5 Positive Effects of Daydreaming

Businesswoman sitting in office looking out

Thomas Barwick

You might remember daydreaming during class when you were growing up. Maybe you looked out the window and dreamed, but your teachers discouraged it. You weren’t being disobedient when your thoughts escaped elsewhere. We all daydream and more often than you might expect. Scientists agree that we spend an astonishing 47% of our time in daydreams.

So, what is daydreaming? Daydreaming can be defined as the reverie you experience while you’re awake. During moments when we are in this state, our mind drifts. These interludes are brief diversions from our current world. Contrary to what you may have been taught, daydreaming about pleasant things is far from useless.

Daydreaming Lessens Stress and Anxiety

By tuning out the noisy “outside” world, you allow your thoughts to flow freely. This fosters mental relaxation and exploration. When our thoughts flow like this, we are in what is called the alpha wave state. When we are in the alpha zone, we are calm and not thinking of anything with forced vigor.

Daydreaming breaks are not just fun; they are necessary for us. Our brains cannot maintain focus and productivity nonstop. Good brain health requires some regular periods of relaxation.

After a long day at work or after a disagreement with a friend, let your mind float away to something completely unrelated and pleasurable. This might help you forget about and distance yourself from the worrisome circumstances.

Having a tool like daydreaming at our disposal is useful especially when we deal with perceived threats or overly busy environments. It’s another tool in your mental health toolkit to evade stress and anxiety. If you feel yourself getting more and more anxious, you might turn to daydreaming and the following steps:

  • The first step is to look away from your desk, your work, or any distractions.
  • Next, breathe in deeply. Then breathe out slowly. Repeat.
  • Lastly, think of something pleasant that has meaning to you.

You might imagine yourself at your favorite spot where you like to hike in the woods. Or you might think about that new car you’d like to buy. What color would it be? What features would it have? Can you imagine yourself feeling great in the driver’s seat?

 According to Harvard University’s Medical School health blog, “Mind wandering can help manage anxiety.” Like meditation or restful activities, daydreaming acts a natural remedy to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Daydreaming Helps You Solve Problems

Daydreams aren’t merely mini-escapes. Allowing your stray thoughts to roam around revitalizes you. You’ll be able to return to the problem more refreshed. Most of us can benefit from approaching our problems with a fresh perspective.

Besides having a fresh perspective, daydreaming seems to work better than trying to force a solution. In one study which tracked different patterns of internal thought, researchers concluded that mind-wandering is important and good for us. It seems that this cognitive process leads to new ideas.

While on the surface it might sound unusual, letting our thoughts drift can actually help us solve problems when focusing on them does not work.

By just hammering away at something steadfastly, you may be overlooking all sorts of information. But freely associating can enable your mind to flit from memories to something you read and then back to something you imagine.

In other words, daydreaming can lead you down a sort of magical yellow brick road to insights. These insights may help you reach your goal. So, if you’re stumped by a problem, instead of trying harder to solve it, try the opposite. Daydream and then daydream even more.

Daydreaming Uses Diverse Parts of Your Brain

If you’ve ever noticed, children’s minds wander about constantly. It’s no secret that the young are daydreaming a lot. Yet, having your "head in the clouds," as some people describe daydreaming, turns out to be more than a simple or diversionary pastime.

What’s happening in your brain while daydreaming is pretty sophisticated. As your mind wanders, you are you are using diverse aspects of your brain. Both the executive problem-solving network as well as the creativity network in your brain are working simultaneously.

As we activate these different brain areas, we access information that might have previously been out of reach or dormant. Therefore, boredom or idleness serves a great purpose. It inspires us to daydream which forges important connections across our brain.

Daydreaming Helps You Reach Goals

How can meandering thoughts help you reach your goals? These stray thoughts are indeed unguided, but new research reveals they are often motivated by our goals.

Athletes and performers sometimes use purposeful daydreaming to practice before a game or performance. This method pre-wires their brains for success. It’s like practicing mentally rather than physically for an outcome you desire. This kind of imagining or structured daydreaming has been popular in the field of sports psychology.

While a fantasy-based daydream like morphing into a superhero might end up disappointing or frustrating you because it’s too far-fetched, a structured daydream can motivate you as it’s realistic.

Imagining or daydreaming about one of your real-life goals is pleasing. It invites you to think through steps you’d take, ways to stay motivated, and how to overcome obstacles.

Daydreaming Expands Your Creativity

Research has established that daydreaming is correlated with higher levels of creativity. Relentlessly drilling down on a complex problem doesn’t result in discoveries. Take a break. The mind will still incubate on the problem.

Bianca L. Rodriguez, Ed.M, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist says, “That's why most of us have aha moments while doing mundane things like washing the dishes where we don't have to focus too hard on the task at hand which allows space in our psyche to receive and reveal new information.” 

One study in which college students had 2 minutes to come up with as many uses as possible for everyday things (like toothpicks and bricks) proved this. Those who daydreamed first, rather than continuing to focus on the problem, did better at generating more creative ideas. Not by a small margin, either. They were 41% more productive and creative.

When your mind doesn’t have to ride on a narrow track, it reorganizes all the tidbits of information and forms new and unexpected connections. Being distracted and allowing your mind to wander is powerfully positive.  

Rodriguez described daydreaming well when she said it’s “exercise for your mind.” She elaborated further, saying, “We are rarely taught to allow our minds to wander. It's like only tending to one tree in a gigantic forest. Daydreaming allows your mind to zoom out and see the whole forest which creates a different perspective and invites creativity.”

A Word From Verywell

Daydreaming has gotten a bad rap for far too long. Yet, it affords us humans many benefits. Hopefully, more will be open to embracing the daydreaming process and letting our thoughts roam freely. If you are frustrated by a situation, problem, or simply want to expand your imagination or creativity, give daydreaming a try and see what mental pathways might open up for you.

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