If you’re struggling with maladaptive daydreaming disorder and you can see that it’s negatively impacting your life, trying to stop or cut down on your daydreaming is rarely the first step you should take. Here’s why:
You’re daydreaming for a reason
Immersive daydreaming is natural for some people. Daydreaming in the way we do is just the way our brains are wired. In itself, immersive daydreaming isn’t harmful. But if it’s got out of control and become maladaptive, then it’s fulfilling a need that isn’t being met elsewhere. You’re probably trying to escape from something in your real life that was or is too painful or difficult to handle, or you’re trying to find something that’s missing in your real life. If the situation that pushed you into maladaptive daydreaming in the first place is still there, then stopping daydreaming will leave you with an unmet need. Either you’ll still want to escape from a difficult situation, or you’ll still be looking for that thing that’s missing. And your subconscious, because it’s always trying to protect you, will find a way to meet that need. But there’s a real risk that that will push you into another type of addictive behaviour, and it could easily be something that’s even more harmful than daydreaming.
Daydreaming is occupying a lot of your thoughts
Our thoughts in the present moment have a huge influence on how we feel and how we act. When you’re spending many hours a day daydreaming, there are a lot of things you aren’t thinking about. The brain doesn’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, so when we daydream about fun or exciting things, our brains release feel-good chemicals that not only make us feel happy in the moment but are actually crucial for our wellbeing. If you’re using daydreaming to escape from something that’s wrong in your real life, you need to make sure that you don’t replace pleasurable daydreaming with unpleasant worrying or rumination about the thing that’s wrong. That’s just going to make you stressed and miserable, which isn’t the right mindset to be in when you are trying to gain control over an addictive behaviour.
To cut down on your daydreaming, you’ll need to be strategic
To give yourself the very best chance of gaining control over your daydreaming, you’ll need to have a plan in place that goes beyond just limiting the amount of time you spend daydreaming. First, you should identify why you need to daydream. What is your daydreaming giving you that you don’t get anywhere else? What does it allow you to escape from? You’ll need to make some changes in your real life so that it will meet the needs that currently only daydreaming can. To put it another way, if you are determined to live just one life, you have to make sure it’s a life worth living.
Second, you need to have strategies for keeping your mind productively and positively occupied once you reduce your daydreaming. You need to avoid falling into the trap of worrying and rumination. One way to do this is to start setting goals and working towards them. We daydreamers are brilliant at creating a perfect life for ourselves in our heads; the problem is that our perfect life is usually unobtainable in reality. Designing our “perfect” real-life – creating a realistic vision of what we want to achieve in the real world – uses all of the same skills. We can design a compelling vision of our real-world future in our minds and then plan how we want to work towards it. By doing this, we increase the positive emotions of optimism and motivation and give ourselves a much better chance of resisting the urge to daydream.
Personally, I don’t believe my daydreaming will ever go away completely. If you’re an immersive daydreamer, you will always have imaginary friends and amazing adventures running through your head. Giving up daydreaming is unrealistic. But getting control of your daydreaming so that you can be as fulfilled and successful in your real life as you are in your daydream life is absolutely possible. It’s just a case of knowing where to start and remaining committed to the process.