Daydreaming serves an essential role in giving your mind a little time to relax.
Life is stressful. We have deadlines at work, laundry to do, dishes to clean, and maybe children to chase after. Then there is the matter of the news and everything going on in the world.
Who doesn’t need a little time to escape every once in a while?
Everyone does in some way.
There are healthy ways to do that – like diving into a book, taking a vacation, watching a movie, or exercising. And there are unhealthy ways to do it – like alcohol, substance abuse, or avoidance.
All of those healthy ways to escape for a bit can be unhealthy if they are disrupting your ability to conduct your life. It’s when hobbies like reading, watching movies, video games, or exercise replace responsibilities that we start to get in trouble.
Daydreaming is no different.
There’s nothing wrong with a little escapism from time to time. But when your daydreaming starts to interfere with your responsibilities, it crosses the line into “Maladaptive Daydreaming.”
What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
Maladaptive Daydreaming is a psychiatric condition that was identified by Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel. It is not featured in the DSM-V nor does it have a treatment plan associated with it. However, it is recognized as a disruptive problem that people experience.
A maladaptive daydream may be triggered by real-life events that cause the person to seek escape from that situation. Daydreams may be triggered by noises, smells, conversation, or physical experiences.
– Disrupted sleep
– Extremely vivid daydreams with sophisticated elements like characters, plot, or a story arc
– An overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming
– Repetitive movements while daydreaming
– Whispering, talking, making facial expressions while daydreaming
– Daydreams caused by real-life events
– Impaired ability to complete regular tasks
– Daydreaming for minutes to hours at a time
Though it is recognized as a psychiatric condition, there isn’t a lot of factual information about treatment and overcoming it. It may be the result of bad life circumstances in which escapism is a necessity to emotionally cope with ongoing abuse or trauma. It can also be a symptom of another mental illness or a result of an unhealthy lifestyle.
One must understand why they are daydreaming so much to find a solution to the problem.
Why are you daydreaming so much?
Finding a solution starts with identifying the problem. Can you identify the reasons why you daydream?
Some people daydream to cope with emotions and escape the pains of real life. Daydreaming can be an escape hatch from stress or other negative feelings that the person doesn’t want to deal with.
It could be that it’s a means of feeling positive about oneself or self-soothing by thinking about favorable outcomes or a fantasy world in which things are better than real life.
Some people use it as a means to trick themselves out of remembering something painful. By imagining a distressing scenario with a negative outcome as a distressing scenario with a positive outcome, the daydreamer can actually trick themselves into believing the positive lie.
That may sound like a positive thing, but it’s not. That kind of escapism prevents the person from healing from whatever negative thing happened by avoiding it entirely so it can fester and come back later in a worse way.
Consider what types of daydreams you have and their purpose. Are you trying to distract yourself? Escape from an ugly mental situation? Pass the time? Or just make yourself feel better?
What patterns are there in your daydreaming?
Can you identify any particular patterns in how you daydream? Perhaps you find your mind slipping away into fantasy when you are confronted with stress or difficult information.
It’s not unreasonable to want to escape from the ugliness of the world for a little while. You may find that your mind starts trying to slip away while watching the news and worrying over events that are out of your control.
Maybe it’s the stress from school, home, or family life that is causing you to pull away. It might even be that you just need a way to kill some time while you have nothing else going on at the moment.
Is there an identifiable trigger for when you find yourself in a daydream?
Find a way to work around or defuse existing triggers.
Defusing an existing trigger is certainly easier said than done. It may not be possible to fully defuse it, that is, remove the emotional component or stimuli that is causing you to slip away into a daydream.
But if you can, then you should. Perhaps you find yourself in a daydream while you are watching the news as a means of escaping. That can be countered by watching less news.
A stressful job or relationship can be hard to leave. Still, it may be necessary if they are negatively impacting your mental health to the point where you need to regularly escape.
Some situations are just toxic, and they can’t really be worked around if the other person sees no issue with anything that is going on. Sometimes that’s an ugly decision you just have to make for yourself and your own well-being.
Enhance your mindfulness and awareness.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for combating daydreaming because it is about focusing on the here and now.
Daydreaming often occurs when we let our minds slip away from us into distant thoughts and fictional scenarios.
By practicing mindfulness, we work to ground ourselves in the present moment where we currently are with full awareness of that moment. You’re not focused on what may or may not be, what could or could not happen, what lies ahead of or behind you.
Journaling can be an excellent way to go about improving your mindfulness. All you need to do is take some time to write down what you’re currently thinking, feeling, and perceiving.
It’s a simple practice that can help bring and keep your mind in the present with enough practice. It enables you to focus and develops your ability to identify when your mind is drifting away.
Daydreaming for self-improvement.
Daydreaming can be a useful tool for self-improvement and reflection when you use it in a focused way.
It would be a good idea to use that time to imagine the better life you want to work toward, considering what hurdles are ahead of you, and what goals to pursue.
That positive visualization can also help with depression and anxiety by allowing yourself into a safe place that is only yours to be in and explore. That can help you relax and calm yourself if you are experiencing difficulties.
Consider professional help.
There are different levels of daydreaming that range from benign to maladaptive. It is normal to daydream every so often. It is not normal or healthy for daydreaming to interrupt your ability to conduct your life.
You might be able to tackle moderate daydreaming as escapism on your own, but it might also point to a more serious problem that you may need professional help.
If you find that your life is regularly being disrupted by daydreaming, it may be worthwhile to talk to a certified mental health professional about what you’re experiencing. Click here to find one.
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