One of the problems with being a maladaptive daydreamer is once you start daydreaming, it’s very difficult to stop. You might think you’re going to indulge for just five minutes, you’re just going to finish that scene, or you just need to figure out that plot twist. But then one thing leads to another, and before you know it, several hours have gone by, and that five minutes is a distant memory.
Part of developing a healthier relationship with your daydreaming is knowing how to stop. If you decide to daydream for five minutes, you need to be able to keep it to five minutes. Or, if you suddenly find yourself daydreaming when you hadn’t intended to, you need to be able to immediately turn your attention back to reality. So, how do you transition back to real life in a way that allows you to be fully present and doesn’t leave you with an urge to immediately go back into your paracosm?
Stop any maintenance activities
By maintenance activities, I mean anything you do to keep yourself in the daydream. Turn off your music; sit down if you pace, or get up and move if you daydream lying down; put away your fidget object. These things are usually easier to stop than the daydreaming itself. But stopping them still sends a message to your brain that daydreaming time is over for now.
Close out the daydream
Imagine you were on the phone to a friend when someone came into the room and needed your immediate attention. You wouldn’t just end the phone call without explanation. You’d tell your friend you needed to go and that you’d call them later. You need to do the same with your characters. If you just shut them out, they’ll keep trying to get your attention. You need to tell them you have to go and you’ll catch up with them next time. It can help to have a standard phrase that you use for this. Repeating the same phrase every time will eventually signal to your brain that that particular daydreaming session is now closed.
Let your characters close the daydream
If you can’t close the daydream on your own, ask your characters to help. Let them know that real life needs your attention and ask them to help you. Imagine them telling you to go and do that thing you need to do in real life. Imagine them telling you to come back later. And then imagine them going into another room, or hopping on a bus, or being paged, or whatever’s appropriate to your plot. The point is, you need to get your characters to stop cooperating with wherever the plot was going in that moment.
Use grounding techniques
If you can drag yourself into reality for a second, you can use grounding techniques to hold you there. A technique I learned in DBT is 54321 – mentally name 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. Give your mind something to do by tuning into your senses. Alternatively, try taking a mindful breathing space – focus on your breathing, and only on your breathing, for two to three minutes.
If neither of those work, you might need to stimulate your senses more strongly. Try sucking a slice of lemon, or putting your face in a bowl of cold water. Anything to hold your attention on the external world rather than your internal world.
Mindfully ask why you’re daydreaming
If you hadn’t intended to daydream but suddenly found yourself in your paracosm, it’s worth taking a moment to mindfully reflect on why that happened. Did something trigger the daydream? If so, can you manage the trigger so it doesn’t send you back in? Did you have an idea for a juicy new plot twist that you just had to explore immediately? Write it down and promise yourself you’ll get to it later. Was daydreaming your way of procrastinating about that thing you’re supposed to be doing? Tell yourself you’ll just get started. If you can remain productive for even five minutes, there’s a good chance you’ll keep going.
Overcoming maladaptive daydreaming means you have to stop your daydreaming from interfering with the rest of your life. That’s going to be far easier to do if you can both resist the urge to daydream when it isn’t appropriate and snap out of a daydream easily when it’s time to get on with something else. If you can stop daydreaming when you want to – if “just five minutes” really means just five minutes – you’ll be well on the way to establishing a healthier relationship with your daydreaming.