When Does Fantasizing Become Unhealthy?Last Updated:
Something that I’ve always tried to stress in my writing is that fantasizing isn’t per se a bad thing. Rather, it can be an entirely good thing as it can act as a way to explore alternative possibilities of how life could unfold or just be a release valve after a particularly stressful day.
However, there’s no doubt that fantasizing can easily tip from being healthy and normal to being unhealthy and abnormal.
So, the question then becomes: where do we draw the line? What demarcates a healthy level of fantasizing from an unhealthy amount – is it all about the time committed to fantasizing or are there other factors we should also be considering?
Below are a series of factors you should consider when thinking about whether or not your fantasizing is healthy or unhealthy. While there’s no definitive way to know, these factors can help you narrow in on an answer.
Note: Excessive fantasizing is often a synonym for maladaptive daydreaming. So, if you’re struggling with excessive fantasizing, then you may find it helpful to take the maladaptive daydreaming test when you have time (it’s relatively quick to get through).
Factor 1: The Time Devoted to Fantasizing
The singular best way to figure out whether your level of fantasizing is unhealthy is to try to quantify the amount of time you spend doing this. This may sound obvious but think for a moment if you could give me an accurate number for the number of minutes you spend fantasizing each day (plus or minus fifteen-minutes).
Chances are, you can’t. This is because many who are engaged in an unhealthy about of fantasizing not only do it for long periods of time but tend to float in-between a normal state and a fantasizing state throughout the day.
As an experiment, keep a pen and paper at you on all times and try to note how many minutes you’re spending fantasizing. Since you’ll likely be slipping in and out, it’ll be impossible to get a truly accurate number. But the number you do arrive at, based on your best guess of how long each period lasts, will likely be a bit shocking (it’s probably nearly double what you think it is!).
Factor 2: Whether Fantasizing Gives Energy, or Drains It
If your fantasizing gives you energy, then even if you do it quite a bit through a day then it’s not necessarily unhealthy. Indeed, the whole idea of manifestation (which I’m a bit lukewarm on, personally) is that fantasizing about aspirational things through the day can give you the energy necessary to accomplish those aspirational things.
For most, their fantasies will be emotionally-charged enough that they don’t actually give energy, but rather drain it. Thus, making your “real life” worse as you have less energy to complete the tasks you’ve set out for yourself, or even to just think about what tasks you should be completing.
So, if you feel that your fantasizing is draining you of energy, then it’s safe to say that it’s probably unhealthy.
Factor 3: Whether Fantasizing Creates Residual Distraction
An underrated (negative) impact of fantasizing – and of maladaptive daydreaming – is that it’s not just the amount of time you spend in it, but the amount of time your fantasies or daydreams end up distracting you through the day.
For example, as you’re doing work you may find yourself thinking about your fantasies from your “real world” perspective – you aren’t actually engaged in those fantasies at the time but are still loosely thinking about them (almost like a third-party observer).
This distraction can impede your ability to focus, lead to poor work output, and otherwise harm your real life. So, if you feel that your fantasies are creating this residual distraction, even when you aren’t engaged in them, then they should be classified as being unhealthy.
Factor 4: Whether Fantasizing Interferes With Long-Term Planning
Engaging in excessive fantasizing (or maladaptive daydreaming) has a tendency to crowd out much of your more abstract thinking about your real life. For example, something that’s essential for us all to do is make long-term plans, and the way most of us do it is not by sitting down with a piece of paper and really thinking.
Rather, we think about our long-term plans in the back of our mind as we go about our day or even engage in daydreams about them to try to sort out what the right path is moving forward.
However, if you’re having excessive fantasies or maladaptive daydreaming, much of the spare time in your waking life will be spent in these fantasies or daydreams – thereby interfering with your ability to make long-term plans.
Many who have excessive fantasies or maladaptive daydreams (at a certain point they both end up being more-or-less the same thing) say that they feel like they’ve been living life on auto-pilot and have made very few (if any) active decisions in their life lately.
This is because the extremely valuable spare time they have – doing the dishes, doing laundry, tuning out while watching a television show, etc. – has been hogged up by their fantasies or daydreams, not spent thinking about what they’re going to do next in life.
So, if you feel like you haven’t thought about your real life, objectively, for quite a long time then that’s a very good signal that you’re engaging in an unhealthy amount of fantasizing.
Factor 5: Whether Fantasizing Disrupts Day-to-Day Life
This factor is a bit of a catchall. However, for some who are engaged in excessive amounts of fantasizing their real life is routinely disrupted by their fantasies (i.e., they’ll be trying to get some work done, but then feel the inescapable pull of their fantasies).
If this is the case, then your fantasies are per se unhealthy. While it’s entirely normal to fantasize, it’s entirely abnormal for your fantasies to begin to actively disrupt your real life and it’s a sign that you should take steps to stop them.
This is particularly true if your fantasies meet other factors that have been listed above. For example, if your fantasies are intruding on your day-to-day life and, by dint of their content, drain you of energy, then you should try to stop them.
It’s usually the case that once your fantasies – or, once again, maladaptive daydreams – begin to interfere with your day-to-day life then it’s a slippery slope and they’ll begin to interfere more and more over the coming months or years.
While there’s no objective way to know when fantasizing becomes unhealthy, these factors should help give you guidance as you think more critically about your own level of fantasizing and the harm (or not) that it’s causing you.
In the end, there’s nothing per se wrong with fantasizing. It’s something the vast majority of people do every day – or almost every day.
But for those who engage in excessive fantasizing – the kinds that drain you of energy, leave residual distraction, and take up hours of your day – it can become an issue that is very much worth addressing.
I’d highly recommend, as a first step, trying to better quantify just how much time each day you’re spending fantasizing. This is harder than it can seem, as much of your fantasizing is probably in quick bursts throughout the day (thus, throwing off the rhythm of your real life). However, it can be quite illuminating and surprising to see just how much time each day one dedicates to fantasizing each day.
If you’re then looking for solutions to stop – or at least curtail – your fantasizing, what I’ve written in relation to stopping maladaptive daydreaming would be just as applicable for excessive fantasizing.