Daydreaming used to be viewed as an activity for the lazy – Sigmund Freud once called daydreamers “infantile” in their thinking, believing it was a means of escaping from the necessary chores of the world. But according to Psychology Today, 96% of adults daydream at least once a day, psychologists and neuroscientists have now even said that the ability to daydream can be beneficial to our health in small doses, making us eat better and be happier.
But for some, daydreaming can prove to be detrimental to our mental health. Although not officially recognised by most mental health manuals, ‘maladaptive daydreaming’ (MD), is becoming an increasingly popular diagnosis for those who say they suffer from excessive, hours-long daydreams, which can intrude their waking hours and negatively impact their ability to perform everyday tasks, like going to work and having relationships.
The condition was coined in 2002 by Israeli Professor of Clinical Psychology, Eli Somer. In his research on the disorder, he described how people could spend up to 60% of their waking life in an imaginary world. Those who found themselves excessively daydreaming would know the world was fantasy and still remained in tact with the real world, but extreme cases found “extensive fantasy activity replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal or vocational functioning.”
Besides Somer’s study, research on MD is still few and far between. But a new 2018 study on the subject – carried out by Somer, as well as fellow clinical psychologist Nirit Soffer-Dudek – found that many excessive daydreamers share symptoms of OCD. Looking at 77 participants who self-diagnosed maladaptive daydreaming, most reported daydreaming for up to four hours a day. Somer and Soffer-Dudek suggested that low levels of serotonin may play a role in MD, as is often the case with those who suffer from OCD. There’s also evidence to suggest that MD could be triggered by childhood abuse – one quarter of those who participated in Somer’s 2002 study were abused growing up – but this wasn’t necessarily a precursor to the disorder.
More research is needed in order to determine whether MD is down to a mental imbalance. There also aren’t any conclusive symptoms, but there are a few tell-tale signs related to the condition, including excessive daydreaming that’s almost like an addiction; repetitive movements such as rocking, spinning and pacing; talking, crying and gesturing during the daydream; and the daydream itself is detailed and elaborate.
As MD isn’t officially recognised as a disorder at present, people who identify with the condition are making their own communities in a bid to help each other through the symptoms – finding support in online groups such as the Wild Minds Network.
“I have no self-control. I can only distract myself out of it. I'm like an alcoholic with an unlimited supply of booze everywhere I go. When I do it too much I feel sick and dazed, yet I can't stop,” one ‘MDer’ on Wild Minds Network wrote. “I know there are others out there who are experiencing a similar kind of condition. Hopefully they're not experiencing it to the extreme that I have. Either way, let's talk. Perhaps we can find some answers together.”
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