

»RELATED: Want better sleep? Cut down on binge-watching, study suggests

Netflix may have tweeted that sleep is its "greatest enemy," but in real life, it is wreaking havoc. Binge-watching Netflix, Hulu or other streaming services causes sleep deprivation, according to scientists from the University of Leuven in Belgium in a 2017 study published later in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. The researchers surveyed 423 people ages 18 to 25 and concluded that among poor sleepers, almost a third (32.6 percent) had a poor sleep quality associated with being a binge viewer.

TV watching is linked to higher levels of belly fat, a University of Minnesota study shows. (Pawel Szpytma/Dreamstime/TNS)(Pawel Szpytma/Dreamstime)

Increased levels of binge-watching made the bad effects worse, including daytime fatigue and insomnia symptoms, from bad moods to a higher risk of being in a workplace accident or drowsy driving crash.

Ugh! Why would these good doctors say such things about binge-watching a series like "The Good Wife?" The science behind the findings goes beyond the obvious explanation of, "If you're watching, you're not sleeping."

Researchers found binge-watching adversely affected sleep in two areas. The first, pre-sleep arousal, may sound like an element of "The Eddy" or some other bingeable series, but it actually refers to the way the content you're watching activates your brain and body, according to, with a mission of "advancing better sleep."

At some point during the binge, you get invested in the show, becoming nervous about what happens next or thrilled about some relationship development.

That's great for the entertainers and great for the viewer, but not so good for prospects of a good night's sleep. Why? Those feelings don't stay in your cerebrum: They make your heart pound and your whole body become more alert. "When your body and brain are that activated, it's the opposite of the relaxation and 'shutting-off' period your body needs to induce sleep," noted. "Even if you're just lying there, your body feels 'on.'"

The second factor that makes binge-watching so damaging to healthy sleep is the blue light coming from the TV, phone, tablet or computer that enables binge-watching. "When your brain senses blue light from an electronic device, it perceives it as sunlight," explained. "As a result, it assumes it's still daytime, so it's not yet time to kick off melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. It releases at night, inducing sleep. The longer your brain delays melatonin release, the harder it is to fall asleep, and stay asleep."

Of course, you can know how the binge-watching ends (or rather doesn't end with a good night's sleep) and still crave just one more episode.

Happily, you don't have to choose between binge-watching and good sleep. "You can stream your favorite shows and movies without sacrificing the sleep you need each night," American Academy of Sleep Medicine President Ronald Chervin said. "Responsible binge-watching is the way to balance your personal entertainment with your health and well-being."

Here are tips for creating a binge-watch/sleep compromise from AASM and

Adjust the light. Consider binge-watching as part of the overall light that cues your sleep-wake cycle. Spend plenty of time out in natural light, particularly early in the day, recommended. "This will boost your alertness so you're less tired during the day, but it will also make you sleepier by the time bedtime rolls around."

Filter the blue. When you feel the need to binge-watch, turn on your device's native red-light filter to filter out strong blue wavelengths or download an app that does it for you.


Schedule viewing and sleep time. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, essentially training your body to naturally be alert or tired at predictable times each day, advised. Take the same approach with binge-watching, setting a limit for how many episodes you'll watch and at what times and sticking to it.

Avoid temptation. Download only the episodes you have allowed on your schedule and then turn off the WiFi on your device so you can't sneak in a few more episodes. It's also a good idea to watch with a buddy who will help you stay accountable.

Turn off all your electronics at the same time each day. Bringing the binge-watching to a halt helps, but if you're still on the phone checking e-mail, your brain is still getting cues from blue light. Shoot for turning off electronics 60 minutes before bed.

Turn off "auto-play" in your settings. This goes for Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video alike.

Select low-key binge content late at night. Save those juicy dramas and pulse-quickening thrillers for afternoon or sick-day sessions. Close to bed, try those restrained but amusing sitcoms that are still bingeable, like "One Day at a Time" (a Tech Junkie pick, so it's bound to be good).

Pick a good spot to binge watch. Back to that "life's unfair" theme again. Bed is the worst place to binge-watch if you're hoping to sleep well later. "Your bed should be reserved for sleep and sex only," noted. "The more activities you introduce to your sleep environment, the more you confuse your brain into forgetting it's a place to wind down and fall asleep. If you spend hours binge-watching, your brain may come to associate your bed as a place you lie for hours without falling asleep."

Cut the cliffhanger rush. According to Lifehacker, another way to diminish the hold of bingeable shows without sacrificing enjoyment of watching is to stop watching an episode during a lull in the action. When you choose to stop at a point that's not a cliffhanger, you minimize your chances of going for "just one more episode," and avoid the dopamine release that's so bad about encouraging insomnia. The action tends to die down in the middle of the episode or about three-quarters of the way through. Stop there and save the drama for the next viewing session. 


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Sweet dreams: How to conquer your nightmares 

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 3:02 PM

The American Sleep Association estimates that up to 90% of people have nightmares.

You're asleep, right? You can hardly be expected to control your actions, much less your thoughts. But if bad dreams are ruining your sleep (and affecting your waking moments), you can work to eliminate or minimize them, according to psychologists and sleep experts.

»RELATED: Want better sleep? Write a to-do list, study says

How nightmares work 

"One way of thinking about dreams is that they're part of the same problem-solving processes that we use during the day time," Gregory White, a California-based clinical psychologist and psychology professor at National University, told U.S. News and World Report. "If you're really distressed, you're more likely to have distressing dreams." 

In turn, a night of bad dreams can leave you feeling depressed or angry the next day, and repetitive sleep loss can cause a slew of negative side effects, from poor performance to obesity. Long-term sleep loss can even lead to mental illness.

(jhorrocks/Getty Images)

Tore Nielsen, a professor of psychiatry, who directs the University of Montreal's Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, told U.S. News about his research, which showed excessive numbers of nightmares are frequently linked to mental health problems including anxiety disorders, PTSD, depression and even a higher risk of suicide.

"Fortunately, there are effective treatments for nightmares," he added, like rehearsing the "bad dream script" with a more positive ending, or treating nightmares and anxiety disorders simultaneously.

Know the ordinary causes

According to Psychology Today, nightmares occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and result in feelings of extreme fear, horror, distress or anxiety. "This phenomenon tends to occur in the latter part of the night and often awakens the sleeper, who is likely to recall the content of the dream," according to PT, which detailed these common causes:

  • Anxiety or stress. "In 60 percent of cases, a major life event precedes the onset of nightmares." The death of a loved one is a common trigger.
  • Illness with a fever
  • An adverse reaction to a prescription drug
  • Recent withdrawal from a drug, especially from sleeping pills
  • Excessive alcohol consumption or abrupt alcohol withdrawal
  • A breathing disorder during sleep, e.g. sleep apnea
A sleep study from January suggests having sex actually helps you sleep better.

How to fight nightmares

Writing in Physchology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne looks at recent nightmare research and recommends the following steps for those suffering from nightmares:

  • Put your worries to rest before bedtime. It's a good idea to clear your head of your day's annoyances and unpleasant events. Instead, focus on the positive events that happened to you during the day.
  • Avoid ruminating on negative experiences. If you tend to dwell on the negative, try to stop this habit, Whitbourne advised. "Catch yourself when you're envisioning worst-case scenarios or when you're starting to get down on yourself for feeling the way you do. Reducing your negative emotions while you're awake can make it easier for you to engage in Step 1 of putting them on hold when you're ready to go to sleep."
  • When you do have nightmares, don't catastrophize them. "Catastrophizing" is the psychological term for imagining the worst possible outcome of a negative experience. As a result, the "magnitude of the experience skyrockets beyond its original negative impact," Whitbourne explained. "The nightmares that stick with you the following day may contain horrendous images. Dreams do not predict the future. If you worry that the bad things you dreamt about will happen, you will only increase your negative mood state." 
  • Learn to distinguish an actual dream from a waking nightmare. Sometimes you may actually be half awake when you think you're asleep. Recognizing this may help you see that you're allowing your negative emotions to cascade.
  • Watch what you eat. Probably the best known cause of bad dreams (and the fuel for many a cartoon and sitcom plot) is the link between indigestion and nightmares. This really is a thing, according to  Woman's Day, which recommended avoiding foods that could cause indigestion near bedtime. For rest that's more peaceful all around, eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime, and choose nighttime snacks wisely, including no milk products for the lactose intolerant and no caffeine after 2 p.m.

»RELATED: 5 easy ways to improve your sleep (without sleeping longer)

In addition to these steps, Gregory White suggests breathing exercises. While holding on to the memory of the bad dream, take a deep breath and then release it very slowly "so that you decondition" the anxious feeling you've associated with the dream. He also recommended getting out of bed quickly, since movement tends to disrupt the ability to remember dreams.

And if you've taken all these steps and still feel distressed? It may be time to seek help. "For anything that's consistent or very troubling and you're not getting far from it," White said, "go see a therapist."


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