Have you ever experienced sitting in a slow, boring class where your teacher’s voice sounded like a lullaby lulling you to sleep? Daydreaming is one way that certain people manage to go through dull experiences. Sometimes, allowing your mind to wander freely can be therapeutic. But when you become addicted to it and it starts to consume hours of your day, it may be time to stop daydreaming.
When you think that you’ve lost control of your thoughts and excessive daydreaming seems to have disconnected you from real life, you could be suffering from maladaptive daydreaming.
This article will help you understand why excessive daydreaming can be bad for your mental health. Could it be a symptom of a mental illness? Read on to learn the different signs of maladaptive daydreaming and how it could be treated.
People daydream when the situation at hand is stressful and tiring. In essence, it’s a mental detour that gives the mind time to relax and refocus. Allowing yourself to enjoy a little escape from the imaginary world can help you cope with stress from time to time. But like everything else, too much of it can be bad for your health.
Maladaptive daydreaming is the act of daydreaming to the point that it affects one’s everyday endeavors. It happens when a person spends long hours daydreaming and simultaneously gets trapped in their fantasy world. They’re unable to control their overwhelming desire to escape reality.
Research conducted by Professor Eliezer Somer defined maladaptive daydreaming as having extremely vivid daydreams that impact human interaction and interfere with interpersonal, vocational, and academic functioning. And although the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) doesn’t consider maladaptive daydreaming as a diagnosis, researchers and health care professionals treat it as a medical condition.
Maladaptive Daydreaming as a Mental Illness
Also known as daydreaming disorder, maladaptive daydreaming can harm your mental health in the long run. When a person has highly distracting dreams while awake, it could prevent them from handling their day-t0-day tasks.
Such daydreams are usually triggered by stimuli, physical experiences, or real-life events. They can also be a psychiatric response resulting from a traumatic experience, overthinking, depression, and anxiety.
Dreamers are mentally dissociated from their actual life and completely submerged in their fantasies. They may even unknowingly behave and speak like the characters in their daydreams.
Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale
Since excessive daydreaming is still not considered a formal diagnosis, experts have developed a tool to measure maladaptive daydreaming.
The Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale or MDS-16 is a 16-item self-report instrument that measures and identifies abnormalities of a person’s daydreaming. The self-test is designed to provide a valid measurement of the condition. It’s currently used in several countries such as the U.K., Italy, and Israel.
The 16-item scale contains questions about:
- Triggers that cause daydreams
- Physical symptoms that accompany the daydream
- How the person feels about their daydreams
- The effects of having the daydreams interrupted
- The effects of not being able to daydream
- How daydreaming has affected someone’s daily life
- Whether the person likes listening to music while daydreaming
Structured Clinical Interview for Maladaptive Daydreaming
Abbreviated to SCIMD, this is another tool that enables specialists to get answers that can help assess whether a person has the condition or not. This type of assessment was initially developed and introduced by Professor Somer himself.
Symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming
Here are some of the common things that experts have observed in people who experience maladaptive daydreaming as a mental condition:
- When daydreams are extremely immersive and vivid, the dreamer starts to embody the characters in reality and dwell in the settings and plots of the dreams.
- Daydreams that occur for longer periods are difficult for people to escape.
- The dreamer starts to perform repetitive movements when the daydream starts, such as rocking their body back and forth or bouncing up and down.
- Talking, mumbling, and whispering while daydreaming
- Making facial expressions when daydreaming
- Fantasizing is easily triggered by an external stimulus such as listening to music, watching a movie, or anything that taps into their emotions.
- Daydreaming can cause the dreamer significant stress.
- Inability to stay focused or carry out daily tasks
- The dreamer is usually aware of the difference between their dreams and reality.
- There’s an overwhelming urge to continue daydreaming.
How Maladaptive Daydreaming Can Affect a Person’s Everyday Life
Maladaptive daydreaming can be so realistic and lengthy that it dissociates a person from the real world, negatively impacting their work, school performance, social relationships, sleep, and well-being. Studies show that the condition in students causes “spacing out” during class, leading to a significant decrease in their GPA.
Excessive daydreamers can spend an average of five hours of their day being completely drowned in their fantasies. They get so engaged in daydreaming that grounding themselves in reality becomes a struggle. Most of these dreamers end up neglecting school activities, responsibilities, and relationships.
How to Stop Maladaptive Daydreaming
Maladaptive daydreaming is medically recognized as a psychiatric condition. Fortunately, there are ways for you to overcome it. These reduction and grounding techniques will keep your mind from wandering and help increase focus:
Start Analyzing Daydream Patterns
Can you identify a pattern of how or when your daydream tends to happen? Do you start daydreaming when you’re facing a lot of stress or when you start watching a movie? Is it triggered by stress? Understanding the triggers of your mental escape can help you develop a way to reduce episodes of daydreaming.
Take note of how often you daydream. Keeping a tally of how many times you’ve drifted off to dreamland will help increase your awareness. Sometimes, it might take you a while to realize that you’ve been daydreaming, but that’s okay. Just record the instance every time you notice it.
Find a Way to Diffuse the Triggers
Does your maladaptive daydreaming start when you brush your teeth or do specific tasks like washing clothes or mopping the floor? List down the things or activities that initiate it. If the triggers are unavoidable, use reduction techniques to limit them.
There are cases where triggers can’t be totally diffused. However, you can still avoid the emotional stimuli causing your mind to escape from the reality of life.
If you’re in a toxic relationship and it seems that it’s the reason you’re experiencing maladaptive daydreaming, it can be difficult to leave. It is, however, absolutely necessary, especially if that relationship is ruining your life and mentality to the point that your mind has to regularly escape reality.
Have an Open Conversation With Yourself
Try self-talking. Initiating a conversation with yourself can be more therapeutic than imagining or creating a character in your head that you could talk to.
“Do you want to continue living in a fictional world or the present?” This is a question that you should be asking yourself. Everyone has their own way of developing techniques to cope with stress and survive, so it’s fine to try a different approach as long as you’re comfortable with it. But if your coping techniques are maladaptive, look for healthier methods to replace them.
Be More Mindful
Mindfulness allows you to ground yourself in the present so you’ll become fully aware of what you’re doing and what’s happening to you. You can practice being mindful by taking the time to jot down your current thoughts and feelings as well as your perceptions of the future.
Writing a journal about your daydream may sound like a simple activity, but it can help you focus and develop your ability to identify triggers. Once you’ve understood the patterns and purpose of your dreams, you can now start noticing when your mind starts drifting.
Common signs that you’re about to daydream are the following:
- In the middle of a conversation, you start losing eye contact with the other person.
- Focusing on the task you’re doing becomes difficult.
- Not remembering what you’ve just said
- Entertaining thoughts that are unrelated to the conversation
- Having imaginary people or conversations in your head
Daydream to Improve Yourself
Mind wandering can be a tool for self-improvement. It could help you fulfill personal goals or allow you to reflect if you’re truly determined to go in that direction.
It’d be best for you to use the time to imagine better scenarios in life. Doing so while daydreaming can be considered positive visualization. Allowing yourself to drift off into a safe place in your thoughts, especially during a stressful situation, may help prevent depression and anxiety as well.
Identify Negative Consequences
Make a journal about the negative consequences you faced when the maladaptive daydreaming condition was triggered. Those could include:
- Less time spent for friends and families
- Falling behind normal academic activities
- Inability to concentrate on work
- Inability to separate what’s real and what’s fantasy
How to Treat Maladaptive Daydreaming
Standard treatments to cure maladaptive daydreaming have not been identified yet. But specialists suggest that there are techniques acquired from anecdotal references that can help manage the symptoms.
- Improve the quality of sleep: Have a better sleeping habit by following the same sleeping pattern or schedule every day. Get at least eight hours of sleep. If you take daytime naps, try to shorten them so you can sleep faster and longer at night. Avoiding stimulants such as coffee right before bedtime can also help promote sleep.
- Understand and keep a record of your symptoms: Use a notepad or an app on your phone where you can track the activities you were doing before you had a daydream. It could also be advantageous to inform others about your symptoms. Ask family members and close friends to help you interrupt maladaptive daydreaming.
- Meditate to ground yourself: Daydreaming can detach you from the real world and make you forgetful and distracted. Being in that state for too long might lead to other mental health problems. Meditation could help you learn how to stay grounded. By doing it, you can focus on the present moment and be mindful of your surroundings.
- Avoid triggers: Mind wandering can be initiated by a particular activity or internal stimuli. Once you’ve identified them, steer clear of them as much as possible.
- Take medication: There are no known drugs proven to cure maladaptive daydreaming. However, psychotic medications such as fluvoxamine are said to reduce the signs and symptoms of the condition.
When Does Fantasizing Become Unhealthy?
You’ll know that you need to seek professional help when you notice that your daydreaming has affected your work, relationships, and life in general. Here are some examples of what to watch out for to determine whether intervention has to be done:
- Being distracted or annoyed when people interrupt you when you’re daydreaming
- Inability to meet expectations and unproductivity at work or in school because of too much spacing out
- Avoiding social gatherings and activities to spend more time daydreaming
- Excessive use of social media, porn, music, the internet, and fanfiction to enhance one’s imagination
Daydreaming is a great way to exercise the mind’s creativity, but too much of it could prove to be a problem in the long run. If you’re having difficulty managing your fantasies, it’s time to consider getting some professional help.
Here at Counseling Now, we have a team of experts who can readily guide you in using coping strategies that’ll work best for you. We’ll also help you process the underlying trauma causing maladaptive behaviors.
With us, you can start your psychological evaluation immediately, just within 48 hours after your initial request. A clinically trained psychologist will assist you with your first step to recovery.
Let us help you make meaningful advances to improve your mental condition. Contact Counseling Now today. You can rely on our team to provide specific mental health care plans that are specifically tailored to your needs.