Maladaptive daydreaming (A 5 poin guide)


What is Maladaptive daydreaming?

Maladaptive daydreaming is a condition defined by  Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel, as excessive daydreaming that distracts people from their daily activities. It is usually caused by real-life occurrences that lead to vivid dreams that can last for several hours. Although it is a rare occurrence, it is often mistaken for schizophrenia.”

You may have heard the word “maladaptive daydreaming” for the first time.

While many people have an idea of what daydreaming is, the term maladaptive usually comes with negative connotations.

This guide will provide you with an overview of maladaptive daydreaming, how it affects different people, the symptoms, cures, and different medical research that shows effective ways of managing this condition. 

Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel defined maladaptive daydreaming as “intense daydreaming that distracts a person from their real-life”.

While this definition covers the basics of what maladaptive daydreaming is, there is a lot of research that points towards the particulars of how it affects different individuals.

Symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming

Have you ever spent hours daydreaming about a certain topic?

Your thoughts seem to connect in ways that you may have never imagined.

Sometimes, the time just flies by and by the time that you come to your senses, you become astonished at just how long you’ve been daydreaming.

You might brush it off as a ‘normal’ thing, but daydreaming for so long is a disorder and affects many people around the world. 

People who are affected by maladaptive daydreaming often have daydreams that are connected with events in their daily lives.

For example, you may have been having a general conversation about dogs, when you suddenly begin to have daydreams about your dog back at home.

It is as if an entire story about your dog is playing before your eyes.

While such dreaming may be acceptable at night, it is not normal to have them in broad daylight.

So what about the other individuals who were present in that conversation?

Well, if you are affected by maladaptive daydreaming then you would probably be unaware that there are other individuals present.

Depending on the scenario, losing consciousness of the surrounding environment is a common symptom of maladaptive daydreaming

Another major symptom of maladaptive daydreaming is that the affected individual often ‘sees’ the events of the dreams as if it were real.

This causes them to express emotions while daydreaming.

For example, if your dog dies in your dream, you might express feelings of sadness on your face. In many cases, you may even cry or laugh during these daydreams.

The fact that these dreams are seen so vividly, could trigger other physiological disorders. 

Apart from expressing different emotions, maladaptive daydreamers may also talk in their dreams.

Many people often mistake the person to be mentally ill, but in reality, it is just a reaction to the events that are taking place in their dreams.

To put it into perspective, it is quite common for people to talk in their sleep at night. 

Diagnostic Aspects

While it is difficult for normal people to differentiate between a person who suffers from maladaptive daydreaming and someone who is mentally ill, physiatrists have different ways of diagnosing maladaptive daydreaming.

Eliezer Somer developed a scale and certain guidelines that allow physiatrists to determine the severity of the disorder in an individual. 

The physiatrist may look for common signs as well as anything that might relate to other mental illnesses.

Common symptoms that the doctor will focus on include how real the person perceives the dreams to be as well as how much this daydreaming is affecting the individual’s life.

A person who has long, frequent daydreams and is often absent from reality might need more help than someone who is affected by short daydreaming intervals.

A major part of the diagnosis process is centered on how much control a person has over these daydreams.

People who have little control over their dreams are more likely to suffer negative consequences than those who can break out of their daydreams at will.

If you are someone who cannot control when you daydream, then there is the danger that you will lose consciousness in a situation where you need to be alert. 

People who are involved in occupations such as driving or construction are more likely to be affected than someone who is at a desk job.

Just imagine what would happen if you are driving and you start to daydream!

However, this is not to say that people in other professions are not affected by maladaptive daydreaming.

Rather, the scale and extent of how much they are affected differently.

While physiatrists do not have any definitive scientific way to measure the scale of maladaptive daydreaming, scientists have developed a 14-point scale that can indicate whether someone may suffer from this disorder.

However, this is not definitive and only a qualified physiatrist can determine whether an individual has the disorder or not. 

So how exactly is maladaptive daydreaming diagnosed?

There is no specific method of diagnosing maladaptive daydreaming. That’s why the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-5) has officially recognized maladaptive daydreaming as “a non-diagnosable” condition.

However, more research is being conducted to find a concrete method of diagnosing this.

Physicians are more inclined to the belief that it is more of a behavioral disorder than any other type of mental disorder.

This is because it differs from other similar disorders such as schizophrenia in the sense that patients dream with a conscious realization that they are dreaming.

This means that you may be aware that you are dreaming, but would prefer to continue dreaming anyway. 

Which behaviors are usually found in MD patients? 

While there is no certain method of diagnosing Maladaptive daydreaming, there are certain things that are only found in MD patients. 

  • Their ability to experience clear dreams in broad daylight- MD patients usually have dreams that are very close to reality. For such patients, it feels as if the experiences are happening in real life. Despite this, maladaptive daydreamers recognize the difference between dreams and reality. 
  • Dreams are connected with external triggers- A maladaptive dreamer usually sees something that causes them to spiral into a deep dream. It could be something that they have an emotional attachment towards or something that they are intrigued by.
  • The majority of maladaptive daydreamers are women. – While there is no scientific explanation as to why this is, physiatrists often perceive it as a result of the tendency of females to experience deep emotions more often than men.
  • Many daydreamers enjoy their dreams- While daydreams may be negative as well (causing chronic stress, anxiety or depression), some daydreamers enjoy their dreams so much that it becomes painful to be interrupted. This is one of the major issues that directly affect MD patients.

Prevention and treatment

You may be wondering how MD can be treated if it cannot be diagnosed.

Although the DSM-5 does not officially recognize the diagnosis of this disorder, there is a consensus amongst the medical community on the presence of this disorder.

Therefore, as with any disorder, there are ways that you can prevent the occurrences of daydreams or at least reduce its frequency. 

Firstly, MD patients need to understand which events or objects trigger their daydreams.

It may be a romantic film that triggers a long daydream, or you may experience daydreams more often when you are alone in the office.

While triggers vary from person to person, each individual has to identify the situations which are more likely to initialize daydreaming. 

If you are more likely to daydream during lunch breaks, then change your routine.

You may want to have lunch with your co-workers or do something that will prevent you from spending time alone in your office.

Identify your triggers and change your lifestyle to reduce the occurrences of maladaptive daydreaming. 

Secondly, you may want to consider going for therapy sessions that will help shed light on the exact symptoms and triggers.

A physiatrist may be able to identify specific triggers based on an analysis of your daily routine.

They can also identify underlying psychological causes that might be affecting you and causing the daydreams. 

Another lifestyle change that usually brings about positive results in individuals is getting a good night’s sleep and ensuring that they are not experiencing fatigue.

Physiatrists generally recognize that tired people usually experience negative behavioral disorders and have poor sleeping habits.

This does not mean that you may need to sleep more than someone who is not affected by maladaptive daydreaming.

Rather, it means that you may have to understand your body and realize when you need to sleep.

Forming a habit of getting an afternoon nap might also reduce the frequency of your daydreams. 

Some Helpful Resources

  1. Freedom from Maladaptive Daydreaming: Self-Help Strategies for Excessive and Compulsive Fantasizing Kindle Edition- Learn how to manage your maladaptive daydreaming with this innovative book from Katherine Andler. 
  2. Returning to Reality: How to Stop Maladaptive Daydreaming Kindle Edition- This is an excellent book for those of you who believe in the power of good habits and how to use them to replace your bad habits. 
  3. An Introduction to Maladaptive Daydreaming Kindle Edition- Just as the other two books, this book will give you an accurate view of maladaptive daydreaming as well as advice on how to break this habit. 
  4. Play Visions Bead Stress Ball– If stress is a trigger of your daydreams, then keep yourself busy with this stress ball. 
  5. TEMPUR-ProForm Cloud Pillow for Sleeping, Standard- Many daydreamers suffers from a lack of sleep at night. Sleep better with this extra relaxing pillow to reduce episodes of daydreaming.

Conclusion

As a last resort, your physician might recommend medication as a form of treatment.

However, this is rarely administered as there is little concrete evidence on the effectiveness of medication in this regard.

Very few patients have symptoms that are severe enough to require medication. 

Do you know anyone who is affected by maladaptive daydreaming?

Or maybe you have some personal story you wish to share. Comment below or ask us a question.

We’d love to hear from you.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Is maladaptive daydreaming a symptom of anxiety?

While it is not a type of anxiety in itself, physiatrists have identified a positive relationship between maladaptive daydreaming and anxiety.

If you are affected by maladaptive daydreaming, then days with more anxiety will result in more daydreaming. 

Q2. What do my daydreams mean?

here’s no universal way of interpreting dreams.

This all depends on the context and your inner feelings.

However, daydreaming usually indicates that something is bothering you.

Q3. How do you control maladaptive daydreaming?

Firstly, you should identify your inner triggers.

Think about what’s bothering you.

Is there something that you are missing?

Or maybe you can’t get over a certain painful event.

Stop worrying and get to the bottom of the problem.

Q4. Why does zoning out feel good?

When you ‘zone out’ you are often leaving a tedious task and shifting your attention to something more pleasant.

It feels good because it gives the brain the pleasure that it craves. 

Q5. Is dissociation like daydreaming?

In a way, dissociation is similar to daydreaming.

However, in daydreaming, people often become closer to an unconscious state.

Dissociation is when you enter the state consciously and voluntarily. 

Q6. Is daydreaming good for your brain?

In many ways, daydreaming can help you cope with stress, enhance your creativity, explore your inner self and deal with life challenges.

However, excessive daydreaming can often destroy  your day to day activities.

References

  1. Symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming
  2. How much time do people with Maladaptive Daydreaming spend in their imagination?
  3. What to Know about Maladaptive Daydreaming
  4. Excessive daydreaming linked to obsessive-compulsive symptoms
  5. Decoding Hidden Meaning in Your Daydreams
  6. Dissociation And Dissociative Disorders

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