We all do it. Children often daydream out of sheer boredom. Teens do it when trying to envision the possibilities their future may hold. Adults tend to daydream for several reasons. One may be as a means of escape from the harsh realities of their life, while others may be hoping to make changes to their life and are actively exploring their options. No matter why we do it, there are times when it can literally take over and cause us to lose time or forget about our responsibilities. While daydreaming is a nice diversion, it should not take the place of being an active and productive member of society.
What Is Daydreaming?
Children who are under high levels of stress because of school or events at home may turn to daydreaming to relax and create alternate scenarios to the events that are taking place in their lives. A daydreamer can often get so caught up in their alternate realities that it is hard to capture their attention.
Normally, people daydream for short periods of time and then return to what they were doing before they lost their train of thought. Excessive daydreaming can cause problems, especially for children who tend to drift off during class or adults who let their minds wander during work hours. For the most part, however, daydreaming does not pose a major problem. With the hectic lives people lead in today’s society, there is little time to get lost in thought for very long. Healthcare professionals even believe that daydreaming has the power to enhance a person’s quality of life and help them to be more inspired and creative.
Why Do Children Daydream?
Children daydream for multiple reasons. They can be bored, overly tired or embracing their very vivid imagination. Many times, children who don’t have many playmates will create “imaginary friends”. Children often daydream about places they read about or doing things that, for someone their age, is not possible. When they daydream, they can experience things that are out of their reach.
Children can daydream about changes they would like to make in their lives. Although their age may prevent them from actually making the changes, they can experience what it would be like through daydreaming. It gives them the chance to create their perfect world. As they get older, they can use that model to follow a path and create that world in real life. In some aspects, they are creating a situation off of which they can begin to mold their future.
There is some speculation that today’s society may be triggering an excessive amount of daydreaming. Children who are over stimulated by video games, television and movies can spend hours replaying specific scenes or trying to figure out ways to “beat a certain level”. The fact that there is an overabundance of digital media to trigger and inspire these extremely vivid daydreams provides some validity to that theory.
Some children might suffer from Excessive Attention Deficit Disorder. Their lack of attention to classwork and study time can cause a dramatic drop in grades if not addressed at an early age. Many healthcare professionals believe that adults who have the symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming disorder often start the habit as children.
Adults who tend to daydream for long periods throughout the day may tend to be unproductive while at work. They may also avoid taking care of their home and family. Psychologists who have studied individuals who have maladaptive daydreaming disorder claim that they often mimic the same type of symptoms and actions of a person who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. They will do everything they can to be able to re-enter the dream-like state and pick up where they left off in their dream world. In some cases, people may spend hours laying in bed creating and re-living certain scenarios.
While maladaptive daydreaming is not recognized by many psychologists, there are treatment plans to help patients overcome the constant desire to let their mind wander. In 2002, Eli D. Somer was the first to coin the term and identify particular symptoms associated with it. A few of them include:
- Reacting emotionally to the daydream by laughing, crying or gesturing
- Pacing, shaking or rocking while daydreaming
- Laying in bed for hours without sleeping
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Extremely vivid daydreams that resemble reality
- Lack of productivity
- Excessive amounts of lost time where the patient can’t remember what they were doing
Parts of the maladaptive daydream definition are similar to what we would be discovered when discussing possible signs of addiction. The person is so wrapped up in the daydream and the events that they can create, they will often put off their responsibilities and obligations in order to continue.
Maladaptive Daydreaming Treatment
While there is no established form of treatment, there are several common sense measures that can be taken when a person realizes they have a problem. Parents who notice their children mentally wandering off can also use the same tools to help break the cycle and bring them back into the real world. A few of the most common techniques to help control excessive daydreaming include:
- Discover underlying causes – People who daydream to escape will need to identify what they are trying to escape from. By finding a way to address the problem, there is no need to create a way to avoid it.
- Use alarms – Set alarms on your phone or watch. If you know you tend to drift off, setting alarms for throughout the day will help bring you back to attention. Once you begin to expect the alarms to go off, you may actually start to jolt yourself out of your trance before they go off.
- Identify known triggers – Learn what triggers your day dreams. If it is video games, a television show or movie, make sure you limit the amount of time spent watching or playing the game. Learn to try something new or go for a walk. Stimulate your mind in other ways that will keep you more aware of your surroundings.
- Keep energy levels up – Individuals who are overly tired or fatigued may begin to day dream as a way of allowing themselves to relax. If you find that this is the problem, start to exercise or drink a cup of coffee to give your mind a jolt of energy. If you feel energized, you are less likely to succumb to the temptation of a world where things are not as they seem.
- Talk to friends and family members – If you know you are daydreaming more than normal, tell your family and friends to nudge you when you start to take off on your mental travels. A few minutes is fine, but anything longer than that should be nipped in the bud before it becomes a habit. Parents need to watch their children closely and try and find ways to keep their minds occupied, especially if they have a tendency to let their thoughts wander.
Even thought it is not a recognized condition. Maladaptive daydreaming does seem to have some very real complications. Addressing the situation as soon as possible will help to break bad habits and establish new, healthier patterns.