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The human brain has the capacity to make a person imagine something so vividly that they can almost see and feel it. This skill can be a godsend when stuck in a stressful environment. Taking a moment to mentally move through what a vacation in Hawaii would be like can be calming when overwhelmed at work. The serenity of the ocean, the smell of grilled seafood, or the warmth of the sun can promote a sense of calm. Alternatively, visualizing oneself achieving a significant career achievement can bring motivation when feelings of uncertainty start to surface. 

Human beings can temporarily think their way out of discomfort.

Can Daydreaming Become Pathological?

For those troubled with disturbing mental imagery, this ability can feel more like a curse than a blessing. Intrusive thoughts conjure up emotional and physical sensations that mimic the actual experience. A person might have to pull over to calm themself down as they imagine crashing on the highway. If someone has a child, they might exhaust themselves as they rehearse how they would save them from a traumatic incident.

These types of intrusive thoughts consume lots of time and energy. A person can become physically sick if they are not managed.

What Are Daymares? 

Daymares are like nightmares, except they occur while a person is awake. They are a type of maladaptive daydreaming, which is a mental fantasy that can persist for long periods. They are marked by their:

  • Vividness
  • Compulsion
  • Fancifulness
  • Structuredness
  • Interference with daily functioning

Daymares are intentionally-generated fantasy narratives based on events a person has strong negative emotions toward. Of course, negative thoughts and emotions are not always bad. They can help a person evaluate the level of risk involved in an endeavor and solve problems. They may even have an evolutionary basis by promoting survival. 

However, these intrusive visions are uncontrolled. Daymares revolve around things a person fears or worries about the most. They cause significant distress in daily life, leaving an individual struggling to function. It’s as if the horror is happening in real-time.

What Causes Maladaptive Daydreaming? 

Some people are more prone to daydreaming about scary situations because they are naturally anxious. When these fantasies become pathological, a psychiatric disorder may be at work. Evidence on this issue is not cut and dry. 

Links to Psychiatric Conditions

Studies indicate that maladaptive daydreaming is associated with symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). There is also a high comorbidity rate with OCD, anxiety disorders, and trauma. In pure OCD, for instance, a person becomes consumed by uncertainties and attempts to rationally work through every instance until they become so complex that they are impossible to resolve. Individuals with social anxiety imagine all the embarrassing situations that could happen in an attempt to avoid them. 

This mental practice is rooted in feelings of guilt, dissatisfaction with life, or a lack of attentional control. A person may have an unmet psychological need that surfaces through their daydreams.

Trauma May Play a Role

Maladaptive daydreaming has been reported in individuals who suffered abuse in childhood. Excessive daydreaming may have provided the means to escape a painful reality mentally. The only safe place was perhaps their internal world. People have also reported that daydreaming can be addictive. They feel compelled to engage in this behavior, suggesting it may be a behavioral addiction.

Some researchers theorize that this behavior is indicative of: 

How Can These Thoughts Be Calmed? 

A person must first gain an awareness of when the imagination starts to wander in an unhealthy direction. Daymares can then be contested, similar to how obsessive thoughts are combatted in individuals with OCD. 

A person can ask themselves the following questions: 

  • What purpose does this fantasy serve? 
  • Is it making me feel better or worse?
  • Does obsessing over it change anything?
  • How likely is it that this thing could happen? 
  • Am I learning anything new by reliving the fantasy?
  • Are there other things I should be focusing on right now?
  • How many reruns will be enough before I feel satisfied? Will I ever?
  • Is there anything I can do in reality to alleviate the root causes of these worries?

An Important Note

Daymares can be the product of a serious mental health condition. A person who is experiencing them may be a danger to themselves or others as a consequence of the suffering caused by these vivid horrors. Professional care is needed to make this diagnosis and direct a client on how to move forward with treatment. Depending on how severe the condition is, outpatient care or hospitalization may be necessary. 

Maladaptive daydreaming describes a pattern of unhealthy and repetitive thinking. A person gets lost, sometimes for hours, in self-generated fantasies that can be extremely disturbing. These are known as daymares. As a person struggles emotionally, they disconnect from reality and experience physiological symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. West Coast Recovery Centers is primarily a substance abuse treatment center for adults struggling with mental health diagnoses. These conditions tend to accompany one another. A person with daymares may seek relief from irrational bouts of anxiety. They may try to escape the trapping of their own mind. Our clinicians can help clients find relief by getting to the root of their scary fantasies and applying cognitive and behavioral techniques that calm the mind and prevent intrusive thoughts from taking hold. To learn more about how we can help, call (760) 492-6509 today.

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