Why is mindfulness so helpful in managing maladaptive daydreaming?

The first scientifically validated treatment protocol for maladaptive daydreaming includes mindfulness as one of its key components. And mindfulness is a crucial part of how I manage my own daydreaming. But mindfulness is a difficult skill for daydreamers to master. So if you’re finding it hard to commit to a regular mindfulness practice, it’s worth understanding why mindfulness is so helpful in controlling maladaptive daydreaming.

Mindfulness helps you tolerate difficult emotions

In most cases, maladaptive daydreaming begins when we use our daydreaming to avoid an emotion that’s too painful to feel. And as a way to escape, it works very well in the moment. But when we come out of the daydream, that uncomfortable emotion is usually still there, ready to overwhelm us again. And as soon as it does, we escape back into the daydream. Mindfulness helps break that destructive loop, by showing us how to tolerate difficult emotions without running away from them.

Mindfulness helps you become aware of your thoughts

Negative automatic thoughts are the hurtful things our inner critic says to us in response to everyday events. Things like “I’m stupid”, “I’m worthless”, “I’m a failure”. When we say these things to ourselves, we feel bad, and that can be a powerful daydreaming trigger. Cognitive behavioural therapy can help us challenge and reframe those negative thoughts. But before you can challenge a thought, you have to be aware of it. Mindfulness teaches you to notice your thoughts without being emotionally affected by them.

Mindfulness helps you reconnect with your body

Emotions often show up in the body. For example, anxiety can be felt as butterflies in the stomach or tightness in the chest. Becoming aware of how your emotions express themselves physically can help you identify and manage them. But as daydreamers, we spend so much time not being in our bodies that many of us have lost the ability to tune into where we’re feeling a particular emotion. Practices such as the body scan meditation can help you reconnect with your body.

Mindfulness grounds you in the present moment

Mindfulness doesn’t have to involve sitting still and focussing on your breathing. It’s possible to be mindful while walking or eating or doing any other activity. Present-moment awareness simply involves paying attention, compassionately and non-judgementally, to your experience in that moment, whatever you happen to be doing. Making a conscious choice to notice the taste of your food, or the way your weight shifts from side to side as you walk, for example, means that in that moment your mind isn’t focussed on daydreaming.

Mindfulness can help you mind-wander

Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness isn’t about emptying your mind of all thought. Instead, it’s about noticing the thoughts that arise in your mind, acknowledging them without judgement, and then letting them go. When you choose to be mindful, you open space for random thoughts to arise in a different way from the controlled narrative of a daydream. By noticing what thoughts arise when you’re not trying to think, you can gain useful insights about what’s currently important to you.

Mindfulness can help you manage other mental health conditions

Mindfulness is helpful in treating a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. If you’re one of the 70% of maladaptive daydreamers who struggles with anxiety or one of the two-thirds who have depression, mindfulness could help you manage your co-existing condition(s). Learning mindfulness helped me to finally overcome my depression in a sustainable way. It gave me the tools to notice when I was starting to relapse, and it enables me to manage my mental health before it gets to the point where I need professional support.

So mindfulness works, but how do I do it?

Mindfulness is a hard skill for daydreamers to master. Our minds aren’t used to being still. If the main way you avoid daydreaming is by distracting yourself, then trying not to think at all will feel strange, and might even trigger a daydream. Don’t give up. Learning to be more mindful will take time and effort, but it can be done.

If possible, I recommend joining a face-to-face mindfulness class. I learned mindfulness through an eight-week in-person MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) course. The regular sessions and the group format gave me the motivation I needed to stick with it through the initial difficult part. By the end of eight weeks, I was seeing the benefits, and was able to continue practicing on my own. It’s now a non-negotiable part of my daily routine.

If you can’t find a class near you, it’s possible to learn mindfulness from free online resources. There are many excellent guided mediations on YouTube, or you can download an app such as Insight Timer, which I personally love. If you want something more structured, I recommend the MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) course, which is available online free of charge.

There are many different ways to learn and practice mindfulness. With time and patience, you’ll be able to find one that works for you. I believe that mindfulness is a key part of overcoming maladaptive daydreaming. Even if it feels difficult to begin with, I encourage you to give it a try.

[Photo by 元 某人]