One of the differences between being an immersive daydreamer and being a maladaptive daydreamer is that if you’re an immersive daydreamer, you can control your daydreaming, rather than letting it control you. You can make your daydreaming work for you so that it becomes an asset that helps you get ahead in your real life. One of the ways you can do that is by letting your alter ego, your daydream world and your daydream characters help you manage your emotional state.
When you’re in control of your daydreaming, you can use micro-daydreams strategically to pull you out of unhelpful emotional states. For example, if you’re facing a difficult or upsetting challenge, you might find that your imagination is running away with you. This often happens with daydreamers; we can project ourselves into our imagined futures and create scenes that feel very real. If we’re worried that an event in real life isn’t going to go well, it’s all too easy to imagine a whole range of negative outcomes, which distress us before the event has even happened. And because it’s so hard for us to switch our minds off, we can get stuck in a downward spiral of overthinking and catastrophising.
This is one situation when we can use daydreaming to our advantage. As soon as you realise you’re overthinking a real-life challenge, consider whether you can use your daydreaming to help you view the situation in a more positive light. Could a micro-daydream – daydreaming for just five minutes or less – change your emotional state? There are a few different ways you can do this, so experiment to find the one that works best for you.
Ask yourself how your alter ego would handle the situation
If you become an idealised version of yourself when you daydream, you could ask yourself how that idealised you would respond to the situation you’re in. You spend a lot of time viewing things from your alter ego’s perspective, so even if you aren’t used to bringing them out into the real world, you should have a fair idea of how they’d react. Would they see any value in overthinking the problem? Would they come up with a positive solution that you’ve dismissed because you don’t have the courage to follow through? Could you become your alter ego in the real world just long enough to sort things out?
Escape to your daydream world to get a bit of perspective
How long would you need to spend in your daydream world in order to put a bit of distance between yourself and the challenge you’re facing? Probably less time than you think. When you’re overthinking a problem, your thoughts are feeding on themselves, one leading to another. You only need to step away from those thoughts for a few minutes to break the spiral. So take yourself off to your daydream world and spend a few minutes checking in with what’s going on there. When you come back, you might find you can see your problem from a fresh perspective.
Turn to your daydream characters for whatever support and reassurance you need
Real-life friends aren’t always available at the precise moment you need them, and you can’t always rely on them to see the situation the way you want them to see it. But your daydream characters will. This is the solution that I’ve found works best for me. When I’m upsetting myself by overthinking something, I’ll ask my daydream partner to come and sit with me for a minute. He’ll give me a hug, and I’ll have a cry on his shoulder, and then he’ll reassure me that he loves me unconditionally, even if I’ve messed up or I’m not feeling particularly confident or capable in that moment. He’ll remind me of all the things he loves about me, and he has an uncanny ability to reframe the situation so that I suddenly see it in a more positive light. In the long-term, having a chat with a real-life friend and getting a different perspective might be even more valuable, but in the moment, what I need is to cheer up, and my daydream partner can make me feel better in an instant.
The great thing about these suggestions is that they should take less than five minutes. They all work by temporarily disconnecting you from the problem, stopping the thought spiral and changing your emotional state. Be careful not to get sucked into a daydream and spend hours ignoring reality – set a timer if you need to, or ask someone to check on you in a few minutes to make sure you’ve gone back to what you were intending to do. This isn’t about maladaptively daydreaming in order to escape from your problem, deny it exists and avoid solving it. This is about strategically using your immersive daydreaming to stop overthinking, shift into a more positive frame of mind and tackle the problem from a fresh perspective. It’s a wonderful example of how being able to control your daydreaming can allow you to turn it into something that benefits all areas of your life.