What is maladaptive daydreaming?

In this blog we will discuss what maladaptive daydreaming is. 


We will also discuss what causes it, how it affects an individual’s life, and what one can do to manage or prevent it from happening. 

What is maladaptive daydreaming?

Maladaptive daydreaming is a condition where an individual engages in intense, intrusive, and highly immersive day dreams regularly and for lengthy periods of time. 

Maladaptive daydreaming is unofficially called Daydreaming disorder, unofficial because it is not recognised as an official diagnosable disorder. However it has a far reaching impact on an individual’s life. 

These daydreams are so immersive that it can present an individual to engage with their real lives, often causing problems in their relationships, the occupation, academics, and overall quality of life. 

These intense episodes of daydreaming can be triggered by events in their day to day lives, external stimuli such as a smell or a song etc. which lead them to dissociate from their reality and immerse totally into their daydreams. 

They experience extremely vivid daydreams with their own characters, settings, plots, and other detailed, story-like features and then the contents of the dreams are rich in detail. 

It is developed that these patterns of maladaptive daydreaming develop as a response to trauma and are often understood as a coping strategy and the condition appears to be more common among people with anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

What are the signs and symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming?

Some of the signs and symptoms that individuals who engage in maladaptive daydreaming might manifest and experience include:

  • They experience extremely vivid daydreams with their own characters, settings, plots, and other detailed, story-like features
  • These daydreams are lengthy and can last for hours. 
  • These daydreams have triggers that are often based in real-life events
  • They tend to have difficulty completing everyday tasks because of these intrusive daydreams.
  • They have difficulty sleeping at night because they send a lot of time daydreaming 
  • They also have an overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming because they find it rewarding or a positive experience. 
  • They might also perform repetitive movements while daydreaming
  • They might also make facial expressions while daydreaming as well as whisper and talk. 
  • They also experience significant distress about daydreaming and its impact on their lives. 
  • They are aware that the internal fantasy world is different from reality
  • You may also have a diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

What causes maladaptive daydreaming?

It is not clearly known what causes maladaptive daydreams and experts still cannot agree on why it happened. 

However, there is reason to believe that maladaptive daydreaming may occur due to a need to escape real-life difficulties.

Some people might unconsciously use it to repress traumatic events and experiences as well as use daydreaming to seek out ways of overcoming problems that they feel ill-equipped in dealing with in real life. 

They might also find that maladaptive daydreaming to be a positive experience- much more than their own real lives, that they actively engage in it and it becomes difficult to stop. 

How does maladaptive daydreaming affect one’s life?

Maladaptive daydreaming is very different from daydreaming in general which is a normal part of everyday life. 

While one can engage in short day dreams and come out of it easily, maladaptive daydreaming tends to be immersive and lengthy to the point that an individual can dissociate from the world around them.

This immersive experience can impact their lives negatively in the following ways:

  • It can cause distress in their relationships with other people due to their tendency to daydream, leading them to miss out on experiences and make it difficult for them to be on top of their responsibilities such as taking care of their children or being present with their partners. 
  • It can lead an individual to lag behind in their academic and occupational responsibilities as it can get in the way of focusing, concentrating, and getting their job done. 
  • It can also impact their ability to be grounded in reality and the present which can cause them emotional distress. 
  • It can also disrupt their sleep and cause sleep deprivation, which ultimately impair their ability to focus, concentrate, and pay attention- which in turn impacts their quality of life. 
  • They might also develop anxiety and depression, associated with poor sleep and the emotional distress they experience due to its impact on their relationships and also the context of the daydreams if they are negative or violent. 

How can you manage or stop maladaptive daydreaming?

There is no standard treatment for maladaptive dreaming. However, there are some steps one can take to manage symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming:

Reduce Fatigue During the Day

Take care of your health by reducing fatigue and stress. Make an attempt to implement changes in your life that allow you to relax and rest in order to prevent exhaustion and fatigue.

This means that you will have to make time and manage time to give yourself rest and small breaks, naps etc. 

Understand Your Symptoms

Make sure that you educate yourself about what this condition is and make a note of your triggers that lead to daydreaming and try to avoid these triggers. 

Make positive lifestyle changes

Take care of yourself. Avoid drinking and doing drugs, instead eat a healthy diet that is full of nutrients and engage in exercise- this can be walks, joining the gym, or running a marathon. 

Make changes that benefit your physical health as well as allow you to engage with a positive crowd. If you think socialisation is not something you want to do, then there are plenty of exercises that you can do alone. 

Make sure you get good sleep by developing a healthy sleep hygiene as well.

Get Support

You can choose to include your family and trusted friends in helping you manage these symptoms by informing them of what it is, and how they can support and help you by interrupting your daydreaming. 

Consider Therapy

If your symptoms are debilitating or severe to the point where it is getting in the way of your day to day life, the most advisable thing you can do is to seek treatment from a mental health professional.

Some of the therapeutic interventions that you can consider include:

Cognitive behavioural therapy

In terms of Cognitive behavioural therapies your therapist will teach you how to regulate your negative and irrational thoughts as well as daydreaming when you come across triggers. 

As you engage in therapy you will start learning to alter your thoughts, develop an awareness of how you feel, challenge your beliefs and assumptions surrounding mental illness and mental health and build healthier and well-informed ones. 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

MBSR is an evidence-based program that involves mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from mental health issues. 

MBSR could be helpful in helping individuals deal with their intrusive thoughts and daydreaming by helping individuals learn how to develop a mindful awareness of one’s thoughts and behaviours. 

The program involves teaching and training individuals to develop mindful attention to the present which could help prevent daydreaming. 

Pharmacological treatment

While there is no FDA approved pharmacological treatment for maladaptive daydreaming, Fluvoxamine, a drug commonly prescribed to treat OCD, was found effective as illustrated in a case study.

However, it has to be mentioned that there is still research that needs to be done as this particular case study is of only one patient and the results cannot be generalised. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed what maladaptive daydreaming is. 

We have also discussed what causes it, how it affects an individual’s life, and what one can do to manage or prevent it from happening. 

Is maladaptive daydreaming a mental illness?

No. Maladaptive daydreaming does not currently have a separate diagnosis as a mental illness. However it is unofficially called Daydreaming disorder, unofficial because it is not recognised as an official diagnosable disorder. However it has a far reaching impact on an individual’s life. 

How do I get rid of maladaptive daydreaming?

There are a few things that one can do to get rid of maladaptive daydreaming. One of them being making positive lifestyle changes by taking care of yourself. Avoid drinking and doing drugs, instead eat a healthy diet that is full of nutrients and engage in exercise- this can be walks, joining the gym, or running a marathon. 

One can also Make changes that benefit your physical health as well as allow you to engage with a positive crowd and make sure you get good sleep by developing a healthy sleep hygiene as well.

Other things one can do is to develop mindfulness. MBSR is an evidence-based program that involves mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from mental health issues. 

MBSR could be helpful in helping individuals deal with their intrusive thoughts and daydreaming by helping individuals learn how to develop a mindful awareness of one’s thoughts and behaviours. 

The program involves teaching and training individuals to develop mindful attention to the present which could help prevent daydreaming. 

Is maladaptive daydreaming an addiction?

Maladaptive daydreaming is not an addiction however it can become addictive and also develop an overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming because they find it rewarding or a positive experience and if it allows them to escape from the distress of their own lives. 

Can you self diagnose maladaptive daydreaming?

No, it is not possible to officially diagnose or self-diagnose yourself with maladaptive daydreaming because Maladaptive daydreaming does not currently have a separate diagnosis as a mental illness. However it is unofficially called Daydreaming disorder, unofficial because it is not recognised as an official diagnosable disorder. However it has a far reaching impact on an individual’s life.

Why do people have maladaptive daydreams?

It is not clearly known what causes maladaptive daydreams and experts still cannot agree on why it happened. However, there is reason to believe that maladaptive daydreaming may occur due to a need to escape real-life difficulties.

Some people might unconsciously use it to repress traumatic events and experiences as well as use daydreaming to seek out ways of overcoming problems that they feel ill-equipped in dealing with in real life. 

References

Kandola.A. What to know about maladaptive daydreaming. Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319400

Meadows.A. Maladaptive Daydreaming. Sleepfoundation. Retrieved on 16th Feb 2022. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/madaptive-daydreaming#:~:text=a%20maladaptive%20daydreamer.-,What%20Is%20Maladaptive%20Daydreaming%3F,people%20in%20 front%20of%20them.

Cirino.E. Maladaptive Daydreaming. Healthline. 16th Feb 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/maladaptive-daydreaming

Schupak C, Rosenthal J. Excessive daydreaming: a case history and discussion of mind wandering and high fantasy proneness. Conscious Cogn. 2009 Mar;18(1):290-2. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2008.10.002. Epub 2008 Dec 4. PMID: 19062309.

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