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Excessive Daydreaming Linked to Several Mental Health Conditions

Maladaptive Daydreaming

There’s nothing wrong with a little daydreaming. In fact, as I wrote about last year, certain kinds of daydreaming are associated with having a greater sense of purpose in life.

But there can be something wrong with too much daydreaming. As I’ve also written about, some people lose control over their daydreams – their daydreams become distressing and start to interfere with daily life. Psychologists refer to this as maladaptive daydreaming or sometimes even daydreaming disorder.

And now, a new study has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that maladaptive daydreaming is more than just too much of a good thing. Rather, maladaptive daydreaming appears to come hand-in-hand with real implications for mental health and to be highly associated with several mental health conditions.

In the study, researchers surveyed 39 people who showed symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming. The researchers were especially interested in whether the participants showed symptoms of any “comorbid” conditions – that is, psychiatric disorders other than maladaptive daydreaming.

And did they ever. As it turned out, three-quarters of the participants met diagnostic criteria for at least three additional disorders, and over forty percent met criteria for at least four.

The most common comorbid condition was ADHD, which 77 percent of participants met the diagnostic threshold for. In a way, it makes sense that people who lose control over their daydreams would also tend to have clinical levels of inattention.

Seventy two percent of the participants also met criteria for anxiety disorders, and two-thirds had depression. Fifty four percent had OCD or an OCD-like disorder. Finally, twenty eight percent of the people with maladaptive daydreaming had attempted suicide at least once.

These results paint a pretty stark picture: maladaptive daydreaming correlates with a range of serious mental health problems. But knowing this also provides hope. Clinicians can use this information to better spot people at risk for a variety of mental health conditions, and ultimately to provide more effective treatment for people who suffer from distressing levels of daydreaming, often along with other disorders.

Image: Public Domain

Excessive Daydreaming Linked to Several Mental Health Conditions

25 thoughts on “Excessive Daydreaming Linked to Several Mental Health Conditions

  • June 17, 2017 at 7:33 am
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    Do we really need a study to tell us people who escape into fantasy might have issues worthy of escaping from?

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    • June 20, 2017 at 2:35 pm
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      Yes. If you read some of the links I posted, you’ll that while some kinds of people who “escape into fantasy” do “have issues worthy of escaping from,” other kinds of people who “escape into fantasy” actually have more meaningful lives on average. It’s always easy to say “we didn’t need a study to tell us that” after the study’s already been done. 😉

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      • April 3, 2018 at 9:22 pm
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        May be you are in early stage of maladaptive daydreaming.after some more time pass you will understand what it feels like not to live in present moment and how precious time you loose from your Lifend by only sitting and dreaming.

  • June 21, 2017 at 7:57 am
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    Any study of an excessive behavior will find maladaptivity.

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    • June 21, 2017 at 2:33 pm
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      Well, notice how vague that statement is — it doesn’t say anything about the extent of the “maladaptivity” or the type of “maladaptivity.” So, we could just leave it there, not actually knowing anything at all … or we could do a study to learn more. 🙂

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  • August 21, 2017 at 1:42 pm
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    If you grew up in an abusive home, beaten for no good reason, by a catholic Alcoholic, that believed that to ‘spare the rod, was to spoil the child’ , you would get the ideal, that day dreaming was at times, the only was to escape. Escape the horrors of childhood in the 1960’s , or stay in reality and cope with beating, by belts, rulers, and paddles?
    Escaping in my mind, made the pain easier to deal with. My sisters turned to drugs, and I, well I did what I had to do..

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    • August 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm
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      Thanks for sharing your story, Smokythebear. It also brings up a good point about some limitations of these studies: researchers aren’t clear on when “excessive” daydreaming contributes to mental health problems and when it’s the other way around — that people react to adversity by daydreaming to escape reality. I suspect that both can apply in different situations.

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  • February 4, 2018 at 3:19 pm
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    I’m 25 and my daydreaming has gone too far to the point that I think my life sucks without daydreaming. And now I think I suffered from instrutive thoughts and it’s due to it. Now I can only enjoy daydreaming (sometimes with masturbating),, when I try to enjoy things in real life like watching movies, listening to music or even eating my instrutive thoughts comes in and ruin my mood. So if I stop daydreaming will my instrutive thoughts go away.

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    • February 5, 2018 at 2:51 pm
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      Hi Muiz. When daydreaming and intrusive thoughts get to the point that they’re interfering with your life, talking to a mental health professional is the way to go. I’d encourage you to do this. A mental health professional should be able to help you with taking your life back from these thoughts. Best of luck!

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  • February 16, 2018 at 1:22 am
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    I believe I do have maladaptive daydreaming I created myself as a different character and create stories all in my head. It does not interfere with my everyday life I can assure you, also I do suffer from mild OCD.

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    • March 3, 2018 at 3:35 am
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      i used to that I would go into my world with my character and Create a whole story line it would interfere in school and when I was at home I would do it too very chance that I got and also I would daydream everywhere and when I mean everywhere I mean everywhere I even continue my daydreams in my sleep I even had a super realistic dream that I thought it happened in a past life is something .

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  • March 14, 2018 at 12:10 am
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    I wish I could have participated in that test. I know I have maladaptive daydreaming. I am 31 and have wasted more than half of my life daydreaming. I have already been diagnosed with Major Depressive disorder and an eating disorder. This was years ago, and I know my problems are getting worse. I wish someone would research this more, it needs to be made a real mental disorder. I belong to a group of so many people that have it. I would volunteer to participate in a study if the opportunity came.

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    • March 15, 2018 at 3:28 pm
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      I’m not sure whether there are currently any studies on maladaptive daydreaming looking for participants, but it’s worth keeping an eye open for, since research on maladaptive daydreaming can’t happen without people like you being willing to participate! Thanks for commenting.

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    • June 20, 2018 at 4:16 am
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      I understand how you feel! I am now 30 years old and daydreaming about the same story for 23 years but the characters have developed over the years. I feel like their apart of my family now. I try to say my goodbyes but their the only thing i feel a strong connection to. It all started when i was in kindergarten, i would imagine characters with my hands , next i start visualizing them in my mind. The reason was because i was shy and quiet with no friends and plus my mother shipped me off to stay with grandma in a different state, while my sibling stay with her.I was a loner as a child. My daydreaming gotten worst when i was 10 years old and my stepfather started molesting me,So I think I’m confused about reality. I daydream to escape my pain and i use it to feel any kind of emotion;sad, happiness,passion, and anger; I was numb for years . I can’t keep friends and I divorce my husband because the pressure of a wive was too hard and i cant focus anything and it affect my work. I feel stuck in my mind.

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  • March 23, 2018 at 8:47 am
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    I’m 21 and I live in Iran
    I think my daydreaming has been started when I was 7 or 8
    I had and have a hard life
    My dad was a taxi driver but when I came to this world he lost his job because of addiction
    Those days was so hard for me and my mom and sister and of course himself too
    Finally he gave up and died when I was 9
    After that,there were new problems
    till now
    So I live in my lovely world,I dream about everything,about
    my wishes that I know will never come true but I enjoy them
    But they take so much time
    Now I can’t study anymore

    Reply
    • March 24, 2018 at 12:28 am
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      Hi Sara. Thanks a lot for sharing your story. I’m really sorry to hear about everything you’ve had to cope with — wishing you all the best!

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    • June 9, 2018 at 9:58 am
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      Hi Sara, I’m 20 y/o and also from Iran. I’ve been daydreaming as far as I can remember, I also have some anxiety problems and OCD. As you know, Maladaptive Daydreaming sucks but not being able to talk to someone about it sucks even more. I was just a 13 years old boy when I told my mom that something is wrong about me and I can’t control my MD, of course she ignored me at the time, she said everyone does that and it’s normal. My father had anger management issues, I was beaten up from time to time for no reasons. When I was 15, I reached out to internet to cure myself, that was the first time I heard MD and it was kinda a relief because I wasn’t the only lunatic and I wasn’t alone. Anyway since then I’ve been self medicating myself, I’ve tried so many medications and methods like mindfulness and CBT… I know it’s wasn’t smart, but I had no choice, you know there’s no way that people like us get help here. Sara you’re not alone, I’ve been on a same boat and I know what you’re going through. I have created a social support group which includes other Persian daydreamers. If you’re interested, let me know.

      Reply
  • April 9, 2018 at 10:56 am
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    And I feel that psychiatric methods can’t help people like me, cause this hateful trait of excessive daydreaming is deep rooted in my brain. Maybe medical drugs can improve the situation, or maybe its just a fool’s hope. From the moment I wake up till the time that sleep overcomes my brain is busy with racing thoughts. It has on and off times during the day, but it doesn’t fade away. Too sad about how this condition ruined my life plans so far.

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  • June 20, 2018 at 10:57 am
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    I’m 19. I’ve had maladaptive daydreaming ever since I was sexually abused when I was 4. In addition to that abuse, I was chronically ill as a child and neglected and emotionally abused. I was pulled out of school because I was sick, and I ended up spending days at a time home alone. I developed an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression, all of which I’m getting treated now. Nobody has ever understood my MD though. When I was little my family called it having imaginary friends, but then started chastising me for the fantastical content I was getting too old for. I had to start hiding it from them. I learned to do it with the lights off and music on so that they couldn’t hear me talking or pacing around. It’s always been dismissed by therapists, regardless of how much I try to tell them that I pace around my room talking to characters in my head in a detailed fantasy world, and I know it’s not real, but It’s a compulsion, and it sucks up hours of my day, makes reality feel unreal, and my daydreams influence my real life actions and decisions (I put myself in situations based on how it played out unrealistically in my head, especially romantic relationships, and I often get hurt because I’m fixated on the fantasy so much that I can’t see reality until afterwards). I’ve never been able to get treatment, but articles like these help me feel less alone.

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    • June 22, 2018 at 1:20 am
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      Hi Grace, I really appreciate your comment that you found this article helpful. As far as getting your therapist to understand this, can I suggest printing out this comment you just wrote and giving it to your therapist? I find that these types of things are sometimes easier to express in writing. Best of luck!

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    • August 8, 2018 at 2:16 pm
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      Hi i feel for you, i found pray is very good for me even when my md overcomes it I tend to stay more focus and back on track while praying. I know that fasting is one sure way of winning over md, Youre mind wants this and that and you move away from your thought’s till they are reduced or disappear. I have a similar history like yours not as physically abusive i wish at times it was, the head screw and heart can be very emotionally tearing

      Reply
  • August 1, 2018 at 5:21 am
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    Not to belittle the content of the maladaptive dreamers comments above; but it all seems either fake(seems like the same person writing since the sentence structure and grammar are similar) and perhaps some real(no one wants to refute a physical/sexual abuse case) but it all sounds the same in the comments. I am a professional, but I suffer from maladaptive dreaming, which for me is the result of ADHD and depression. It can be bad or good; for me it’s all the made up/lost arguments you’ve one in your head. Or the million outcomes you can have about any anticipated or hopeful conversation in your future. It sucks because it takes away from your daily life.

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    • August 1, 2018 at 2:44 pm
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      I don’t really get this comment. I’m not seeing the similarities in the other comments, which are separated in time by many months — other than the obvious similarity that these people are experiencing maladaptive daydreaming. I find it especially puzzling that you say you experience maladaptive daydreaming yourself but that these other people’s stories are “fake.” That said, I definitely see how ADHD and depression could contribute to maladaptive daydreaming, and I hope you’re able to find treatment that leads these symptoms to interfere less in your everyday life.

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  • August 3, 2018 at 11:28 pm
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    I’m 41 and spent my entire life daydreaming. I would experience emotions that exceed that of the emotions that I experience in real life. Both positive and negative, but I had control of them. I would create story lines that would let me experience “move-like” emotions. I would experience a broken heart and indulged in it, because I knew I was about to experience my heart becoming complete again. I could live the life you only see in movies.

    All of that stopped a few years ago and now I feel empty and without emotions. They were replaced by anxiety. My life isn’t better now. I didn’t waste my life in day dreams. They were in fact the only life I had.

    I’m so empty without them.

    If you seek to end your maladaptive daydreaming, be careful. Once you reach reality, there’s no turning back. There’ will be no way to escape what caused you to day deam in the first place.

    I don’t want to feel so empty and without any real emotions or experiences. I honestly just want to return to my day dreams.

    Reply
  • August 12, 2018 at 5:31 pm
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    Wow, this what i bave been looking for. I day dream a lot!
    So much i bave ben worried if i was going a bit loopy and was thinking about getting proffesional help.
    I would love to talk to someone confidentIly and NOT on a public forum.

    Reply

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