How do you feel after daydreaming?

Both immersive daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming feel great while you’re daydreaming. But a key difference between them is that in immersive daydreaming you feel better after daydreaming as well. Whereas in maladaptive daydreaming, although the daydreaming feels good, you often feel bad when you snap out of it. Why does that happen? Why do you feel worse after daydreaming?

The Guilt

If you’re an immersive daydreamer, you only daydream when you genuinely have time for it, so there’s nothing to feel guilty about. But if you’re a maladaptive daydreamer, you often find yourself daydreaming when you should be doing other things. While you’re in the daydream, you can ignore the fact that there’s a real world out there that needs your attention. But when you come out of the daydream, you have to face the fact that the thing you should have been doing still hasn’t been done. And you immediately feel guilty about the time you’ve wasted.

The Gap

If you’re an immersive daydreamer, you can use your daydreaming to inspire and motivate you. You leave a daydream feeling confident and empowered, and you carry that energy into real life. But if you’re a maladaptive daydreamer, you’re probably using your daydreaming to avoid real life. And you’re likely to be doing that because real life isn’t somewhere you want to be.

As you come out of the daydream, you’re very aware of the huge gap between your fun, exciting daydream life and your boring, unfulfilling real life. Real life felt bad enough before, but it feels even worse when you’ve just been living a much better life in your imagination.

The Emotions

But I think the biggest reason that maladaptive daydreamers feel worse after daydreaming is the emotional disconnect it generates. If you’re daydreaming to escape from a difficult emotion, you haven’t processed that emotion, you’ve just ignored it for the duration of the daydream. We feel emotions for a reason. They’re messages from our subconscious. They need to be acknowledged and felt. If you ignore an uncomfortable emotion, it will shout louder and louder until it gets your attention. You can ignore it while you’re daydreaming, but when you stop, it comes back even stronger than before.

In contrast, you were probably feeling some really positive emotions in your daydream world. Perhaps you were feeling loved, or joyful, or victorious. But when you come out of the daydream, you realise that the situations that generated those emotions weren’t real. And so you tell yourself the emotions weren’t real either. And you judge yourself for feeling them.

But the emotions were real. A person or situation doesn’t have to be real for you to have a real emotional reaction to it. An emotion you feel in response to something you daydreamed is every bit as valid as an emotion you feel in response to something that actually happened. They produce the same chemical changes in your body.

So when you come back from a happy daydream to a miserable reality, there’s a disconnect between the positive emotions you were feeling in the daydream – which probably flooded your body with serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and other “happy hormones” – and the unhappy reality, which is probably consistent with a very different set of hormones. And the disconnect feels uncomfortable, jarring even.

The guilt, gap and emotions can drive maladaptive daydreaming

The reason this matters is that maladaptive daydreaming is very often a way to escape from difficult emotions. But if your daydreaming is maladaptive, it’s probably also the cause of some difficult emotions. If you feel bad as soon as you stop daydreaming, that will push you straight back into a daydream, because that’s the only way you can feel better.

Once you understand why you feel worse after daydreaming, you can do something about it. If you daydream to escape from the negative emotions caused by a painful reality, feeling bad after daydreaming has nothing to do with your daydreams. You feel bad because you’ve returned to real life, and real life is somewhere you don’t want to be. What you need to do is take all the positive emotions you were experiencing in your daydream, and use them to motivate you to improve real life. When you accept your daydream emotions as real and valid, there’s no reason you can’t do exactly that.