There are numerous positive side effects of daydreaming, but recent studies show it’s possible to do it too much.
Daydreaming is useful as a coping mechanism and a guard against loneliness, according to an article by Giulia Poerio in The Conversation. The practice, which typically only takes a few fleeting seconds, can boost creativity, planning and problem-solving skills, but when it consumes several hours per day, daydreaming can become a disorder.
Called maladaptive daydreaming, the condition that causes people construct elaborate imaginary worlds for hours every day affects an estimated 2.5% of adults, according to a 2022 study.
The disorder, not yet formally recognized by medical professionals, appears to live alongside conditions like anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and ADHD. One study found that maladaptive daydreaming and OCD were common to half of its participants, suggesting that the two disorders share mechanisms including lack of cognitive control, dissociation and intrusive thoughts.
The practice of deliberately immersing in self-constructed fantasies can date back to childhood, when children create imaginary worlds with intricate themes and scenarios that can become rewarding and evolve over years.
This created world is a protective space from the harsh reality that a child could be experiencing, the article said. Those realities may include traumas, difficult life events and social isolation. A child can find comfort in daydreaming as a tool to regulate stress.
But when people are unable or unwilling to process traumatic or unpleasant events, daydreaming can become a compulsive and addictive coping mechanism that can exacerbate the original problem. It can also harm development of social building skills, according to some studies.
Those who live with this condition can take measures to control their behavior. In one study, a man reduced the amount of time he spent in the fantasy world through a combination of psychological treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness.
Social media has increased interest in maladaptive daydreaming, but mental health professionals have yet to officially recognize the disorder in psychiatric diagnostic manuals.
Once maladaptive daydreaming is widely recognized by psychiatrists, people who live with the disorder will be able to access a wider range of treatment options, Poerio said in the story.