Maladaptive Daydreaming and Worrying: The ConnectionLast Updated:
One thing that I've been thinking about recently are the characteristics of those that engage in maladaptive daydreaming. Or, to frame it a slightly different way, the attributes that some individuals have that make them more likely to develop maladaptive daydreams.
In past posts I've touched on some of these attributes such as general loneliness and experience with past trauma.
However, I've increasingly begun to wonder whether an additional attribute of those who are more likely to develop maladaptive daydreams involves being prone to worrying.
What does it mean to worry?
While there are many definitions of worry in the academic literature, I think what worrying really boils down to is having an unhealthy preoccupation with what potential outcomes could arise from a given situation.
Put a bit more sharply, worrying boils down to having an unhealthy preoccupation with very low probability outcomes that could arise from a given situation.
One of the great benefits that our species has is the ability to think through various actions that could be taken if a given situation occurs. This allows us to strategize and has been formalized in various branches of academia (in economics via game theory, for example).
However, while being able to think through what the ramifications of a given situation will be, and what you should do as a response, has obvious benefits, it can be crippling when it's done excessively (which is how many people differentiate between strategizing and worrying).
As we've discussed before, daydreaming is perfectly adaptive, but it can begin to actively harm your life if taken to an extreme (which is how we define maladaptive daydreaming). Likewise, worrying is a perfectly adaptive thing to do, but it can begin to actively harm your life if taken to an extreme (especially if your worrying begins to manifest through having maladaptive daydreams).
The Connection Between Worrying and Maladaptive Daydreaming
When most people worry they envision themselves going through various situations, thinking about how they would react, etc. For many this raises their level of anxiety, especially if they begin worrying about low probability events that would be quite negative if they were to occur.
However, for some the way in which they'll worry is by engaging in maladaptive daydreaming. Instead of logically thinking about scenarios that could arise, some will begin to picture themselves (as if they're in a movie) reacting to a given scenario (perhaps with a supporting cast of people they don't know in real life).
Now the obvious question is why would anyone engage in maladaptive daydreams that are centered around something they're worried about?
Many who engage in long maladaptive daydreams - centered around something they're worried about - are likely doing it because when the actual event they're worrying about occurs, it's often completely benign. In other words, it wasn't something they should have ever worried about to begin with.
But because they got themselves so wrapped up in thinking about the potential downside of an unlikely scenario, they feel a great sense of relief from things turning out fine.
Needless to say, despite the relief of things not turning out as bad as one thought they would, it's still unhealthy to burden oneself with daydreams that can consume hours (not to mention the necessary stress that accumulates through worrying for such long periods of time).
However, as I've always said, one of the best ways to overcome maladaptive daydreaming is to have a better understanding of why they could have occurred. So, if your maladaptive daydreams involve you worrying about something for excessive periods of time, to the point where it actively disrupts your life, then you should think deeply about why you're doing this.
Worrying isn't Unhealthy
As was mentioned before, there's nothing intrinsically unhealthy about worrying. While it's never a pleasant thing to do, it is a way that we can better plan for the future by thinking about what could happen in a given situation and creating a little plan for what we do if that situation were to occur.
However, when worrying gets unhealthy is when we begin to focus on extremely low probability events. For example, if you're flying to visit family then worrying about the plane crashing is a tremendously unhealthy thing to do because not only is the probability of that occurring vanishingly low, but also because you can't control whether or not it happens (unless you simply refuse to get on the airplane).
Likewise, when the way in which you worry goes from thinking through scenarios to engaging in lengthy daydreams - perhaps those that interfere with your day-to-day life - then that can become a real problem. Because not only are you worrying an excessive amount, but you're also likely using your worrying as a coping mechanism.
One thing to be very mindful of is that worrying about extreme events, and making yourself believe they are likely, does cause a quasi dopamine rush when the extreme event does not occur. This rush can be quite enticing, and many chronic worriers seem to value that rush despite the harm that's caused to them by lengthy worrying.
Just like one of the best ways to stop maladaptive daydreaming is to begin to deconstruct why you do it, one of the best ways to stop worrying is to make an honest assessment of why you do it and what benefit (even if it seems like there is none) that you're getting from it.
There's not a connection between worrying and maladaptive daydreaming for everyone. However, for some they've found that the way in which they worry is by having maladaptive daydreams (long daydreams that center around extremely unlikely probabilities in which they play out the worst case scenarios).
While there's nothing intrinsically unhealthy about worrying (almost everyone does it!) and there's nothing intrinsically unhealthy about daydreaming (almost everyone does it!), when the two are combined it can lead to a damaging combination.
Fortunately, no matter what has driven an individual toward maladaptive daydreaming - whether it's trauma, procrastination, worrying, etc. - the way in which you can get rid of them is all the same (as I've written about in the book).
If you're currently reading this and aren't quite sure if you have maladaptive daydreams or not, be sure to go through the maladaptive daydreaming test.
As always, I wish you the very best of luck through your journey.