Are daydreamers more prone to burnout and mental exhaustion? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself over the last few weeks. I suspect I’ve been suffering from burnout for the last six months or so, but I’ve been blaming pressure of work, the difficulties of balancing work and family life during the pandemic, uncertainty about the future – anything except daydreaming. Because daydreaming is my safe place. It’s where I turn to when real life gets too much. It’s my escape. So I don’t want to admit that daydreaming might have anything to do with feeling burnt out.
But does it?
Daydreaming uses mental energy. In fact, daydreaming probably uses more energy than mind-wandering, because it’s more purposeful. Although my daydreams evolve on their own to a certain extent, I’m still there directing the show. I’m shaping the storyline, figuring out how my characters will react to the situations I’ve put them in, being on high alert for holes in the plot, trying to make everything perfect. And even though it doesn’t feel like it takes much effort to daydream, I’m every bit as absorbed by it as when I’m concentrating really hard on something. So although it feels relaxing, because I’m enjoying it and it’s providing an escape from my real-world problems, I’m not sure it’s as rejuvenating as, say, lying in the sun doing nothing.
And then there’s the emotional side. I feel just as much, if not more, emotion in my daydreams as I do in real life. And it’s relentless. Real life has it’s downtimes, when there’s nothing much going on. I guess my daydream life does too, but I don’t visit those scenes too often. Usually I go to the high-emotion, high-drama scenes, the ones that will make me laugh, cry and everything in between, usually in the space of five minutes. If we lived through one of those scenes in real life, we’d expect to be exhausted afterwards, and daydreaming really isn’t that different.
So if, like me, daydreaming is your default state, if your mind snaps into your other life the minute this one isn’t holding your attention, it’s worth considering whether living two (or more) lives uses more energy than living just one. And do you have enough energy for both? Is feeling burnt out, stressed or chronically fatigued the price we pay for living in two worlds? I don’t think it has to be, but I do think we need to be aware of the risks. I think its more important than it is for normative daydreamers that we rest our minds as well as our bodies.
So how can we become more intentional about managing our energy levels so that we have enough energy to meet the demands of real life and daydreaming?
1. Develop the habit of noticing your energy levels
Notice how your energy changes through the day or through the week. When do you feel more alert? What causes your energy to crash? Once you know what affects your energy, you can start to make changes that will increase your energy levels.
2. Look after your physical health
Physical energy and mental energy are closely linked. If you look after your physical health – eat healthily, exercise, get enough sleep – you’ll have more energy for thinking, and daydreaming.
3. Reduce your stress levels
Take any steps you can to reduce your real-life stress. It will not only free up more energy for daydreaming, but you might also find you need to daydream less because you’ll have less to run away from.
Once or twice a day, force your mind to do nothing, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Mindfulness can be a hard skill for daydreamers to master, but it’s well worth persisting. It gets easier with practice, and it’s the best way to give your mind the rest it needs.
5. Adjust your daydreams according to your energy levels
When your energy levels are high, it’s fine to enjoy visiting one of those emotional-rollercoaster scenes. But when you’re checking out of real life because you’re exhausted and everything just feels like too much effort, that’s the time to visit one of the happily-ever-after scenes, when you’re snuggled up with your daydream partner in front of a log fire, or watching the sun set from the balcony of your fantasy apartment. Don’t try to save the world, just soak up the love.
I’m just starting out on my journey to recovering my energy levels. I’m still learning what works and what doesn’t. But I’m up for the challenge. Because if I could move past the exhaustion and joyfully live life to the full in the real world and in my daydreams, my life would be amazing.