One of the most telltale symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming is repetitive movement. This might include rocking, pacing, running, or other movements. While most of us might not think much of this interesting aspect of maladaptive daydreaming, is there actually a reason behind it? What are the causes? Should we change it, and if so, how?
In this article, we’ll examine these questions by uncovering the ins and outs of this unusual behavior. I’ll also provide a few tips for reducing your movement if it’s causing you problems.
Should I Be Worried If I Move While Daydreaming?
For the majority of people, their movement isn’t a problem. It’s just their unique way of daydreaming. If this is you, then there’s no need to change it if it isn’t causing you distress.
But others may find that their habit gets a little out of control. Some people move for hours at a time without stopping to rest. If this involves vigorous movement like pacing or running, it can lead to health problems. Migraines, muscle soreness, foot injuries, and joint problems are just a few of the issues they can face if they don’t find ways to reduce the behavior.
Although it’s not inherently bad to be a daydreamer, we should always strive to be healthy daydreamers. Any habit that’s doing us personal harm just isn’t good for us, no matter how attached we are to it. So if you’re finding that your kinesthetic activities are causing you physical or emotional discomfort, then keep on reading.
What Causes Repetitive Movements?
Repetitive movement isn’t exclusive to maladaptive daydreamers – many other people experience it too. Experts label the behavior as “stimming”, or self-stimulatory behavior. It is also sometimes referred to as “stereotypy.” Although stimming is typically associated with individuals on the autistic spectrum, everyone engages in some form of it. This could be something as simple as finger tapping, pen clicking, or biting our nails. However, rocking, pacing, and spinning are also forms of stimming behavior.1
Why do people stim? Many theories suggest that repetitive movement is a way of managing the body. This can happen when we’re over-stimulated by things in our environment, like noise from a TV, flashing lights, or strong smells. Too much stimulation can come from inside us too. Intense emotions – excitement, happiness, fear, and anxiety – can overwhelm us. Engaging in stimming behaviors is thought to relax the mind and body.
But stimming isn’t just used to calm us down. Sometimes, our movements provide us with interest when we’re in an under-stimulating environment. If you’ve ever had to sit in a classroom and listen to an uninteresting lecture for a long period of time, you may have noticed yourself fidgeting. In this case, stimming is your body’s natural way of keeping you entertained when you’re feeling bored.
Why do our bodies find repetitive movement so comforting? Some experts speculate that stimming releases opiate-like substances in the brain called beta-endorphins, which produce feelings of pleasure and soothing in the body. In other words, it just feels good. Once we’ve made a habit out of it, we’ll turn to it when we need a quick fix of those good feelings.1
But there’s another reason why maladaptive daydreamers use stimming. According to Eli Somer, a clinical psychologist at the University of Haifa, repetitive movement serves as a stimulus for entering and maintaining a daydream. In a recent study on maladaptive daydreaming, he and his colleagues, Liora Somer and Daniela Jopp, interviewed several individuals on their experiences with maladaptive daydreaming. One participant of the study explains this phenomenon in more detail:
Any kind of repetitive movements I find really helps with getting myself immersed in the daydreams. I get much more when I am . . . listening to music, than I do without music. So I would be lying in bed with headphones on, making kind of rocking movements because that helps to sort of immerse myself in the [day-dreaming] somehow.2
Kinesthetic activity helps people with MD reach the daydream state quickly. It also triggers vivid and powerful daydreams. This explains why some people find it so difficult to stop, even when it causes them distress.
5 Ways to Reduce Repetitive Movement
It’s not likely that you can stop your repetitive habits completely. After all, stimming is a normal human behavior. But if it’s making you feel uncomfortable, then you need to look into ways to control it.
Below are five different methods you can use to make living with your stimming much easier.
1. Control the content of your dreams.
During maladaptive daydreaming, it’s easy to get emotionally involved in the dream world. The more intense the dream, the more likely you’ll feel the need to respond physically. I’ve had my own experience with this. Whenever my fantasies get too strong, my adrenaline starts going. Then before I can stop myself, I’m rocking back and forth.
When you’re daydreaming, do your best to keep your fantasies relaxed. Be careful with scenes that feature fighting, dancing, or even high emotional drama, as they can all be triggers. Instead, use relaxing imagery when things get out of control. You can look to nature for your inspiration. Imagining flower gardens, waterfalls, and forests are just a few that I’ve found to help calm me down.
A great way to tell if your dreams are too intense is to listen to your body. Is your heart racing? Are your muscles tense? Do you feel a headache coming on? These are all signs that you’re stressing your body and that you need to take it down a notch.
2. Check for triggers in your environment.
Although we don’t think much of the outside world while we daydream, we can’t afford to overlook it. Our environment can have an over-stimulating effect on us too, sometimes without us even realizing it.
Examine your living spaces. Do you tend to be very messy? This might be contributing to your stimming. Reduce your clutter whenever possible. Be sure to clean up papers, throw away garbage, and remove any dirty clothes. Keep places like your desk, your dresser, and table surfaces tidy.
Sounds are an important trigger too, especially music. If you’re the type of person that needs sound playing in your surroundings, choose your music carefully. For many people, upbeat genres like rock, pop, rap, and heavy metal can sometimes be too stimulating. Even songs with lyrics can cause you to move around.
If you want to settle down, select music that you find relaxing. You can start with classical composers like Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven. Or you can incorporate songs from the new-age genre. Artists such as Kitaro, Enya, Vangelis, and Secret Garden are good choices. If you’re looking to experiment, you can find plenty of other talented artists on YouTube. But at the end of the day, make choices that fit your individual tastes.
3. Redirect your repetitive movement with other activities.
Sometimes you might need to replace your stimming with a healthier alternative. There are many ways you can achieve this. One is to add more exercise to your day. If you feel like you have lots of excess energy and crave movement, walk around your neighborhood, go swimming, or perform yoga exercises.
Meditation is a another good option that teaches you how to be still. It’s more effective when you make it a long-term habit, so do your best to stick with it. The added benefit is that it will reduce the amount of time that you spend maladaptive daydreaming.
4. Clean up your diet.
One of the most overlooked factors is your diet. Keep the junk food to a minimum, and avoid stimulants like caffeine and added sugar. Replace these foods with ones that are high in magnesium. Magnesium is a naturally relaxing mineral that helps with stress, anxiety, and muscle tension. Magnesium-rich foods include legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, and seeds.
Also, check to see if you have food allergies, as they can contribute to stimming, too. The most common allergies tend to be corn, soy, wheat, so make sure that none of these foods are a problem.
You can also try herbal supplements. Chamomile, valerian, kava, and lemon balm are excellent options. These herbs are sold in many different forms, like tinctures, pills, or blended teas. You can find them in most grocery stores, but local health food stores will have them too.
5. Ask a doctor for help.
If none of the above options are working, and your repetitive movement is causing you serious problems, you might need to see a physician. There may be other underlying causes of your stimming that you’re unaware of. A doctor can identify these causes and prescribe medication that will help you control your symptoms.
While stimming habits can feel a bit inconvenient at times, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with them. It it’s not causing you any physical or health problems, then it shouldn’t be your main focus. Instead, keep your mind on your true goal: to keep your maladaptive daydreaming under control. When you can manage that, the rest will fall into place.
Question: what kind of repetitive movement do you make while maladaptive daydreaming?
 Edelson, Stephen M. “Self-Stimulatory Behavior (Stimming).” Synapse: Reconnecting Lives. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2016.
 Somer, Eli, Liora Somer, and Daniela S. Jopp. “Parallel Lives: A Phenomenological Study of the Lived Experience of Maladaptive Daydreaming.” Journal of Trauma & Dissociation (2016): 1-16. Web. 3 July 2016.