Daydreaming… a creative pastime or a mental health sign?

‘They’re off into their own little world…’ The endearing remarks of a parent to a child as they daydream. Creativity, insights of wisdom and problem solving have all be attributed to daydreaming in the past according to the Creativity Research Journal. When daydreaming at work however, this can result in frustration about being distracted. Further, as the day dream ends, the beautiful fantasy bubble painted in your head pops, and reality takes over. Excessive daydreaming interferes with your functioning at work, and your relationships. In 2002 this phenomenon was defined by Professor Eli Somer as maladaptive daydreaming (MD). Although not currently included as a diagnosable condition under the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM-V), more and more cases are being reported.

What’s the difference?

Imagine you’re at work and you’ve just had a really good idea drift out of your head before you had the chance to write it down. The frustration you feel rises and the desire to get it back ensues. It’s running away, and the office is noisy, phones are ringing, and the dog is barking. What do you do? You try and retrace your mental pathway heading into a form of mindful daydreaming. Go for a walk to ‘clear our head’ or practice mindfulness to empty our heads of unnecessary thoughts. It is at this point you enter an alpha brain state. Here, the corpus callosum (the highway between the right and left hemisphere of the brain) is engaged and neurons carrying important messages can fly across the brain. This often results in the idea being plucked from thin air – as if by magic!

But what about when we use daydreaming as a form of escapism from reality. This alternative and imagined realm mirrors very little of your physical reality – and you can be consumed by the fantasy – sometimes for hours in a day. This, according to Eli Somer, is when we may be experiencing MD.  New research suggests those who identify as having MD experience increased negative thought, depression and anxiety on days when maladaptive daydreaming occurs at a higher rate.

Daydreaming and presenteeism in the workplace

Escaping from your present situation is likely to happen under increased instances of stress. Drifting into a dream world could be a coping strategy for people at work who are overwhelmed by their current workload, deadlines or pressure to perform. This is our brains way of checking out and when experienced in excess, can lead to what we call the zombiefication of a workforce. The signs and symptoms are like those of presenteeism – people who are present at work, but their cognitive energy is diverted elsewhere, away from work. Thus, as we continue to amass more knowledge about presenteeism, the focus will shift to identifying it within the workplace. Consequentially, we could see more of an acknowledgement of MD, particularly how it manifests itself and can become intensified in a work environment.

To support us on this journey towards understanding and clarifying the nuances of workplace wellbeing, we have designed a unique diagnostic tool – CARI (Commitment and Resilience Index) – which is able to provide an in-depth analysis of the cognitive and emotional responses of an individual. This is hugely beneficial, as our database about the mental and emotional wellbeing of employees is enabling us to make positive connections and shining a light on often-invisible experiences such as presenteeism and maladaptive daydreaming.

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