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This Deep Breathing Technique Ended My Recurring Nightmares

Shayla Copas hung up the phone after apologizing to yet another client for delays on a project. The Little Rock, Arkansas, mom had worked so hard to open her interior design business, Shayla Copas Interiors, but lately, she couldn’t meet a deadline. I’m too exhausted to focus, she admitted to herself.

For most of her adult life, Shayla had been having occasional nightmares of the physical and emotional abuse she’d suffered as a child. But when, five years ago, her only grandchild had died, her heartbreak over the loss along with the trauma from her childhood caused Shayla’s nightmares to worsen exponentially. Multiple nights a week, she woke up screaming, then was unable to fall back to sleep, leaving her exhausted, irritable, and depressed.

Over the years, Shayla had tried multiple counselors, a sleep clinic and anti-anxiety medication. Still, the nightmares persisted. Then a co-worker at the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, where Shayla volunteered, recommended she see Teresa Kramer, Ph.D., who specialized in treating the effects of trauma at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. I can’t go on this way, Shayla realized, so she made an appointment.

The Key to Calm

When Shayla met with Dr. Kramer, they began by delving into specific memories of abuse and the feelings they conjured up. Dr. Kramer gave Shayla tips on how to release those negative emotions and taught her a deep breathing technique to use when she was feeling stressed. “Begin taking deep, relaxing breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth,” Dr. Kramer instructed. “Now close your eyes and visualize yourself in a place where you’re most comfortable.” For Shayla, that was a mountain retreat. She was then told to take in every detail of that place, from the sounds and smells to how it looks.

Shayla began practicing deep breathing and visualization techniques at least three times a day for 5 minutes, whenever she felt stressed and before bed. And as her mind calmed, Shayla found her dreams also became more peaceful. As weeks passed, she was able to work through her past traumas until they no longer invaded her sleep. She was even able to stop taking medication!

Today, Shayla, 47, continues to practice deep breathing to keep stress at bay. Her relationships with her family are stronger. Her business is thriving. She even recently published a book, Four Seasons of Entertaining. “Everything is better!” she says, beaming. “This simple technique completely changed my life!”

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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