How To Stop Excessive Daydreaming?

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“A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish.” ― W.H. Auden

According to psychologists, 96% of humans are daydreamers. An average person dreams once every 90 minutes, but the dream does not last more than a few minutes. So mostly, everyone uses daydreaming as a way to escape from the reality. 

Mollie Volinksy, a clinical social worker who provides trauma-informed psychotherapy, mentions “Daydreaming is incredibly normal, but excessive daydreaming can be a symptom of a larger problem”. Daydreaming can thereby, be an indication of some mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, childhood trauma, and hyperactivity disorder. Usually, childhood daydreaming has a huge impact on adulthood. They mention that if the child dreams about positivity, creativity, goal setting, and happy things, that will continue in adulthood resulting in Positive-constructive daydreaming.  

Whereas if the child dreams about negative and scary things, the same occurs in adulthood causing depression, anxiety, obsession, or hypochondria that causes Guilty-dysphoric daydreaming. So, it depends on the way one uses it. Excessive daydreaming can, however, affect the academic, interpersonal, and work-life. It is also related to four mental health disorders such Dissociative disorder, Disturbance of attention, Obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder, and Behavioral addiction. Some researchers even say that it may be linked to feelings of guilt, dysphoria, and inability to control attention. 

The signs of excessive daydreaming include preoccupation, mood modification, increasing tolerance, withdrawal from reality, and inner frustration. This phenomenon is in itself considered to be maladaptive. However, MD is not just excessive daydreaming but also results in loss of functionality. 

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Maladaptive Daydreaming

Maladaptive daydreaming occurs as a coping mechanism in response to trauma, abuse, or loneliness. It is a cycle of addiction that creates additional attachment to the character and life created in their minds, replacing the real-life interactions among friends and family. Due to this, they may unable to control themselves and experience a compulsion to switch to inner fantasies several times, thus resulting in behavioural addiction.

Why does it occur?

The people who engage in maladaptive dreaming have certain features common with people who engage in behavioural addictions like internet gaming. For instance-

  • Need to escape from real-life problems like social anxiety and childhood trauma.
  • Experience of being bullied at school.
  • Neglection experienced at home.
  • Lack of emotional support and discouragement. 

Positive aspects of Maladaptive daydreaming 

It is completely normal and healthy to daydream. In some instances, people daydream excessively, thinking too much and letting their minds wander off even if there is a task to complete. But some people manage it greatly by using daydreams as a means to entertain themselves. People consider it a stress reliever for traumatic life events.  Escaping the situation for some time brings a new attitude and solution to a problem. Here are a few insights that

  • Daydreaming helps the mind to relax.
  • Daydreaming helps to manage conflict.
  • Daydreaming helps to maintain the relationship.
  • Daydreaming helps boost productivity.
  • Daydreaming helps to achieve goals.
  • Daydreaming keeps one focused.

Negative aspects of Maladaptive daydreaming

If daydreaming is too much, it creates a problem. It causes one to lose focus and forget important information. It can affect productivity at work. The constant negative thoughts also tend to cause mental health problems. It is associated even with sleep disorders. Maladaptive daydreamers are also more prone to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression. It causes forgetfulness, injury, and unproductivity. 

Symptoms of Maladaptive daydreaming

  • Vivid and intricate daydreams.
  • Difficulty in completing the tasks.
  • Difficulty in sleeping at night.
  • Repetitive and unconscious movements when daydreaming.
  • A strong and uncontrollable desire to continue daydreaming.
  • Daydreaming for several hours at a time.

Maladaptive daydreaming and Highly sensitive person

A highly sensitive person (HSP) is someone who has a sensitive nervous system and is easily overwhelmed when present in a highly stimulating environment. They process information deeply, easily aroused by external stimuli. These traits appear in about one-fifth of the population. Some of the common traits of HSP include sensitivity to external stimuli like lights, loud noises, strong smells, and other such stimulations. 

They are even touch-sensitive. Emotional sensitivity can be felt very deeply among these persons.  They find themselves hurt by seeing others suffering. In their relationships, these people love their partners intensely. Empathy causes them to be more emotional and pay attention to their body language. 

They form close bonds with animals. Introversion tendencies are thinking about something and being highly overwhelmed with the information they process. Sensitive immune system HSPs can get affected by food, household chemicals, etc.  Often, they have headaches, sensitive skin, and other health issues. 

HSPs are creative as they are right-brained, holistic thinkers and have good power of imagination. They dislike too much pressure and like to work individually or in small groups. They don’t perform well if someone is hovering over their shoulders.

Though the qualities of a highly sensitive person might be similar to a maladaptive daydreamer, not all maladaptive daydreamers are highly sensitive people.

Maladaptive daydreaming and ADHD

ADHD, in particular, is an inattentive subtype, that causes an individual to lose focus and daydream, but this behaviour is neurological and not intentional. People with ADHD may hyperfocus while they daydream. When an individual with ADHD daydreams, even if you call their name they won’t hear you. To get attention from them, one has to stand in front of them. This causes problems in relationships, academics, or at work.

MD is a common symptom of ADHD, even though not everyone who has ADHD experiences it.  MD and ADHD are associated with certain common aspects like difficulty in organizing, focusing, and paying attention to the details in life. MD shares some of the symptoms with ADHD and both are considered to be distractions in life.  When we think of ADHD, we remember hyperactive boys, who can’t sit still, disrupting everyone.  

Some authors stated that “Maladaptive daydreaming is an independent mental phenomenon, often creating a deficit in attention as a side-effect, causing MDs to meet criteria for ADHD, but not necessarily vice versa”. The study proposed currently states that ADHD is better described as mind wandering (spontaneous shifting of attention to task unrelated thoughts). On the other hand, MD is defined as intentional and complex. They both have different mechanisms in general and call for different treatments. 

Ways to overcome Maladaptive daydreaming

  • Overcome childhood trauma: People with these problems should learn to overcome self-criticism and guilt. Sometimes it brings in hopelessness and frustration. Be patient and start to love yourself to overcome this trauma. If possible get emotional support from friends or professionals. 
  • Cope: Practising mindfulness and meditation helps to gain awareness of the present moment rather than getting closed in the endless flow of thought. Obtaining self-praise, when successful, helps to stop maladaptive daydreaming.
  • Sleep well: Try to stick to a sleep schedule, and avoid caffeine before bedtime as it can interfere the sleep. A routine like brushing, showering and reading a book before bed can signal the brain to sleep soon. Sleeping problems are mainly linked to impaired memory, impaired attention, and intrusive daydreaming.
  • Stay engaged during the day: Stay busy always to keep your mind unavailable for daydreaming.  Engage the mind in mental focus activities like reading, playing outdoor games, dancing, etc. Get involved in social activities. Doing self-soothing activities like cooking or self-care also helps to overcome daydreaming. 
  • Count the number of episodes: In the beginning, it’s difficult to cut off the daydreaming. To monitor the number of times and the duration of daydreaming, set a timer to monitor the daydreaming.  Self-monitoring is an active part to reduce daydreaming. It is a behavioural modification so that the result can be long-lasting.
  • Start Journalling: Writing down the thoughts can help you to order your mind and keep away from daydreaming.  Write down the emotions and the role in life that affects you during daydreaming. It helps in slowing down the thought processes by allowing space for self-discovery and tension relief. 
  • Seek therapy: It helps to connect the behaviours, thoughts, and feelings. It focuses on the current problems and symptoms of the patient suffering from daydreaming. It helps to maintain a healthier and more balanced thinking pattern. CBT and some other therapies like Inner Child Healing can prove to be effective.
  • Others: Finding new hobbies also helps to stay away from daydreaming. Set new goals and targets in the work to finish it. Try to change some of the day-to-day routines that can help stop daydreaming. Get rid of junk items in the home that have no purpose. These items can cause a distraction to the mind. It can sometimes make you remember certain unpleasant situations. 

Dr Somer a leading expert on maladaptive daydreaming says, “If one wishes to better control their fantasy life, I suggest seeking help from a mental health professional who specializes in treating habits and behavioural addictions.” Therapy can be a good start to overcoming this problem of daydreaming. Particularly, trauma therapists can help maladaptive daydreamers to find the root cause of their problem and work to resolve the past issues. Moreover, such people should be mindful, self-compassionate, and stay active to overcome the problem of daydreaming. 


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