For as long as I could remember, I would drift into extremely vivid daydreams and often found ways to sink into those daydreams whenever I could. I would even intentionally find songs that would trigger these vivid daydreams and spend hours daydreaming rather than sleeping, taking care of chores, or sometimes eating. However, over the years, I have found a technique that can ground me and get me out of these long stretches. I often use this to bring me back to the moment, and I hope it can do the same for you. And I call this the rubber band technique. Now I want to specify that this isn't incredibly innovative. Many people have used this to ground themselves from many other problems, e.g., break addiction loops, remind them of a specific task, etc. My contribution is trying to use this for Maladaptive Daydreaming specifically. Also, disclaimer, I am not a mental health professional; I am only struggling with this problem and sharing what I learned from my experiences. Are we good? Let's go!
So what is the rubber band technique?
It's a straightforward grounding and habit reinforcing technique. The general gist is this: tie a rubber band to any part of your body that you usually wouldn't tie a rubber band. It could be your wrist or your left pinky, or even your little toe. And as soon as you notice you are stuck in a destructive daydreaming cycle, tug the rubber band and then, and this is the key, stop!
That last step is critical! It's okay if after 30 mins you come back and then have to repeat. The important thing is that you stop at that moment when you notice and pull the band. Now, why is that important? Simple, it reinforces that action with you stopping the daydream. What we are trying to do here is create a simple but effective feedback loop:
Pulling the band = stopping the daydream
Why a rubber band?
Honestly, a rubber band is kind of incidental, it could be a paperclip on your shirt, or it could be a new charm bracelet. The key here is not the rubber band but something new and tangible. Those are the two essential keywords here.
It has to be new because if it's something you always do, it's not going to work. For instance, if you usually have a hairband on your right hand to tie your hair up, noticing the hairband isn't going to serve as a reminder. It's a known quantity. However, if you are in a daydreaming session and you suddenly notice a little hairband on your right pinky where it never tends to be, it's an easy reminder of why you put it there.
Moreover, it has to be tangible. What I mean by this is that it has to be a physical reminder. A notification on your phone isn't going to cut it. We all know how easy those are to swipe away and immediately forget. A note on the wall is way too easy to ignore because it becomes background decoration. No shortcuts here; it has to be something on you always and something you can feel.
And lastly, why the tug? Because while noticing the rubber band might help you realize what you are doing, it alone doesn't break the habit; you have to choose to leave the loop. Marrying the choice of stopping daydreaming with a physical action will help escape the cycle a little easier next time until it's second nature. One of the tricky things about Maladaptive daydreaming is that while it can be compulsive, it is voluntary. We didn't choose to have this disorder, but we do choose every time we don't stop when we realize what we are doing. The little pull is a reminder to make the right choice.
Things to keep in mind
While that tug is a crucial action, it is essential to remember that if tugging the rubber band hurts you a decent amount, perhaps pick a different activity, like switching the hand where the rubber band is tied or moving it to another finger. It is important not to replace daydreaming with a self-harm activity.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you get to decide if you want to stop. The band is there to remind you what you are doing and if you want to continue, and when you choose to stop, pull the band (or whatever activity you chose), but if you're going to continue because you have the time or need the release, etc. then don't pull the band. The critical aspect is to break you out of a compulsive loop.
And lastly, YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES. And this is very, very important. You will mess up and pull and try to stop and then start again. Or you will forget about the band altogether and realize it wasn't tangible or new enough. That is okay! Beating yourself up for failure is not going to help. Be patient and kind to yourself, and if something isn't working, don't be afraid to experiment.
Let me know in the comments if this works for you or if you have found other similar techniques to help you get out of your head. And subscribe for more posts about Maladaptive Daydreaming!