People tend to take breaks from reality and enter a world of imagination. But is daydreaming good or bad for your mental health?

Whether we are stuck in traffic or attending a meeting, we sometimes end up letting our minds wander briefly – just like slipping into a dream in the middle of the day. We may think about a much-needed vacation or eating our favourite food. Those thoughts are not related to our immediate environment. Daydreaming can make us relax for some time. It seems like an activity that we all need to do considering the pressure and stress in our lives. But can daydreaming be bad for your mental health?

What is daydreaming?

Daydreaming is a mental activity where people engage in spontaneous, often vivid, and immersive fantasies or thoughts that are unrelated to their immediate environment or current tasks. It involves drifting away from reality into a world of imagination, often triggered by boredom, relaxation, or simply the mind wandering, says psychiatrist Dr Rahul Rai Kakkar.

Woman smiling and relaxing
Daydreaming is often triggered by boredom. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the benefits of daydreaming?

Daydreaming can be beneficial for you.

  • It may help to enhance creativity, according to a 2020 research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This can happen as people are able to explore alternative scenarios and possibilities when they daydream.
  • It aids problem-solving by providing a mental space to ponder solutions and consider different perspectives.
  • Daydreaming can promote relaxation and stress relief, offering a temporary escape from the pressures of daily life.

When can daydreaming be bad for you?

While occasional daydreaming is normal and even beneficial, excessive or uncontrollable daydreaming can indicate underlying mental health issues. It may interfere with daily functioning, productivity, and relationships, leading to feelings of detachment from reality, dissatisfaction with life, and difficulties in focusing on important tasks, shares the expert.

What is maladaptive daydreaming?

Maladaptive daydreaming refers to a condition where daydreaming becomes excessive, compulsive, and disruptive to daily life. People with maladaptive daydreaming often spend hours lost in elaborate fantasies, to the detriment of their responsibilities and social interactions. It is considered a form of dissociative behaviour, where people escape into their inner world as a coping mechanism.

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Symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming include:

  • Spending excessive amounts of time daydreaming to the point of neglecting important tasks or obligations.
  • Difficulty controlling the urge to daydream.
  • Experiencing distress or impairment due to daydreaming
  • Unable to stop or limit daydreaming despite efforts to do so.

What are the causes of maladaptive daydreaming?

The exact causes of maladaptive daydreaming are not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to its development. These include underlying psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, or trauma, as well as personality traits like high levels of fantasy proneness or a tendency towards escapism, says Dr Kakkar. Environmental factors such as stress, boredom, or social isolation can also play a role.

Woman daydreaming
Maladaptive daydreaming has negative effects on your mental health. Image courtesy: Freepik

How can maladaptive daydreaming affect mental health?

According to a 2022 research published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, there is an association between maladaptive daydreaming and a range of psychopathological domains, including anxiety, and depressive disorders.

Here are some negative effects it can have on mental health and overall well-being.

  • It may exacerbate feelings of loneliness, alienation, and dissatisfaction with reality.
  • Prolonged periods of daydreaming can lead to decreased productivity, impaired social functioning, and difficulties in maintaining relationships.
  • In severe cases, it can contribute to the development or worsening of other mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression and Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

To manage maladaptive daydreaming, you can practice mindfulness techniques to increase awareness of the present moment. You can also set specific goals and schedules to stay focused and engaged. You should also reach out to mental health professionals for underlying issues such as anxiety or trauma.

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