Recurring Fantasies of Death, Disaster : ‘Daymares’ Can Be Nightmare for Troubled People

Associated Press

Do your daytime fantasies wander toward disaster--the death of a loved one, a tragic accident, discovering your spouse is cheating on you or finding yourself on Skid Row? You’re having “daymares,” a psychologist says.

“Daymares are fleeting for just about everybody, but people with clinical emotional problems are having them a lot of the time if not most of the time,” University of Southern California psychologist Gary Emery said.

People with serious anxiety, phobias or depression have great difficulty clearing daymares from their mind and find daymares “more real and intense, and therefore more frightening and depressing,” he said.

Emery examines daymares--defined as morbid daydreams and dire premonitions similar to nightmares in sleeping people--in his new textbook for therapists, “Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective.”

Daymares can be used to diagnose serious emotional troubles just as nightmares can, but Emery takes the behavioral viewpoint that such anxieties and phobias can be treated by eliminating the daymares themselves.


Emery teaches his patients to turn off these negative fantasies by clapping their hands, blowing whistles or engaging in constructive activity to turn off the morbid thoughts, then replace those thoughts with pleasant fantasies.

Psychologists who disagree believe severe anxiety and other disorders are more deep-seated and should be treated with more intensive psychotherapy, not by training patients to avoid anxiety or phobic behaviors.

Emery said the most common recurrent daymare he sees among his private patients is the death of a loved one, followed by fantasies of a tragic accident or being the victim of a terminal illness.

Next, he said, are “a cluster of unpleasant scenarios: ending up on Skid Row, discovering a spouse’s infidelity and making a fool of oneself in a painfully embarrassing or job-threatening situation.”

Daymares of emotionally disturbed patients also coincide with news events, Emery said. Some of his patients expressed great fear over a string of Los Angeles-area assaults and killings that police believe are the work of one person.

“Earlier it was the airplane crash (in Dallas),” Emery said. “For about two weeks (after news of actor Rock Hudson’s illness became public), everyone had AIDS. Before that, everyone had cancer when Reagan went in (for removal of intestinal cancer). Every morning, I just look at a paper and know what the problem of the week with my anxiety patients will be.”

Healthy people should not worry about their occasional daymares and “just accept them as part of the static that’s in the system,” he said.