I first learned mindfulness three years ago when I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an eight-week course funded by a local mental-health charity. At the time, I was experiencing a relapse of the depression that I had struggled with on and off for over 25 years. I had tried various therapies – counselling, CBT, anti-depressants – and although each had helped for a while, I tended to relapse as soon as I stopped therapy. Mindfulness was different. By the end of the eight weeks, my depression had vanished, and I knew it would never return. I had finally been given a tool that empowered me to manage my mental health: I could spot a relapse in its early stages and deal with it myself before it got to the point where I needed outside support. Since then, I’ve realised that mindfulness isn’t the magic solution to depression. What has worked so well for me doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. But it was interesting to hear Professor Somer say recently that mindfulness may have a role to play in treating maladaptive daydreaming.
As a daydreamer with a daily mindfulness practice, I can think of a few ways in which mindfulness could potentially help those suffering from MaDD.
– It helps you to stay grounded. Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to each of our senses in the present moment. When you are focussing all your awareness on what you can see, hear and feel, right now, there is no space left in your mind for daydreaming.
– It increases your self-awareness. Practicing mindfulness gets you into the habit of noticing. And when you notice, you start to make connections. You become more aware of what makes you happy, or sad, or fulfilled, or frustrated. You become aware of your reactions to things that are happening to you. And through that, you develop a more refined sense of who you are. You start to understand where you need to make changes in your life, and you feel more empowered to make those changes, rather than escaping to a daydream world where everything is perfect.
– It helps you to cope with difficult emotions. Many people with MaDD use their daydreams to escape from something in their life that feels too painful to deal with. Mindfulness teaches us to detach from our emotions – to observe them and accept them without being overwhelmed by them. When we learn to sit with our emotions in this way, they become less frightening, and we have less need to escape from them. For someone with MaDD, this may equate to a reduced need to daydream.
Mindfulness cannot replace talking therapies such as counselling or CBT where those are needed. But I believe that mindfulness and therapy can complement each other. Mindfulness may be a difficult skill for daydreamers to learn. We aren’t used to slowing our thoughts down. We aren’t used to sitting still and just noticing. Escaping to your daydream world the minute that nothing else needs your attention is a hard habit to break. But I promise you that it is possible to be a daydreamer and still practice mindfulness. I’ve been free of depression for three years now, and in that time, I’ve also been able to keep my daydreaming under control. In fact, I’m even learning ways to use my daydreaming to thrive in the real world, and, for me, mindfulness is an integral part of that.
If you have the opportunity to take a course in mindfulness (either in-person or virtually) I would highly recommend it. Learning alongside others and being able to get feedback from an experienced tutor is very valuable. But if you cannot find a suitable course, I’d urge you to have a look at the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course at Palouse Mindfulness. It’s a free course that you can work through at your own pace. Give it a try – it may not work for everyone, but if you can stick with it, it might just change your life.