First steps after discovering Maladaptive Daydreaming:
You’ve recently discovered Maladaptive Daydreaming and it’s all looking a bit overwhelming. There’s a lot of people saying a lot of things, some contradictory, and, if we’re being honest, you don’t even know how you feel about it yet. Is it really a disorder? And if it is, is it really so bad? Are you supposed to want to stop it? Is this even what you have after all?
This article doesn’t answer any of those questions. I’m afraid this is more of a journey than you were probably hoping. But maybe we can help you find your way:
Step 1: Do Nothing.
It can take a moment to acclimate to the idea of MD and what it might mean for you and your life. You can, and should, take some time for yourself to let your thoughts and emotions settle and clear a bit while you get over the shock of finding this term.
Step 2: Research.
Read whatever you can get your hands on, the communities have resources you can check out. Studies are listed on the ICMDR. Many articles will come up with a quick Google. Chat with other members and pick their brains a bit. It’s ok not to know if you have MD, maybe you do, maybe you don’t, we’ll be around to support you while you figure it out.
Step 3: Notice.
You may be looking back on your life and habits with a new understanding and wondering if this or that was bad all along. Maybe you’re looking to the future and wondering how bad it could get. But let’s focus on the present. Journaling is a great tool for this, you don’t need to write deep “dear diary” essays, just focus on making quick notes throughout the day. When you catch yourself daydreaming jot down the time and make a note of your circumstances, what were you doing before you drifted off, how were you feeling, how are you feeling now?
This will help you to identify possible triggers and document more accurately symptoms and hours spent.
*Note that the act of journaling might make you hyper aware of what you are doing for a while, it’s common to go through a period of abnormal daydreaming during this time.
Step 4: Stop.
Don’t panic, you’re not actually stopping. Pick a length of time, a few days, a week perhaps, and don’t immerse yourself in MD. Avoid your triggers and pull yourself out when you notice it happening. You may begin to feel the effects of withdrawal, or any underlying conditions that the daydreams have been covering for. You may suddenly find yourself depressed, anxious or angry. The cravings may be too strong to handle without additional support.
You don’t need to commit to the entire week. Failure is the entire point. This experience is not meant to break the habit in any way, it is just an experiment to see what kind of emotions or issues are raised when daydreaming is set aside, and to get a feel for how strong the addiction might be. Stop the experiment if it becomes too much.
Using the information you gathered in this time you can sit down and give some more meaningful thought to where your trouble areas are and how mild or severe they may be.
Step 5: Plan.
Hopefully by now you are starting to get an idea of what your triggers are and if there are possible underlying issues fueling your MD, and are more prepared to face the question “what do I do about it?”. There are many approaches to managing MD. Do you want to cut it out completely? Achieve balance? Deprioritize it, perhaps, and focus on addressing underlying or comorbid conditions?
Give thought to alternative coping strategies. Focus on realistic, positive, goals that address the area you are most concerned about. For example:
“Daydreaming ruins my personal relationships, I will only daydream for x hours this week.”
“I want to prioritize time with loved ones, when I get the urge to daydream I will text someone instead.”
Step 6: Manage
Here is where our paths diverge; there are many ways approach management and what you choose will depend on your individual circumstances. Here are the most common and helpful techniques:
This is a meditation technique that focuses on the present moment. For best results it should be made a part of your daily routine. Don’t worry, this is easier than you think. Mindfulness does not require hours of sitting in a lotus position trying to keep your mind empty. You can eat, walk, sit, etc mindfully by redirecting your thoughts to your senses, feelings and surroundings. Don’t fight your thoughts, accept them and move to the next.
– Avoid Triggers.
Depends heavily on the trigger. You may want to avoid certain content for a while, leave your headphones at home or prevent yourself from entering your favorite area to daydream. Try to have an alternate activity or coping skill on hand to get you through cravings.
– Address underlying issues.
The most common comorbid conditions found in MD are ADHD, Anxiety, Depression and OCD. If you suspect you may have one (or more) of these conditions it may help to research them further and seek out support in addressing them. An underlying issue may not be a disorder, it could also be something like loneliness, isolation, stress, poor emotional regulation etc. Treating, or minimizing, an underlying issue is not guaranteed to improve your MD, but ignoring them may sabotage any attempts to make progress with it.
– Continue to journal.
Participants in studies are said to have spontaneously reported to researchers that even just the act of recording their daydreaming habit helped to curb it. In addition to this it can help you identify trends, triggers, trouble areas and mark progress. It can also double as a resource to present to a clinician when seeking professional support.
– Get Motivated.
Motivational Interviewing is an approach guided by a therapist that helps one get past their ambivalence towards changing their behaviours by letting them find internal motivation. But if you’re going it alone you may still benefit by crafting motivational statements for yourself. As with the example above try for a more encouraging tone:
“Daydreaming makes me a shitty friend, I won’t do it.”
“I will prioritize time with my friends, this is important to me.”
– Set aside time.
Many people find it easier to focus on their day if they know they have guaranteed time set aside to look forward to. Try to choose a block of time where you don’t have many obligations and stick to the schedule you set for yourself. After your allotted time is over tell yourself, and perhaps your characters, that you are pausing and will resume at the next block.
– Consider therapy.
We will help and support you as much as we can but, as we all know, this is no replacement for professional guidance. CBT is the recommended approach to MD, Motivational Interviewing and Contingency Management seem to be particularly helpful. Do not worry if your therapist has not heard of MD before, describe your symptoms and concerns to the best of your ability and they will help you make a plan for addressing it. They are there to support you through your issues regardless of if they’ve ever heard this specific term for it. If they express interest in it, or if you would like them to understand your headspace better, you can direct them to peer-reviewed studies listed on the ICMDR.