How Far Can Daydreaming Go?

Daydreaming is an activity that nearly everyone partakes in, but when it is taken too far as a way to escape reality, it can lead to hurting aspects of our real lives.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By Reya Miller

As a Stuyvesant student, catching yourself daydreaming during class, if not falling asleep, probably hits close to home. It is easy to succumb to the fantasies created by our minds. In complex terms, daydreaming is our mind taking elements from real life and consciously manipulating them into vivid scenarios. Sometimes referred to as the state in between being awake and asleep, night dreaming and daydreaming are very similar, except that it takes the conscious effort from being awake to controlling our daydreams. Though we can enjoy where our mind takes us, there is more to daydreaming than a temporary escape from class.

Studies have shown that daydreaming is a sign of creativity and divergent thinking, which may be relieving news to frequent daydreamers. Divergent thinking is a type of thinking that requires coming up with different possibilities to find a solution. A recent study in 2020 conducted by the University of California explored the relationship between daydreaming and creativity. Participants were instructed to report their thoughts in response to the events they experienced throughout the day and then reflect on how creative they felt at the end. While some of the participants’ minds wandered off to mundane thoughts, such as planning for future chores, other participants’ minds elicited what-if scenarios and fantastical sequences from the events of their day. The latter group of people reported feeling more creative and inspired by the end of the day. The wandering mind creates connections between our thoughts and has the ability to boost our creative sense, a skill that individuals would need over a broad range of fields, from brainstorming characters of a story as an author to finding cures to diseases as a researcher.

Daydreaming is also shown to help cope with stress and anxiety. Especially when completing tasks we are not particularly fond of, daydreaming scenarios can help bring our mind to a better place and thus improve our mood. However, for the same reason, excessive daydreaming can become harmful, potentially leading to a condition called maladaptive daydreaming.

Maladaptive daydreaming is when a person regularly experiences daydreams that are intense and highly distracting. These daydreams can last from several minutes to hours. Furthermore, the individual can develop an addiction by constantly wishing to return to the daydream, all in an effort to escape their responsibilities in reality. This condition can go far as being accompanied by physical movements or whispers to match the events occurring in their daydream. During the COVID-19 lockdown, there were heightened levels of maladaptive daydreaming, showing how stress and external pressures can trigger episodes of it. Further studies have revealed that maladaptive daydreaming in students correlates with a decline in GPA. These findings demonstrate that in the effort to dissociate from the constraints of reality, people end up neglecting their responsibilities, thus damaging aspects of their real lives.

Since it is not considered an actual condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the manual which psychologists use to diagnose individuals, many people overlook maladaptive daydreaming as a serious disorder. In fact, maladaptive daydreaming is often confused with regular daydreaming, and people may categorize symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming as a trait of a careless and lazy worker. However, there have been many maladaptive daydreamers whose lives have been very difficult to endure because of their condition. In an article reviewed and published on Psychology Today, a Bolivian woman who was a maladaptive daydreamer compared maladaptive daydreaming to a drug that she can’t live without, and in the end, it feels like she’s wasting her life, hung up on the vivid and intense scenarios she make in their head.

The lack of treatment for maladaptive daydreaming comes from the lack of seriousness in the issue as well as a proper diagnostic label. A strategy to combat problems like these can be to look at the root of the problem in order to come up with solutions. In this case, a primary cause for individuals to relapse to maladaptive daydreaming is because they are not satisfied with the lives they have. To deal with this, having a strong support system and a drive to accomplish goals and confront life’s problems is crucial in personal development. Sure, we can daydream from time to time and miss the last few sentences a teacher says, but we wouldn't want to be missing entire lessons repeatedly.