Maladaptive daydreaming is a psychological construct that explains a behavior but it is not an official disorder. It is still a mystery. However, more research is being done to better understand its prevalence and characteristics, and how to treat it.
Everybody daydreams at some point. This happens when your thoughts drift from the current situation. This is different than nocturnal dreaming, which occurs when you’re asleep and have no conscious control over your thoughts.
Daydreaming is a result of the default mode network, which I have previously discussed. This network is composed of brain regions that engage in mental activity. It runs in the background. When you are thinking about something, this network is shut down. The default mode network is activated when your mind drifts from a task or an intentional thought.
Mind wandering is both unintentional, and spontaneous. It’s possible to fall into it even if you aren’t actively thinking. You can also use it to focus on something else, such as imagining your next vacation or imagining your job promotion. This level of fantasy doesn’t usually interfere with your daily activities or cause distress.
Maladaptive daydreaming refers to a condition where the mind is constantly wandering and thinking on steroids. These fantasies are often complex stories with multiple characters. They can be absorbed for hours. Maladaptive dreaming is a state that allows you to be fully aware of your inner world. This is in contrast to dissociative states where you might not be able distinguish reality from fantasy. While your thoughts may keep you busy, you don’t lose touch with reality by getting so lost in them.
People will rock or hum to help them keep their thoughts in focus. Sometimes you may find yourself uttering the story aloud or whispering to your self. It has a compulsive quality that some people consider addictive. It’s almost like you need to escape into your own world and live out your fantasies. Sometimes, people are able to dream for long periods of time but can be triggered by music or other situations that trigger them to dream.
Because of how much time you spend daydreaming and the need for isolation, it can cause problems with your work and social lives. If you feel that you can’t control your urge to dream, or how much time you spend on it, this can cause distress.
There is no set protocol for treating a condition. Recognizing triggers and minimising or eliminating them can be helpful. Exposure therapy might be helpful, given its compulsive nature. This therapy involves you being exposed to a trigger that triggers your dreams and then helping to respond differently to it without actually dreaming.
You may have another disorder, such as depression or anxiety. If this is the case, you might find that your dreams are less vivid if you improve your symptoms.
Marcusson-Clavertz, D, West M., KjellONE, Somer E. Daily diary study of maladaptive daydreaming and mind wandering: An examination of within-person as well as between-persons relationships. PLoS One. 2019;14(11):e0225529. Published 2019 Nov 27. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone. 0225529
Soffer-Dudek N., Somer E. Captured in a Daydream : Daily Elevations In Maladaptive Daydreaming Are Related To Daily Psychopathological Symptoms. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9: 194. Published 2018 May 15. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018. 00194
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