Five things I do every day to keep my daydreaming under control

Five years ago, I discovered I was a maladaptive daydreamer. I’ve come a long way since then. These days, my daydreaming is almost completely immersive. And as an immersive daydreamer, I’ve been able to achieve things I would never have thought possible just a few years ago. But being an immersive daydreamer comes with one big responsibility. You have to make sure that your daydreaming doesn’t become maladaptive again. Because the risk is always there. I’m not permanently “cured” of my maladaptive daydreaming. There are things I have to do each and every day to make sure that my daydreaming doesn’t take over again.

A consistent morning routine

Something I struggled with as a maladaptive daydreamer was getting up in the morning. The minute I woke up, I’d start daydreaming. I’d hit the snooze button far too many times, because every time the alarm went off, I’d tell myself “I’ll just finish this scene”. But in my daydream world, one scene tends to flow seamlessly into the next, so the daydream was never really finished. Pushing it aside to get out of bed was never an attractive option.

Now, every day, I force myself out of bed the minute the alarm goes off. No daydreaming. And before I look at my phone, eat breakfast or do anything else, I do 15 minutes of tai chi. If it’s not raining, I’ll do it outside. The combination of gentle exercise, fresh air, mindful movement and enough mental challenge to stop me daydreaming is a lovely grounding way to start my day. After 15 minutes, the urge to daydream has passed and I’m able to get on with whatever I need to do.

A daily mindfulness practice

Mindfulness is one of the few things that has been scientifically shown to improve symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming. Even before I knew what maladaptive daydreaming was, I was using mindfulness to manage my depression. It’s become my daily opportunity to slow down and check in with myself. If I don’t keep up with my mindfulness practice, my mental health suffers. And that means not just a relapse of my depression, but usually a relapse of my maladaptive daydreaming too.

A mentally demanding hobby

You can’t overcome maladaptive daydreaming if it’s the only thing in life that gives you any real pleasure. You need to have things in real life that you enjoy. I’m lucky: I have my family and my writing. But I’m also learning to play the cello. Sitting down to practice every day gives me something to focus on, and I’m enjoying the challenge of developing a new skill. It also demands my full attention; so there’s no corner of my awareness left over for daydreaming.

A way to make chores fun

I used to daydream while doing household chores. And I used to tell myself it was OK, because if I could clean and daydream at the same time, the cleaning was still getting done, right? But all my chores were taking twice as long when I combined them with daydreaming, and as a busy working mum, I need to use my time more efficiently.

Listening to podcasts while doing chores has transformed my ability to keep my house clean and tidy. Listening to something fun and inspirational while I’m cleaning occupies my mind without slowing me down the way daydreaming did. And when the podcast comes to an end, I can immediately go back to my writing or whatever else I was planning to do. No more struggling unsuccessfully to pull myself out of a daydream.

Allocated daydreaming time

But the most important thing I do every day is give myself a little bit of time to just daydream, guilt-free. I was born a daydreamer. My mind needs to daydream. But I don’t need to daydream quite as much as I used to. Sometimes, a few minutes before I fall asleep is enough. Other times, I might go for a half-hour walk in the afternoon.

I’ve had the same daydream plot for many years now. I don’t need to spend hours every day working out the details. But I do need a few minutes each day to run through one of my favourite scenes or check in with my characters. And now that my daydreaming is under control, there’s no reason why I can’t do that.

Immersive daydreaming is a gift

Being an immersive daydreamer is a gift. My imagination allows me to see the world in a different and endlessly fascinating way. I can explore ideas and situations that will never be real. I can solve problems by thinking outside the box. And my characters motivate and inspire me in everything I do.

I’ll never stop daydreaming completely. I don’t think I could even if I wanted to. I’ve learned that finding a middle path is usually the best option. To me, stopping daydreaming completely would be as extreme and unhealthy as the maladaptive daydreaming I’m so proud to have healed from. Immersive daydreaming is a precious and fundamental part of who I am. And I’m grateful for it.