I want to begin this article by saying that everyone’s experience of daydreaming is different. And for some maladaptive daydreamers it can be impossible to maintain healthy daydreaming habits without support. If your daydreaming is having a significant negative impact on your life, you might benefit from seeing a counsellor or other therapist. But for many on the less-severe end of the daydreaming scale, it is possible to manage your daydreaming yourself through increased self-awareness and setting yourself a few simple ground rules.
1. Deal with past traumas
Many of us daydream to escape from painful events in our past or from a difficult current reality. For us, daydreaming is a coping mechanism. It’s the way we deal with the problem, rather than the problem itself. By taking steps to deal with the underlying problem – whether that’s by seeking counselling, removing yourself from a toxic situation, or learning to manage your emotions in a more positive way – you may find that the amount of time you need to spend daydreaming automatically reduces.
2. Use mindfulness to stay present
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”. Mindfulness helps you to become aware of your thoughts and feelings in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you. By learning to accept and manage your negative emotions, you lessen the need to take refuge from those emotions in your daydream world. Also, by learning to live in the present moment, you start to notice and appreciate the little things that bring beauty to life. When you find something, no matter how small, to be grateful for in the real world, it makes the daydream world less compelling.
3. Give yourself a break
If you are an immersive or maladaptive daydreamer, your daydream world is never going to leave you completely. It’s just the way your brain is wired. Some people fear that overcoming maladaptive daydreaming will mean they have to say goodbye to characters and worlds that they care very deeply about. That’s not the case. Healthy daydreaming is about bringing your daydreaming down to a level where it doesn’t negatively impact your life. It’s OK to give yourself a little bit of daydreaming time each day – perhaps on your evening commute, or while you’re doing housework, or when you’re out jogging. Set yourself limits, and congratulate yourself when you stick to them.
4. Never daydream when other people are present
To succeed in anything, you have to make it a priority in your life. If you want to enjoy real life, then real life has to come first. When you are with another person, that person deserves your full attention. Real-life relationships need tending and nurturing in a way that daydream relationships don’t. You can’t take your real-life friends for granted; you have to show up for them. Your characters won’t mind if you put them off until later.
5. Work towards inspiring real-life goals
Most of us daydream when we’re bored. You may find you can lessen the urge to daydream by keeping yourself busy with rewarding real-life experiences. Notice the things that make you happy and do more of them. Set yourself a challenge. Take up a new sport or hobby. Work on a project that is meaningful to you. Whatever you choose, if you can, enlist the help of friends or family to keep you motivated. Having an accountability partner can do wonders for keeping you on track.
Finally, it may be helpful to keep a diary, or at least a mental tally, of how long you spend daydreaming each day, so that you can quickly spot any early signs that your daydreaming is starting to get out of control. If you spot any lapses early on, there is a much better chance that you’ll be able to manage the situation yourself before your daydreaming starts to damage your relationships or career.
With effort and commitment, it is possible to thrive in both the real world and your daydream world. You just need to find a harmonious balance between the two.