You cannot cure maladaptive daydreaming disorder overnight. Your daydreaming got out of control over months or years of using it to escape from real life. Maladaptive daydreaming takes time to get thoroughly embedded in your brain, and it takes a significant amount of time and effort to regain control. You can’t just decide to get over it and suddenly stop daydreaming.
However, there are times when you need to push your daydreaming to the background for a short while, perhaps while you’re waiting to see a therapist, or because you have to study or complete an important project at work. And, fortunately, there are some things you can do that will give you a little bit of control and a little bit of hope when it feels as though your daydreaming is taking over completely.
Understand the size of the problem
Do you know exactly how long you spend daydreaming each day? That’s going to be useful information if you plan to see a therapist in future, and studies have shown that simply monitoring your daydreaming habits can actually help you get control over the amount of time you spend daydreaming. So start keeping a log of when and for how long you daydream. Every time you daydream, make a note of how long you were away from reality. Simply making yourself accountable to yourself in this way can be surprisingly helpful.
Set aside a little time each day for daydreaming
Your mind has got used to daydreaming. It needs it, at least for now. So look at your life and decide how long you can realistically allow yourself to daydream each day without it getting in the way of real life. For example, could you set aside an hour at the end of the day? Or perhaps 30 minutes when you get home from work? Knowing that you’re still going to let yourself daydream a little takes the pressure off. When you feel the urge to daydream, you can say to yourself “not yet, there’s time for that later”. But be careful – when it’s time to daydream, set a timer. The hardest part is stopping when the time is up, so if possible, plan something you need to do immediately afterwards to bring you back to reality.
Have another way to occupy your mind
Boredom is one of the biggest daydreaming triggers. Very few of us can tolerate boredom for more than a few minutes. If you’re used to daydreaming for hours at a time, you’re going to need something to replace it with. If you just let your mind wander, you’ll find yourself worrying or ruminating, and that will push you straight back into daydreaming. Find something you enjoy that requires enough concentration to stop you daydreaming but not so much that it exhausts you. You could try crossword puzzles, colouring, gardening, going to the gym, even housework. Find what works for you.
Stay away from your daydreaming triggers
Think about the things that trigger your daydreaming and how you can minimise your exposure to them. Remember, it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You’re trying to reduce rather than eliminate your daydreaming, so you can reduce rather than eliminate your triggers. For example, if music is a trigger, you can still listen to music in your allocated daydreaming time, but at other times perhaps you could listen to podcasts instead. Again, it’s about finding what works for you.
Make rules for yourself that you can stick to
Set some boundaries around your daydreaming, but be careful only to commit to things that are realistic in your situation. For example, I have a rule that I never daydream when I’m in the same room as another person. I originally started this because I wanted to send a message to my brain that when I’m with someone real, that person deserves my full attention. But it’s now become a useful way to stop myself daydreaming. If I need to snap out of a daydream, I go and find someone real to have a conversation with.
Talk to your characters about real life
This is one of my favourite strategies. Instead of diving headlong into my fantasy world, I have a couple of characters that I bring out of the daydream so that I can talk to them about my real-life problems. My brain might think I’m daydreaming, but in fact I’m reviewing my life, setting goals and devising action plans – all those things that daydreamers tend to avoid. And, yes, my characters hold me accountable too.
Have a way to ground yourself
When you start trying to manage your maladaptive daydreaming, you’re going to have the occasional lapse, and you’re going to have times when the urge to daydream seems overwhelming. Having a go-to strategy to ground yourself when the urge feels irresistible can be very helpful. You could use the 54321 technique – count five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This forces you to reconnect with your surroundings. Another possibility is to tune into the physical sensations in your body – scan each part of your body in turn and notice what sensations are there.
None of the above strategies will instantly cure your maladaptive daydreaming. Recovery is a longer-term project, which you may well need to undertake in partnership with a therapist. But hopefully by implementing some of these techniques, you can at least begin to feel that you have some control over your daydreaming. And, once you have control, you can start to believe that recovery is possible.