Are You a Daydreamer? When Daydreaming becomes a Disorder

“Dream your dream. Dream big and then bring it to life”- Anonymous

Have you ever had a daydream? In case you aren’t quite sure, a daydream is a stream of pleasant thoughts that distract your attention away from the present.

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When I was in high-school, I had one class that was super boring. I dreaded going, and never paid attention on the days I actually went.  I don’t think the teacher cared for me much because she would wait until I was into my own thoughts, (daydreaming), and snap her fingers in front of my face and say in a weird sing-songy voice, “hellooooo.”  I hated it.

If you have ever been doing something mundane like dishes or folding laundry and had your mind wander onto a more interesting topic, then you have daydreamed. I daydream when I’m vacuuming, showering, blow drying my hair and any other time I don’t need to concentrate on what I’m doing.

Another common time people daydream, though dangerous, is while driving. I am guilty of that too. Sometimes I will pass my exit without realizing it or suddenly be almost home but not remember the drive.

We are not lone daydreamers though. A Harvard study found that people between the ages of 18 and 88 reported their minds wandered 46.9 percent of the time. Those are a lot of wandering minds.

Is Daydreaming Good?

Daydreaming has historically gotten a bad rap. Comments like “get your head out of the clouds,” or “hello anybody home in there,” are phrases that were heard all the time. The inference is you are unproductive. You may not be paying attention to the task at hand, but you can most definitely still be productive.

A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that daydreaming during class or a meeting may not really be a bad thing. In fact, it could be a sign of your creativity and high intelligence. People who reported more frequent daydreaming scored higher on tests that measured their intellectual and creative ability. Eric Schumacher, the co-author of the study, said: “people with efficient brains may have too much brain capacity to stop their minds from wandering.”

The more efficient your brain is, the more you think. This often causes the brain to wander when you are performing easy tasks. As your mind wanders, different parts of your brain activate, and often solutions to problems appear because you have accessed information that was previously out of reach.

How do you know if you have an efficient brain? One telltale sign is that you can randomly pay attention to a conversation. You can zone out then zone back in without missing important points.

Schumacher compares his findings to the absent-minded professor – A brilliant man but off in his own world, sometimes not even aware of his surroundings.

Is Daydreaming Bad?

Just like everything in life, there can be too much of a good thing or a downside. Sometimes daydreams are not just distracting; they are harmful. Researchers don’t fully understand why this is but evidence suggests that it may have to do with the degree of realism present in a daydream.

Dreams based on fantasy can lead to disappointment because it is a picture of how you may wish your life would be but isn’t. By the same token, dreams that are based in reality may show you what could actually be possible for your life.

Things go bad when daydreaming is so intense that it distracts you from your real life. When this happens, daydreaming becomes a disorder or psychiatric condition, although it should be noted that it is not part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) and there is no official treatment.

Symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming may include:

  • Extremely vivid daydreams with your own characters, settings, plots, and other detailed, story-like features
  • Daydreams are triggered by real-life events
  • Completing everyday tasks becomes difficult
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • An overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming
  • You perform repetitive movements while daydreaming
  • You make facial expressions while daydreaming
  • You whisper and talk while daydreaming

Diagnosing maladaptive daydreaming is not a uniform process. There is no universal method of diagnosis. Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel identified maladaptive daydreaming using the following scale.

It is known as the MDS and is a 14-part scale that rates the five characteristics of maladaptive daydreaming. They include:

  • The quality and content of dreams
  • Your ability to control your dreams and the compulsion to dream.
  • The amount of distress caused by daydreaming
  • Your perceived benefit of daydreaming
  • How much daydreaming interferes with your ability to carry out your daily activities.

In addition to these five characteristics, you would also rate how often they occur.

Maladaptive daydream is often found with a diagnosis of schizophrenia because schizophrenic people have difficulty differentiating between fantasy and reality. This does not mean if you have a maladaptive daydreaming disorder that you are schizophrenic. Maladaptive daydreaming is not a psychosis because you can recognize that your daydreams are not real.

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What to do

Since this disorder is not in the DSM-V, it is difficult to find treatment. There has been some reported success with fluvoxamine which is also a common treatment for OCD.

If you are troubled and think you may have a maladaptive daydreaming disorder, look for a support group to learn about how other people cope with daydreaming. Cognitive therapy has also helped in some cases and try online forums. One online community for maladaptive daydreamers is called Wild Minds Network.

 

References

Feldman, D. B. (2017, Dec 19). Why Daydreaming is Good for Us. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/supersurvivors/201712/why-daydreaming-is-good-us

Maderer, J. (2017, October 24). Daydreaming is Good. It Means You’re Smart. Retrieved from Georgia Tech News Center: http://www.news.gatech.edu/2017/10/24/daydreaming-good-it-means-youre-smart

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Is there a proven link or suspicion of a link between maladaptive daydreaming and overthinking?

    For me, sometimes these two seem to blend together. It seems as if I start daydreaming and then start imagining worst case scenarios. Those worst case scenarios then play out vividly in a series of daydreams. It becomes increasingly difficult to stop the compulsion to continue playing out the scenarios, the more scenarios play out.

    1. Hi Amanda,
      I actually know exactly what you are talking about. I do that too. I’ll start daydreaming about something which causes me to then start thinking about it. The more I think about it the more tragic it becomes. In my mind I can picture all of it happening like a vivid dream except I’m awake.

      To answer your question, I don’t know. I didn’t look for a link or comparison to overthinking vs daydreaming. Im sorry I couldn’t be more helpful in my reply, but know you aren’t alone. What your are describing is actually pretty normal. Daydreaming becomes maladaptive when you prefer to live in your daydream over real life. Not just prefer it but actively make it your life.

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