Wellbeing / Wellness

What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?


Daydreams have forever been a favourite pastime, allowing us to disappear into the sweet fantasies of our own minds and live out our dreams. No matter how addictive social media gets, this feels like a pure form of escapism that has stuck around throughout the tests of technological advancements and distractions of today. What happens when daydreams become too real though? 'Maladaptive daydreaming' is making the rounds on TikTok these days with hordes of people diagnosing themselves with the condition.

What is 'Maladaptive Daydreaming'

Maladaptive daydreaming stretches past regular daydreaming and into somewhere more addictive. Coined in 2002 by clinical psychologist Professor Eli Somer, the condition can become so all-encompassing in its intensity that it can have a real impact on people's daily lives. Maladaptive daydreaming is also a response to other psychological factors like anxiety, depression and childhood trauma. For some people, this phenomenon can get so invasive it becomes addictive.

The way we daydream falls on a scale from standard to completely immersive. In an interview with i-D, Somar explains that the scale begins with 'mind wandering' which occurs when your brain jumps through mundane topics like what you're doing on the weekend or having for lunch. After that, you get 'regular daydreaming' where the brain is focused on the specifics of an internal world. Further along, you get 'immersive daydreaming.' This is where the stakes get a little higher as the mind forays deeper into the imagination and world-building. This is where addiction starts. The end of the spectrum is 'maladaptive daydreaming' when the fantasy takes over and the dreamer no longer wants to face reality.

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As the story goes, the Tiktokification of mental health can be a positive as it allows people to give their experiences a name, spread the word and potentially get help. On the other hand, as the condition is still in its early stages of research, it could be labelled as just a fad or a trend preventing people from taking it seriously. As it is already somewhat of a trend (if you count 117.9M views) as a trend, fear-mongering can also be created around it causing people to self-diagnose and jump on the bandwagon. In the same vein as synesthesia when exercised with caution the disorder can be beneficial and harnessed and controlled in order to enjoy the experience.

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