Maladaptive Daydreaming And What You Should Know About It.
by V. K. Joshi
Consciousness is the state of mind where we are aware of what is happening in and around us i.e. it is the level of alertness. Throughout the day our levels of consciousness are at a constant rise and fall. One such state of altered consciousness is daydreaming. Say you’re tired of your mundane routine lifestyle- you wake up at 7 AM, get about your chores and head out for your 9 to 5. You come home exhausted, watch something on the telly or scroll through your phone and head straight to bed only to cycle into the same circle. Now, imagine that you’ve checked into one of the best beach resorts with a Riviera view and a private Jacuzzi. Your days consist of soft rays of sunshine dancing in your room, the ebbing of sea waves filling your ears and with the view of a never-ending blue horizon speckled with seagulls. You sit beside a campfire every evening where your meals are continental and your beverages refreshing while watching the sun sink into the ocean. Now, snap out of it. Indeed, daydreaming is exactly what you just experienced. It was an escape from the tethers of reality which is edged with day to day struggles and dull discomfort. Daydreaming by itself is a very common habit; some researches show that an average adult spends about three hours a week daydreaming. Although there is research showing that focused daydreaming can actually be used as a problem-solving strategy (and by extension, for accomplishing goals), it is possible for daydreams to spin out of control. If your day-to-day functioning is getting impaired because your mind wandered a bit too far, for a bit too long, then it is possible that you’re dealing with Maladaptive Daydreaming.
What is Maladaptive Daydreaming and how is it different from regular daydreaming?
Maladaptive daydreaming, simply put, is an experience that involves intense daydreaming which distracts a person from his or her reality to an extent where it manifests even without a conscious effort. It is different from regular daydreaming because it leads to functional impairment and results in an inability to carry out basic day-to-day tasks. An obsessive need to keep coming back to the same negative thoughts has a high chance of affecting the emotional capacity to interact with others, hence leading to an overall retrogression of real-life relationships. Primarily identified by Professor Eli Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel, Maladaptive daydreaming is found to be possibly triggered by common day to day experiences, sensory stimuli, topics of conversation, hobbies etc.
Some of its common symptoms are listed below:
- Vivid and extremely intricate daydreams where there is high attention to details of the plot, ‘characters’, dialogues and other story-like features.
- Abnormally long daydreams which make it increasingly harder to escape based on the intensity of the experience.
- The need or urge to continue a daydream that is interrupted by real-world event at a later point.
- Repetitive movements while daydreaming like pacing, fidgeting etc.
- Involvement of intense facial expressions and talking to yourself.
How do you diagnose Maladaptive Daydreaming?
While Maladaptive Daydreaming is not included in standard mental health diagnostic manuals, recent studies have shown that it has evolved into a clinically significant condition. Although there is no universal method to diagnose, Professor Somer did develop the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS) which can help determine if a person is experiencing it. It is a 14 part scale that rates five key elements of maladaptive daydreaming:
- Quality- Quality of the daydream which determines how often one’s daydreaming is accompanied by physical activity.
- Control- Control on the daydream refers to the scale which measures the urge to return to a daydream after it has been interrupted by a real-world occurrence.
- Distress- The level of distress one undergoes when he or she is unable to return to that daydream for a period of time due to obligations in reality.
- Benefit- This attempts to quantify the scale on which daydreaming is enjoyable and/or comforting.
- Function- This gauges the extent to which daydreaming interferes with academic/occupational success or personal achievements.
Is Maladaptive Daydreaming linked to other mental health disorders?
At its worst, most mental health professionals concur that Maladaptive Daydreaming is a symptom of a mental health disorder rather than treating it as a disorder in itself. Furthermore, it is shown that most people who took part in the studies (as scanty as they are) reported that they had previously been diagnosed with mental health conditions such as:
- Anxiety disorder
- Attention disorder (ADHD, ADD)
- OCD or an OCD-like disorder
Thus indicating that it is likely that Maladaptive daydreaming could be a ‘comorbid’ condition i.e. there were symptoms of other psychiatric disorders along with those of maladaptive daydreaming as well. There are also cases where it was diagnosed as schizophrenia (a type of psychosis which is characterized by delusions, hallucinations and other cognitive difficulties). However, it is worth noting that a person experiencing Maladaptive daydreaming is very well aware that his or her daydreams are not a part of reality, contrary to the disorders of the psychosis spectrum.
What is the treatment for Maladaptive Daydreaming?
Due to the lack of researches and studies conducted on this ‘condition’ (given that it is recently identified), experts believe that it is a little too soon to call it a symptom of a new disorder, instead they further confirm that it is more important to treat the underlying issues (such as the ones mentioned above). Although there is no official treatment for maladaptive dreaming, one study did show that certain drugs used to treat OCD were effective in helping a maladaptive daydreamer control his or her daydreams. Based on anecdotal evidence, various methods of dealing with Maladaptive daydreaming have been suggested- journaling to keep an account of triggers, therapeutic techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy, increasing the amount or quality of sleep or using mild stimulants like caffeine to combat daytime tiredness. There also online forums such as Daydream in Blue and Wild Minds Network that serve as an online support group that helps maladaptive daydreamers to share and learn coping methods from each other’s experience.