How to get started with mindfulness as a daydreamer

Mindfulness can be helpful in managing a range of mental-health conditions, including maladaptive daydreaming. I’ve had a daily mindfulness practice for many years, and it’s a significant part of how I manage my depression. Anyone can practice mindfulness. You can get started at any time, it doesn’t cost anything, and it works.

But mindfulness is a hard skill for daydreamers to learn. Many people assume that mindfulness involves sitting still and trying not to think. And for a daydreamer, not thinking is as hard as not breathing. Our minds are never still. For some people, sitting still and closing their eyes is a way to filter out external distractions. For us, it just makes space for our very big internal distraction – our daydreams. So, what’s the best way to learn mindfulness if you’re a daydreamer?

Present-moment awareness

If filtering out external distractions doesn’t help to quiet your mind, try making the external world your focus. In present-moment awareness, you focus on paying attention, non-judgementally, to whatever you’re doing in that moment. So you don’t think about what’s happening; instead, you simply notice what is happening. For example, you could try mindful walking. As you walk, you notice what’s around you – what you can see and hear, how it feels as your weight transfers from one foot to the other, how your clothes feel against your skin as you move, etc.

Present-moment awareness is a good introduction to mindfulness because you can practice it as you’re going about your day. You don’t need to set aside a specific time for it. It’s something you can drop into whenever you want to feel more grounded. In fact, it’s something you can do in any situation where you could daydream. So if you’re trying to limit your daydreaming, you could experiment with using present-moment awareness as a way to avoid dropping into a daydream.

Start small

Another way to get started with mindfulness is to start small. You don’t have to sit and meditate for 30 minutes to feel the benefits. Even short periods of mindfulness can make a big difference to your wellbeing if you practice them often enough. One technique I use is the three-minute breathing space. I recommend finding an audio version of it, so that you can listen to someone talk you through it until you’re confident enough to do it on your own.

You begin the three-minute breathing space by noticing what’s going on for you in this moment, including the physical sensations in your body and the thoughts and emotions running through your mind. Then you start to focus on your breathing, noticing the sensations as you breathe in and breathe out. If your attention wanders – and it probably will – you simply acknowledge that and then bring your attention back to your breath. After a minute or so, you expand your attention to take in all the sensations in your body. So you continue to be aware of your breath, but you also become aware of everything else you can feel – your weight pressing down on whatever you’re sitting on, the air moving against your face, any discomfort or tightness in your body. After a minute or so of that expanded awareness, you gently open your eyes and get on with your day.

When you’re rushing around, you might feel some resistance to stopping and taking three minutes to be mindful. But if the alternative is that you end up daydreaming for an hour or more, you can see that it’s time well spent.

Guided meditation

The final type of mindfulness that I recommend is guided meditation. There are thousands of guided meditations available online, ranging from a few minutes in length up to an hour or more. Guided meditations are helpful for daydreamers because you’re not trying to focus on one thing for a long time. The meditation will typically lead you through a visualisation exercise, where you’ll be imagining different things at different points in the meditation. And you’ll be able to use your skills as a daydreamer to visualise the scenes in detail, so the sense of peace they typically evoke will feel very real.

I love guided meditations. Usually, I’ll choose one that asks me to imagine walking along a forest path, or being in a mountain meadow, and I feel as if I’m really there. I immerse myself in the scene, and emerge feeling grounded and rejuvenated. It uses my skills as a daydreamer in a very peaceful and gentle way that brings powerful benefits into my life.

Mindfulness will be hard in the beginning

When you start practicing mindfulness, it will feel hard. Like any new skill, it takes practice. To begin with, your attention will wander every few minutes, or even more often. That’s normal. The important thing is to forgive yourself when your mind wanders. Don’t see it as a failure, and don’t give up. Just acknowledge that your attention has wandered, and compassionately and non-judgementally return your attention to whatever you were trying to focus on.

Most people see the benefits of mindfulness quite quickly. When I started practicing mindfulness, I saw noticeable changes within the first two weeks. My depression improved significantly within eight weeks. Mindfulness helped my depression more than antidepressants or CBT. And the beautiful thing about mindfulness is that it’s accessible: it doesn’t cost anything, and you can get started with it today.

Mindfulness is one of the very few things that has been scientifically shown to improve symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming. So if you want to reduce your daydreaming and nothing else is working, please give mindfulness a try.