We've all been there — one moment you're diligently sitting behind your desk being productive, and then the next moment, you catch yourself in a daydream.
According to Psychology Today, "everyone, or nearly everyone, reports daydreaming on a regular basis, with studies indicating that as many as 96% of adults engage in having at least one bout of daily fantasies."
Previous criticisms of daydreaming were that mind wanderers were lazy and failed at mental discipline. In fact, Sigmund Freud, a known father to modern day psychoanalysis, regarded daydreamers as "infantile" in their thinking. Freud believed that daydreaming was a way for people to resolve any conflict that they might be facing, and that the person's fantasy might be a mix of their desires and what is socially acceptable according to societal standards.
Modern psychology has found that when your mind wanders, it's a sign of the creative process, which means you're actually giving your mind a workout. By having multiple simultaneous thoughts, your brain is strengthening your mental work space — the more mental workspace you have, the stronger your ability to mentally juggle more than one task.
"Wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. Cognitive scientists define this type of memory as the brain's ability to retain and recall information in the face of distractions," according to a study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science.
When Daydreaming Goes Too Far
Now what happens when day dreaming goes too far? You find yourself missing days and hours of time daydreaming. This is known as maladaptive daydreaming (MD) — an extensive daydream that replaces human interaction with extensive fantasies that people envision in their own minds. Although it is not a medically recognized term, the concept was first coined by Eli Sómer, Ph.D., in 2002. Somer believed that the trigger for this excessive form of daydreaming might be from trauma or abuse.
In his study, Sómer's patients had used their daydreaming as a coping method or escape from unpleasant surroundings. However, further research is needed to quantify this theory.
Many people with MD find that their condition can cause them to be unproductive and can actually be an extreme hindrance to their everyday lives. Time is passing while they are processing these extensive dreams, and before they know it, a whole day is lost to their fantasies.
Since this isn't a recognized condition, however, there isn't extensive research to determine if this is an actual mental imbalance. But theorists have also attributed MD to dissociative personality disorder, because with such disassociation, the person is often similarly detached from his or her immediate surroundings in both the physical and emotional aspect.
Symptoms Of MD
There are not any conclusive symptoms of MD, since it's not an official diagnosis, but in view of the research available, there are a few signs that be related to MD:
1. Daydreaming excessively in a way that is often compared to an addiction.
2. This excessive daydreaming often begins in childhood.
3. Books, movies, music, video games, and other media may be a daydreaming trigger.
4. The daydreaming itself is often detailed and elaborate, sometimes compared to a movie or novel.
5. Repetitive movements while daydreaming are common (but not always present in sufferers) — pacing, rocking, spinning, shaking something in their hand, etc.
6. They may sometimes talk, laugh, cry, gesture, or make facial expressions as they daydream. People suffering from this know the difference between daydreaming and reality, and do not confuse the two; this makes them distinctly different from psychotics or schizophrenics.
7. Some people will lie in bed for hours daydreaming, and may either have difficulty going to sleep because of this, or have difficulty getting out of bed once awake. They may also neglect basic functions such as regular meals, showering, and other daily activities because of their daydreaming.
Many people have started forums, blogs, and discussion boards to talk about their MD. While it might be a long way before it's officially recognized, awareness is a productive first step.