For most of us, excessive daydreaming started out as a coping mechanism. A coping mechanism is any strategy our mind uses to protect us from psychological harm. In the beginning we were doing what we needed to do to protect ourselves. Excessive daydreaming often begins in childhood, when many of the psychological stressors we were exposed to were outside our control. But as we got older, our daydreaming became a habit that prevented us from fully living our real lives.
Daydreaming may not appear, on the surface, to be as unhealthy as some of the other coping mechanisms people turn to when they’re under stress. Daydreaming doesn’t damage our physical health; it doesn’t harm our bank balance, and it doesn’t usually carry much risk of embarrassing us in public. But it also doesn’t solve the problems we’re running away from. In general, any coping mechanism that seeks to avoid the problem rather than working to solve it is not healthy. But there are ways to adjust our daydreaming so that it moves away from being an unhealthy coping mechanism, towards a soothing form of self-care.
Limit the amount of time you spend daydreaming
Needing to daydream to escape the discomfort of an unresolved real-life problem is not healthy. But choosing to spend some time in your other world as your treat to yourself at the end of a long day is no different from enjoying a movie or a good book. If you’re in control of when and for how long you daydream, and if you can look honestly at your life and acknowledge any problems that need to be addressed, then you’re not using your daydreaming as a coping mechanism and you don’t need to worry about the occasional indulgence. If, however, you feel you have to daydream to escape the pain, that’s likely a sign that you are using your daydreaming in an unhealthy way.
Use your daydreaming to address your problems
If something in real life is bothering you and you don’t know what to do about it, you could try asking your characters for advice. When you haven’t been able to solve a problem on your own, it may seem strange to ask for help from people that only exist in your mind, but I’ve found it can be surprisingly helpful. Talking to your characters can help you see the situation from a different perspective. They can offer you comfort and support. And, if you appear in your daydreams as an idealised version of yourself, you can also tap into what that stronger, more confident you would do.
Building a realistic vision of a better future
You can also use your daydreaming skills to create a positive, but realistic, vision of how you would like your life to be in the future, when your problem is solved. By realistic, I mean only include in your vision the people and places that are part of your real life. Your celebrity crush can’t appear unless you know them in real life. The same goes for anyone who left your real life a long time ago but might still be hanging around in your daydreams. Keep it real. With what you have and from where you are now, how would you realistically like things to be? What is the best outcome you can hope for in the situation you’re in? Focus on the details, build a vision of the life you would like to aim for. That vision can become your goal, and you can then ask your future self what first step you took to make that goal a reality. Being able to visualise the goal is critical to achieving anything in life, and it’s something we daydreamers are particularly good at.
When life throws problems in our path, it’s essential that we look after ourselves so that we are in the optimum state to face our difficulties head-on. Daydreaming in a gentle healthy way, allowing our characters to support and encourage us, and keeping a positive future vision in mind, can help us navigate life’s challenges with the minimum of stress. Daydreaming can help us tap into the best version of ourselves, and can help to reassure us that whatever storms we’re currently facing won’t last forever.