You’ve reached that stage in your work day when you just can’t get anything done. You lean back in your chair a little bit, close your eyes and imagine you’re anywhere but here.
Where are you?
What are you doing?
How are you feeling?
Jarred out of your happy place, how are you feeling now?
From fantasy to reality
Some studies indicate 96 per cent of adults lose themselves in a daydream at least once per day. It’s just one of the ways we can take a few minutes to forget about work and alleviate the stress we feel.
Daydreams are more than just a mental escape from your work, too. Scientists at Bar-Ilan University learned they can have a positive effect on your productivity.
Prof. Moshe Bar and post-doctoral researcher Dr. Vadim Axelrod found mind-wandering involves the activation of a gigantic default network involving many parts of the brain.
With that stimuli, a daydream refreshes your cognitive path and leaves you more creative and more interested in tackling your to-do list.
“This cross-brain involvement may be involved in behavioral outcomes such as creativity and mood,” Bar said, “and may also contribute to the ability to stay successfully on-task while the mind goes off on its merry mental way.
“Interestingly, while our study’s external stimulation increased the incidence of mind wandering, rather than reducing the subjects’ ability to complete the task, it caused task performance to become slightly improved. The external stimulation actually enhanced the subjects’ cognitive capacity.”
But wait … it isn’t all good news.
The adverse effects of daydreaming
A friend recently admitted she likes to sit at her office and fantasize about living closer to the ocean.
I asked why.
“It makes me feel alive and creative,” she said. “I’m very dead and stifled here. It just isn’t my energy.”
She isn’t happy where she is and something needs to change.
The gap between where she is and where she wants to be is so wide that coming back to reality may leave her more stressed than she is before daydreaming. If she doesn’t make some changes in her life, she can spiral into low-grade depression.
A daydream should give you a sense of releasing the pressure that’s been building up all day. It should be a break and a refresher.
My friend’s daydream shows her where she wants to be, but her current state — where she can’t make those changes due to family obligations, work or whatever — doesn’t allow her to get there.
And it’s causing her problems. It isn’t healthy.
She feels stuck.
How to find your fantasy
I urge my life-coaching clients to follow the three Cs — Clarity, Choice, Catapult — on their path to stress management.
Here’s what you need to do with your daydream.
- Clarity: Give yourself time to think about your daydream and figure out why it’s so important. Ask yourself what is drawing you to that fantasy. Like my friend said, being by the ocean gives her a sense of clarity. Maybe you’re a skydiver and you imagine yourself jumping out of that plane on your daydream. Does it give you a sense of freedom? Or maybe you’re a gardener. Do you revel in the sense of calm?
- Choice:Once you arrive at the base of your daydreaming, you can find ways of bringing it into your life on a more regular basis. Maybe all my friend needs is to add a picture of the ocean to her desktop (even better if it’s a picture of herself at the ocean, because it can remind her of happy memories). Or she can take herself to a river or lake, a body of water on a regular basis as a mini-solution.
- Catapult: If baby steps aren’t solving the stress you feel from your daydreams, you may have to make a big change. It’s time to start thinking about an exit strategy from your job. Is it time for a new career? Is it time for a move? What needs to happen to ensure your basic needs are being met and your life values are being satisfied?
Most of us aren’t ready for big change but we can take small steps to ensure a sense of calm.
Another friend spent the first half of her career as a creative writer. She had to make a shift to a more boring industry and she was feeling stifled. She has found other outlets for her creativity in photography and blogging, wonderful ways of keeping the “stuckness” at bay.
Our minds always create the environment; our bodies respond to it accordingly. Stressful situations engage our fight-or-flight responses and the daydream is the choice to fly.
The meaning you make of your daydream, though, is all about you.
And it’s good information. We just have to figure out what to do with it.