I spend a lot of my time writing and utilizing my imagination. I can create a writing prompt out of almost anything. When I daydream, my creativity goes wild. I live in my fantasy land, conjuring up ideas for my next article or blog post. As I daydream, I attempt to plant seeds for the next steps I want to take in my life. I encourage my clients and my students to use their imagination to think up all different kinds of potential occurrences. I like to say, “If you can dream it, you can be it.” One reason I teach this motto is to help turn energy into form.

But for some, daydreaming can quickly turn into a nightmare. Especially when it becomes an obsession that takes you away from reliability, attention, and purpose.

Daydreaming: Does It Hinder Our Productivity?

Professor Eliezer Somer from the University of Haifa in Israel talks about “maladaptive daydreaming” as spending too much time in fantasyland, so much so that it can impede productivity in your day-to-day life. Maladaptive daydreaming has no formal DSM-V diagnosis, but it is recognized as a mental health worry by most clinicians.

Somer explains findings from his study “Parallel lives: A phenomenological study of the lived experience of maladaptive daydreaming,” published in Journal of Trauma and Dissociation:

“Daydreaming usually starts as a small fantasy that makes people feel good, but over time the process becomes addictive until it takes over their lives. At this stage, the disorder is accompanied by feelings of shame and a sense of lack of fulfillment, but because till now the disorder has been unknown when they come to receive treatment, therapists usually dismissed their complaints.”

Not too long ago, I met someone that discovered this pattern in their life. They told me it was so easy to get lost in a daydream that it became hindering. Like myself, this person was a writer and was in desperate need of curing this daydreaming addiction. In doing so, this writer lost motivation and felt as if their imagination was limited.

Everything Is a Coping Skill

Daydreaming is characterized by creating characters in a new world that the daydreamer becomes a part of. In these daydreams, the plot tends to be monotonous and broadminded. It’s as if you are in an alternate reality. In a state of maladaptive daydreaming, escape from the experience is not easily self-generated.

Maladaptive daydreaming has no exact psychotropic treatment. Studies have been done regarding the subject, and in one study researchers discovered fluvoxamine (Luvox) was successful in helping a client to control her daydreams. This specific medication is commonly used to aid people who suffer from OCD, the overlap between OCD and maladaptive daydreaming is the obsessive quality.

While studying this condition, it became well-defined that it resonated with the therapeutic saying that “everything is a coping skill,” or at least, starts out that way. Symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming can resemble the dissociation that tends to follow trauma or abuse. Other times it may be a side-effect of boredom or anxiety; however, when it becomes tempting, like a substance, it outweighs any potential hazard in their minds.  

Returning to Reality

People who daydream may notice they do it more often when certain triggers are present, or they are experiencing a certain circumstance, or maybe it’s a certain group of people.  If any of the aforementioned lead to daydreaming, learning how to self-soothe can be extremely beneficial. Spending time outdoors, working out, listening to your favorite music, mindfully meditating, and spending time with people you love can all be great ways to alleviate the triggers that lead to maladaptive daydreaming. Calling yourself back to reality can help, with the reminder, “I am here and now, not there and then.”  

Some people say that repetitive movement, pacing, and squirming are all signs of maladaptive daydreaming. However, there is a diagnostic difference between it and schizophrenia. People who daydream are able to differentiate between fantasy and reality; they just prefer their fantasyland.