Daydreaming.   Through the years the word has gained a negative reputation. Who among us has not been chastised, at some time, by a parent or teacher, to “get our heads out of the clouds and pay attention,” when our minds would wander occasionally? As a five-year-old I once shamefacedly brought home a report card, written by my kindergarten teacher, stating that “Louise daydreams a bit too much during class.”

However, despite daydreaming’s past poor notoriety, recent mental health research is not only defending daydreaming, but insisting that we all need to learn to do it more constructively.

Contrary to popular opinion, daydreaming is actually an important activity in the brain. Daydreaming, or “thinking for pleasure,” has important health benefits.

A recent study, published in Emotion, found that, when given the freedom, people do not spontaneously choose to think for pleasure and, when directed to do so, struggle to concentrate successfully.” One researcher stated that, in order to daydream, “You have to be the actor, director, screenwriter, and audience of a mental performance.”

Daydreaming can be defined as the reverie we experience while we’re awake. During moments while in this state, our minds drift.   These interludes are brief diversions from our current world. Contrary to what we have been taught, daydreaming about pleasant things is both useful and beneficial.

5 benefits of daydreaming

1. Daydreaming lessens stress and anxiety. Good brain health requires some regular periods of relaxation. After a long day at work, or after a disagreement with a friend, letting your mind float away to something unrelated and pleasurable can help you to distance yourself from unpleasant circumstances.

2. Daydreaming helps you to solve problems. At one time a supervisor, a skilled technical writer, confided in me, “Actually, I spend a good part of my work day staring out the window.” Startled at his comment, I could not imagine how he could get his work done this way! However, in reality, he had discovered a useful method for analyzing and solving problems.   Daydreaming is revitalizing; it allows you to return to a problem more refreshed. Daydreaming works better than trying to force a solution. Letting your thoughts drift can actually help you to solve problems, while focusing on them is less workable.

3. Daydreaming uses diverse parts of your brain. As your mind wanders, you are using diverse components of your brain. Both the executive “problem-solving” network, and the “creativity” network in your brain are working simultaneously. As you use these different brain areas, you access information that might previously have been out of reach.

4. Daydreaming helps you reach goals. Athletes and performers sometimes use purposeful daydreaming to practice before a game or performance. This method prewires their brain for success. This is like practicing mentally, rather then physically, for a desired outcome. Imagining or daydreaming about a real-life goal encourages you to think through steps you can take and ways to overcome obstacles.  

5. Daydreaming expands your creativity. You may have an “aha” moment while doing mundane things like washing the dishes. Not having to focus on the task at hand allows space in your psyche to receive and reveal new information. When your mind doesn’t have to stay on a narrow track, it forms new and unexpected connections. Allowing your mind to wander allows for creative discoveries.

Disadvantages of daydreaming.

We all get lost in thoughts now and then. But as with most things, moderation is key.

In excess, daydreaming can interfere with daily life functioning. Daydreaming in excess is often referred to as maladaptive daydreaming. Key indicators of MDD include an overpowering urge to keep daydreaming; trouble focusing; and sleep issues, all of which may require counseling in severe cases.

Daydreaming has received negative public recognition for too long, yet it affords us many benefits. If you are frustrated by a situation or problem, or simply want to expand your imagination or creativity, give daydreaming a try and see what mental pathways might open up for you.

Louise Whiteside, a longtime resident of D.C. and Maryland, now resides in the Colorado Rockies. She loves memoir writing, bargain hunting, cooking, country music, theater, and travel.

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