When Did We All Stop Day Dreaming?

There are plenty of positives to doing it regularly…

When is the last time you daydreamed? It’s hard to pinpoint, isn’t it? We’re so over-saturated with forms of entertainment that we really need to rely on our minds to occupy us. Whether we are commuting, working out, cleaning, relaxing or trying to sleep there is an abundance of podcasts, videos, songs, shows and films to distract, keep us company and entertain at any given time.

We are very blessed that the creative outputs are so vast and that we can get information and content at the click of a button. But when I was filling an evening commute with Emily Ratajkowski’s podcast The High Low, in a moment of irony, Emily and her guest, author, Stephanie Danler began talking about how daydreaming is so rare in day-to-day life because we are constantly entertained.

EmRata noted how daydreaming can feel counterproductive, when you have something to do or you feel you ‘should’ be doing, and you spend time staring out the window lost in your thoughts. It looks like you’re doing nothing and therefore you have accomplished nothing. That’s not true, sometimes the most intelligent informative, creative moments occur when your brain is allowed to just, be.

As a writer, I find daydreaming extremely helpful. I don’t consciously put my mind to it, but often I’m swept up in thoughts while walking, commuting or even sitting intending to do something else. Sometimes I am so engrossed that I get to my destination and realise that my earphones weren’t even playing anything. These times can lead to ideas for stories, inspiration for a conversation or even just more understanding of my mind and how it works.

Other days, I don’t want to use my brain in that way. I want to consume the content instead of creating it myself. Podcasts, music, videos, television, books and conversations fill my time and take my mind off the day’s stresses, which I fear will creep in if I let myself be idle for too long. It is all about a balance, but if you can’t remember the last time you really let yourself think, this is your sign to do so. Who knows what new ideas await.

Thinking for pleasure can actually have health benefits, Keelin O’Dwyer, behavioural psychologist at Fettle.ie, tells me, “In the appropriate context, daydreaming has been found to improve stress and anxiety management. It also boosts our problem-solving skills and enhances creativity. When we apply daydreaming to setting and achieving our goals. [It] has been linked to success! Having short breaks throughout our day where we are not doing anything and freely thinking deepens our self-understanding as we get a chance to notice, recognise and be curious about whatever words, thoughts, or images come freely to our minds.”

If you feel like you struggle to switch off and allow your brain to wander, Keelin suggests a self check-in of asking ‘how am I feeling?’ and ‘what do I need?’ to help deepen awareness around our emotions and tap into our inner wisdom about how we can best support ourselves.

“People who engage in this daily questioning have better mental health outcomes and have a more compassionate relationship with themselves,” she adds.

But not all thinking counts as positive daydreaming, which should be a “fun distraction with many benefits to our wellbeing,” according to Keelin. If your thoughts become distressing, it can be known as rumination.

“Daydreaming can be nourishing, while ruminative thoughts often do not help us cope, problem-solve, relieve our stress, or improve mood as balanced daydreaming can. If excessive daydreaming is getting in the way of what matters, then it would be worth putting a plan in place to prioritise focusing more often.”

While we are encouraging you to take some time inside your head, Keelin highlights that it is important to connect with your body too. This can ground us when our thoughts become too challenging. Take a moment to ask yourself;

  • What does it feel like to be in my body right now?
  • What sensations am I noticing in my body?
  • Can I feel my body touching objects? How would I describe those sensations?

Asking one of these questions after you finish your daydreaming practice can improve your wellbeing and vitality.

Now let’s get you some sweet daydreams!

Keelin’s tips to get started:

You don’t have to do anything!

“Try to get your mind into a state of mindlessness, so scribble or doodle on a piece of paper if it helps- whatever feels low pressure and will not require any real thought. If you prefer, you can do nothing, but it’s not a must.”

Get creative

“Pick a fun daydream topic. It’s a chance to indulge our thoughts (whether it’s about a holiday or a lottery win) and let the mind wander. Some good places to start are either dreaming back to the past and recalling a happy event you remember or dreaming into the future, thinking about things you hope to achieve one day.”

Time and place

Think of a few times a week that would give you the chance to let go. Keelin suggests, “the 45-minute bus journey home, last thing before bed, or the half hour while dinner is cooking in the oven.”

Start slow

“Begin with 2 minutes a day and build it up to 5 minutes. Notice how you feel afterward, journal or write down what shows up for you, and after a period of curiously experimenting, you will figure out what works best for you.”

Keelin’s tips for when negativity creeps in:

  • “Next time you notice a challenging thought such as ‘I’m a loser,’ say to yourself, “I’m having the thought that I’m a loser,” using this external voice will create some space between you and the thought.”
  • “Imagine that your unhelpful thought is like an internet pop-up ad. Practice closing it.”
  • “If you notice a thought you struggle with, write it down, and then read it out over and over in a silly voice, like Mickey Mouse, or Homer Simpson. This reminds us that our thoughts are just words, not reality. If those thoughts come back, always try to hear them in the same ridiculous voice.”
  • “If you consistently feel overwhelmed or scared of your thoughts, I recommend talking with a therapist. They can support you in gaining skills and strategies to overcome the negative impact that these thoughts have on your day-to-day life.”

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