Daydreaming as an antidote to overthinking – why you shouldn’t worry about not worrying

One of the fascinating things about being an immersive daydreamer is how my daydreaming affects the way I respond to real-world situations. For example, I worry a lot less than most normative daydreamers I know. I think everyone, regardless of their daydreaming style, worries about a whole range of different things, but I think the way immersive and maladaptive daydreamers worry is different from the way normative daydreamers worry, and potentially serves a slightly different purpose.

Worrying has its origins in our fundamental discomfort with uncertainty. All of us, regardless of our daydreaming style, feel more confident and relaxed when we know what the future holds. When we’re not quite sure what will happen, particularly when we fear that something bad will happen, it is stressful and uncomfortable. And the way we naturally respond to uncertainty is to try to control it – but of course not every situation is under our control.

And that’s where there’s a difference between immersive/maladaptive daydreamers and normative daydreamers. When faced with uncertainty, normative daydreamers look for control by trying to plan for every possible eventuality. Worrying, for normative daydreamers, involves mentally rehearsing all the possible outcomes, trying to plan for every what-if scenario, in an attempt to have an answer for every situation. Feeling prepared gives an illusion of control.

Immersive and maladaptive daydreamers, on the other hand, run away from the worrying situation. We react to uncertainty by mentally checking into our alternate universe where, more likely than not, the problem doesn’t exist; or if it does, we know we can bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. We get our illusion of control by avoiding the situation completely and going somewhere where we make all the choices.

We tend to get very self-critical about this. By worrying, a normative daydreamer may feel that they’re preparing for every outcome, and sometimes they may even come up with a constructive solution. It’s easy for immersive and maladaptive daydreamers to feel we have somehow ducked the issue by just checking out. But have we, when the future was never under our control in the first place? Isn’t it better to be daydreaming about something wonderful than working yourself up into a state of anxiety and stress? There is no point feeling guilty about using daydreaming to escape from uncertainty if the alternative is that you get stuck in stressful worrying and overthinking.

But is there a better way to deal with worrying situations? We’re never going to be able to avoid bad things happening – and in fact we wouldn’t want to, because it is only by living through the difficulties and challenges that we’re able to grow and to appreciate the good times. The problem really comes from our need to control the situation. If we are able to give up that control, we can give up the need to worry.

So how do you give up the need to control? The first step is to accept the situation you’re in. Accept that the future is uncertain, but know that the universe won’t send you anything you can’t handle. You’ve coped with everything that life has thrown at you up to this point; you’ll cope with whatever is coming as well.

The next time you are tempted to worry, instead of immediately dropping into your fantasy world, take a moment to think about, not the thing you are worried about, but the way you are reacting to it. Is worrying about it helpful? What aspects of the situation are under your control? Is there anything you can usefully plan for? Would a bit of time in the daydream world give you a chance to reset and gain some perspective, or will it just make you feel guilty afterwards? If you can’t control the outcome, what is the most useful thing you can do?

If you’re finding it hard to quiet your mind for long enough to pay attention to your reactions, I’d recommend trying mindfulness. It helps you assess how you are feeling and reacting without getting sucked into your thoughts.

In summary, although most of us do worry sometimes, I suspect that immersive and maladaptive daydreamers worry less than normative daydreamers, because of our tendency to opt out of reality when it gets uncomfortable. In the context of worrying about a future event that might not happen and isn’t under our control, I think don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.

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