Written by Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.

Ever found yourself pretending you’re in a music video while travelling? According to the experts, it could be good for you.

It usually happens on trains. As soon as my headphones are in and the countryside starts passing in a blur, the version of myself I knew just moments ago begins to disappear. In the blink of an eye, I’m a woman setting off on an epic adventure to escape the demons of her past, raindrops falling down the window as the bridge of Taylor Swift’s Would’ve, Could’ve, Should’ve plays in the background. The mix of sadness and hope is so thick in the air you can almost taste it. The camera is just about to pan out to show the train speeding into the distance, but the conductor comes along to ask for my ticket before the scene comes to an end. I’m back in the room.  

Admitting that I spend my time pretending I’m in some 2000s-esque black-and-white music video may feel a little embarrassing, but I know I’m far from the only one who finds themselves dreaming in this way. On Spotify, there are numerous playlists dedicated to pretending you’re in a music video during a rainy train ride (the first song of course being SZA’s Good Days). And on social media, countless memes have paid homage to the joy of pretending you’re the main character in a drama of your creation. It’s one of those things most of us have done at some point or another, but no one really talks about. But why is escaping reality in this way so entertaining? And why do so many of us do it?

To understand more, we first need to understand where this urge to pretend comes from. As children, we can spend hours dreaming up alternate realities and dramatising epic adventures – an activity that helps us to learn about ourselves and the world around us. Its why children are so often encouraged to play with toys that help them act out specific jobs, social situations or responsibilities; by walking in another person’s shoes and experimenting with what that looks like, children not only learn new skills, but they also have the chance to work through any scary or difficult challenges they might be facing.

While the kind of pretending we do as adults may not be quite as practical – we don’t need to learn basic social skills, for example – the act of pretending, even when just sitting still on a train, gives us a chance to work things through in our heads. “Pretending in this way liberates us from the shackles of our day-to-day identity and allows us to safely and playfully explore the identity of someone else – often someone we admire in some way,” explains Kate Oliver, a chartered psychologist and author of Rise And Shine. “This can enable us to access aspects of ourselves that might be hidden when we are focusing on performing in our day-to-day lives and work, and allow us to access and express a full range of emotions (including joy, passion and sorrow) that we might otherwise suppress.” 

Pretending isn’t just fun – it’s good for us, too.

While pretending you’re in a music video may not look like the sort of play you engaged in as a child, the sense of joy and freedom it offers satisfies our need to do things that aren’t productive or serious. There’s a reason why so many psychologists stress the importance of play for adults, after all. By giving us space to explore, create and unwind in a non-productive space, play can offer a wide range of mental health benefits. Indeed, studies have shown that engaging in play can release endorphins, relieve stress and even improve brain functionality. Daydreaming has also been shown to stimulate creativity levels because of its ability to light up connections across a part of the brain called the default mode network (DMN), which plays a significant role in our ability to come up with new ideas.

But these benefits aren’t the only reasons so many of us enjoy this unique form of pretending. Indeed, according to chartered psychologist Catherine Hallissey, the presence of music during these moments could explain why so many of us feel free to think outside the box. “Music has the power to transport us to another space and time, to press pause on our busy lives and simply be in the moment,” she says. “Pretending to be in a music video is just an extension of this, where the person is escaping their busy lives and living in a fantasy, just for a moment.” 

The act of travelling could also fuel our drive to escape reality, Oliver adds: “The state of being in transition from one place to another creates a sense of freedom and possibility – the space to be transported into another world or realm.” Emma Amoscato, a mental health trainer and CEO of the Smile app, agrees that this transitory state makes it easier for us to escape reality. She explains: “When we are in the car or on a journey it is a space that allows us to let go of all the things we ‘should’ be doing, whether that’s work or home responsibilities. We can switch off and focus on just being in the moment.” 

While there are downsides to daydreaming too much, as in the case of maladaptive daydreaming, there’s nothing wrong with spending time pretending you’re in a music video – in fact, it could play an important role in your overall wellbeing and help you feel more creative in the long run. In a world where the need to be productive can feel all-consuming, taking time out to play with new realities isn’t just a fun way to spend the time – it’s an act of self-care. So, next time you find yourself staring out the window of a moving train with your headphones in, take time to savour the feeling of freedom that comes with pretending. Just make sure to snap back to reality before you miss your stop.  

Images: Getty

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