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Control Your Daydreaming for Less Depression

December 8, 2023 Natasha Tracy

I control my daydreaming to lessen depression. I know "controlling your daydreaming" sounds a bit odd, but I've found that most mental processes can be controlled to some extent by paying attention. Interestingly, a new study has come out suggesting I had the right idea all along. If you control your daydreaming, you might reduce depression.

What Is It to 'Control Your Daydreaming?' in Depression

Daydreaming, mind-wandering, and fantasizing are things we all naturally do, and most of us think of those thoughts as being out of our control. And while I've found the initiation of daydreaming often happens without thinking, the continuance of daydreaming is actually within my control. A lot of this comes down to paying attention. Are you paying attention to what your brain is doing? Are you paying attention to what you are thinking? (I would argue it's critical to do so if you have a mental illness and your brain causes you pain.)

It goes like this. I have a spare moment, and my brain starts to wander. Moments later, I realize I'm no longer thinking about the task at hand -- I've started to daydream. Then, I begin to focus my daydreams.

The Research on Controlling Your Daydreaming for Less Depression

The recent study on daydream control leading to less depression specifically says this:

"After stress, negative affect increased, while after fantasizing both positive affect increased and negative affect decreased. Thoughts were less off-task, past-related and negative after fantasizing compared to after stress. Individuals more susceptible to negative affect showed more off-task thinking after stress than after fantasizing compared to individuals low on this."1

Yeah, that's not the most useful thing I've ever read either.

What they're saying is that if you daydream (fantasize) about positive things when you're feeling down, you start to feel better. This effect was seen even in those prone to depression.

I know this sounds precariously close to "turn that frow upside down," but it's actually not.

Why It Matters That Controlling Your Daydreaming Can Lessen Depression

In thinking about this research, it's important to realize three things:

  1. People with depression tend to think about negative things, often almost constantly.
  2. Thinking about negative things will make you feel worse.
  3. We all daydream, and daydreaming can be focused and useful.

Basically, if my depressed brain is left to its own devices, I know it will focus on negative things. It will ruminate on past, current, and future pain. And in doing so, I will feel more and more depressed. However, I have learned to control my daydreaming to stop this cycle.

In my case, when I see my brain thinking about negative things and feeling more depressed, I stop the thought and switch it to something I consider safe and pleasant. (Thought stopping and switching is something I've mentioned before.) Doing this takes practice. It took years for me to watch my brain think and then direct it to think about other things.

That being said, it is doable. You might start by practicing mindfulness meditation. That practice is about directing your thoughts. It gives you practice both watching what your brain is doing and directing it to think about what you want. This can help you when you encounter daydreaming in everyday life. It doesn't matter if it always works for you. The practice will make you better over time.

The important thing is to realize our thoughts do influence our depression, and we have influence over our thoughts. This means we have influence over our depression. This knowledge won't "fix" your depression, that's for sure, but it can help not make it worse. That's an improvement I'll take.

Source

  1. Besten, M., Van Tol, M., Van Rij, J., & Van Vugt, M. K. (2023). The impact of mood-induction on maladaptive thinking in the vulnerability for depression. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry81, 101888. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2023.101888

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2023, December 8). Control Your Daydreaming for Less Depression, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, March 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2023/12/control-your-daydreaming-for-less-depression



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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