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ADHD Hyperfixation — More Than a Deep Interest

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12 min

ADHD Hyperfixation — More Than a Deep Interest

You find yourself so concentrated on something like never before. Time flies by, and you can spend hours and days fully absorbed in this flow state. It can be hyperfixation on a hobby, a person, a game, a meal, or even a daily activity like cleaning or cooking.

But can complete focus bring something other than improved productivity and learning skills? Actually, yes. 

It turns out that friendly gatherings, job tasks, or even physical needs like eating or sleeping may face the effects you don’t expect. So, if you come up with a thought like, “I do not control the hyperfixation,” this article is for you. 

Let’s explore what this term really means, how ADHD and hyperfixation are connected, and what causes this intense concentration that makes you feel that there’s nothing more important in the whole world.

What is Hyperfixation?

Neurodivergent hyperfixation is a two-sided coin that may bring both advantages and drawbacks to people’s lives. When fully absorbed in something enjoyable, many of us don’t keep track of time and do our best to achieve excellence while having fun.

Do you remember the last time you read a gripping book or watched an intriguing movie? We suppose that you were fully engaged and eager to see what happens next. You may want to keep reading or watching without interruption, wholly immersed in the story.

Nevertheless, what would you do if there were an urgent work task or a call from your loved ones?

For those experiencing hyperfixation, there may not be anything that would break in.

Most often, people with neurodiversity experience such full absorption in an engaging activity. Hyperfixation is common not only for those living with ADHD. People with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and anxiety disorders can get hyperfixated as well.

Difference Between Hyperfixation and Other States

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC comments, “Hyperfixations can vary widely from person to person. While hyperfixation can be a positive experience, providing a sense of purpose and enjoyment, it can also interfere with daily functioning if it leads to neglect of important obligations.”

Is hyperfixation normal? Yes, if it doesn’t influence your life negatively. Even some people without mental health conditions might experience it from time to time.

Moreover, a deep interest in something doesn’t always mean it’s a hyperfixation. There are also other terms that people may find confusing.

Check out the difference between hyperfixation and special interest, obsession, and hyperfocus to gain a better understanding of what happens to you.

Hyperfixation vs. Special Interest

Special interest always involves extreme engagement in a particular topic. You may be interested in cars, football, cooking, or singing. Most people have special interests, which often turn into their hobbies and occupations.

Usually, people don’t get lost in their interests and pay attention to them in their free time. They can perform daily tasks, spend time with loved ones, and maintain a balanced lifestyle.

Hyperfixation is more temporary and absorbing. Let’s answer the question, “How long does a hyperfixation last?” Most often, days or weeks. 

It is a time when people tend to ignore everything that is out of their focus. They lose track of time, “turn the world off,” and may forget to eat, sleep, or communicate with other people. But then the hyperfixation finishes, and reality might hit hard.

Hyperfixation vs. Obsession

“There comes a time in your life when you have to choose to turn the page, write another book or simply close it.” — Shannon L. Alder, an inspirational author and therapist.

Obsession is one of the main OCD symptoms. However, people without OCD may experience it as well.

The main difference between obsession and hyperfixation is that the first one comes from intense fear and anxiety. Repetitive and intrusive thoughts lead to numerous “what ifs” and make people feel stressed, constantly thinking about the theme of obsession.

Compulsions are another aspect that often comes with obsessions. These are mental or physical actions that people do to avoid uncertainty. 

Cleaning the house 3 times daily, clapping hands before leaving home, or thinking about a red monkey before an important performance. It can be anything!

As you see, hyperfixation is different. It usually involves focusing on a pleasant activity that brings enjoyment. Additionally, when they are hyperfixated, a person doesn’t experience compulsions.

Hyperfocus vs. Hyperfixation

Let’s turn back to a work report you needed to do several sections before. When experiencing hyperfocus, you wouldn’t answer the phone call, make coffee, or scroll TikTok. You might not even leave the room to have lunch.

Hyperfocus is a deep concentration on a specific task. It shouldn’t necessarily be enjoyable. The need to do something to reach the goal drives people to stay hyperfocused. 

This is that desired flow state that many people try to reach when they’re working or doing creative things.

Hyperfixation doesn’t require willpower at all. People do something they take pleasure from. It doesn’t involve any goal except pure enjoyment from the process. 

Moreover, hyperfixation isn’t time-limited. As you don’t have a goal, you will engage in something as long as you’re interested.

A metaphorical representation of ADHD and hyperfixation that feel overwhelming

Is Hyperfixation a Symptom of ADHD?

Exploring hyperfixation’s meaning sheds light on why it occurs. While officially, it isn’t an ADHD symptom, it’s more common for people living with neurodiversity than for those who are neurotypical.

It may sound confusing. How can hyperfixation and ADHD coexist if ADHD is literally an attention-deficit disorder? How can it be possible if the question, “Why can’t I focus?” is more common for people with ADHD? This is a great question that has an unexpectedly logical answer!

As one of the visible symptoms of ADHD iceberg, ADHD is often more about attention abundance than about attention deficit. It literally means that people experiencing this cognitive difference struggle to control and regulate their focus. Consequently, switching between tasks may be as challenging (or even more challenging) than being totally absorbed into one activity.

As a result, people with a wealth of attention can have difficulties shifting focus and tend to hyperfixate. OCD hyperfixation and autism hyperfixation are also quite common.

If you experience something similar to hyperfixation and have encountered a question like, “Am I neurodivergent?” Breeze has something for you. Take an ADHD test to get insights into your mental well-being and uncover personalized recommendations.

Hyperfixation Symptoms

How to differentiate hyperfixation from a deep interest? Sometimes, it may be a complicated task. See below for several hyperfixation manifestations:

  • Interests can develop and disappear incredibly quickly. Painting, cooking, cycling, gardening… Everything turns from impressively engaging to incredibly boring in days or weeks. Can you hyperfixate on a person? Yes! But this feeling also goes away quite rapidly.
  • People can experience a guilt complex when giving up another hobby. They may wonder, “What was I thinking about while spending so much time and effort on that?” Feeling unfulfilled, they grab another hobby almost instantly.
  • Getting back to reality from the hyperfixation episode might feel like emerging from a dream. Have you ever felt like you were in a trance, losing connection with reality while doing something engaging? That’s it!
  • After a specific subject gets uninteresting, it takes time and effort to jolt back into real life. Hyperfixation leaves a person disoriented and makes it challenging to manage routine tasks for some time.

ADHD Hyperfixation Examples

What might a neurodivergent person focus on so intensely? Actually, there are many variants.

  • Hyperfixation on food
  • Hyperfixation on a person
  • Hyperfixation on a hobby
  • Hyperfixation on a place
  • Hyperfixation on your thoughts

Have you seen Netflix’s Stranger Things series? If yes, you remember Dustin’s obsession with Dart, a mysterious creature he encounters in the woods. Despite warnings from his friends and family, Dustin becomes hyperfixated on it, spending hours researching and investigating its existence.

As you see, objects people focus on can be pretty different. From delving deep into a video game or a movie to ADHD hyperfixation on a crush that makes you explore everything about a person’s life, the spectrum is vast.

But why do we hyperfixate? Keep reading to explore possible reasons that make us dwell on something or someone.

Neurodivergent hyperfixation is when a person overly concentrates on something or someone

What Causes ADHD Hyperfixation — 6 Reasons

There’s nothing wrong with being focused on something, whether it’s a hobby, food, or a video game. Spending hours on the things you like doesn’t make you lazy or careless. 

ADHD hyperfixation turns out to be problematic if it affects your daily functioning. So, if you feel that a new TV series is becoming all-consuming and you can watch three seasons in two days, it’s time to get alarmed.

Check these causes of hyperfixation to learn better why this happens.

Differences in Brain Functioning

People with ADHD tend to hate monotonous tasks like cleaning, laundry, or ironing. Waiting in line often feels like a nightmare for them.

At the same time, engaging tasks feel more enjoyable for them than for neurotypical people. This is because the brains of people with ADHD require less cognitive effort to focus on activities that provide a high stimulation level.

New, variable, and rewarding tasks stimulate their brain functioning and provide a sense of accomplishment. Thus, people want to engage in them more and more… and more. This is why hyperfixation and ADHD are quite common together.

Emotional Dysregulation

How are autism and ADHD connected? Both autism and ADHD emotional dysregulation bring challenges to people’s lives.

A broken cup, an unexpected traffic jam, or even a phone call you don’t want to answer — everything can bring discomfort to people’s lives. While for people living with ADHD or autism, these stressors are usually even more triggering.

As a result, regulating emotions and thoughts can turn into a significant challenge. To process emotional information and escape unpleasant feelings, people experiencing ADHD may overly focus on something else in their environment.

What is ADHD hyperfixation in this case? It’s a coping mechanism that helps some of us deal with reality. People may unconsciously escape daily challenges by getting absorbed in knitting, reading, learning a new language, or anything else.

Dopamine Deficit

In many cases, people living with ADHD may face dopamine deficiency or difficulties with processing dopamine in the brain. As a result, it takes immeasurable effort for them to “turn off” negative thoughts, change habitual behavior, and shift between different tasks.

Hyperfixation and ADHD go together as people living with this cognitive difference tend to overly focus on stimulating activities to get enough dopamine. It’s much more challenging for them to get to a “boring” task, as it makes them frustrated, angry, and impulsive.

Lack of Impulse Control

You’re doing a vital work report when suddenly your phone rings. You answer the call and then feel an urge to make a cup of coffee. The coffee is ready, and it’s time to scroll TikTok while drinking it. Then, sending memes to your friend turns into 30 minutes of chatting.

What? Work report? Do you still need to do it?

Sounds relatable, right? Hyperactive and impulsive behavior is quite typical for people living with ADHD. However, this impulsivity can make them hyperfixate as well.

When surrounded by engaging activities, people with ADHD can fall into an intense focus. At the same time, all other vital but uninteresting tasks “stop existing” for them. Their interest gets too extreme, and they fall into a period of ADHD hyperfixation.

Anxiety and Stressful Environment

Can you imagine that 50% of adults with ADHD report severe to extremely severe symptoms of anxiety? Quite often, hyperfixation can become a coping mechanism that helps people living with various cognitive differences like ADHD, autism, or anxiety disorders overcome life challenges.

Let’s remember Luke from the Netflix film “To the Bone.” He lives with anorexia and body dysmorphia while having a hyperfixation on food and training. This extreme focus helps him distract from severe life issues and provides a feeling of “control” over his life. 

If you’re looking for ways how to calm your anxiety and take care of your mental health, it may be helpful to take Breeze’s assessment. It will provide insights into what might hold your well-being back and how to improve it.

Physiological Factors

Let’s face it, lifestyle also influences our typical behavior. It doesn’t matter whether you live with ADHD, autism, or an anxiety disorder; physiological factors affect most of us. What’s more, even people without mental health conditions can feel their influence and experience extreme focus.

So, what are the factors that might trigger hyperfixation? The most common examples are enlisted.

  • Poor eating habits
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Insomnia or other problems with sleep
  • Hormonal fluctuations
  • Substance abuse

It’s essential to note that none of the highlighted triggers can cause hyperfixation on its own. This state often has neurological roots. Nevertheless, these factors can make people with neurodiversity overly emotional, as a result increasing the severity and the number of hyperfixation episodes.

Last but not least: How to deal with hyperfixation? 

While it isn’t initially bad, sometimes it can negatively influence our lives. If you feel that episodes of extreme focus get out of control, it might be better to contact your healthcare provider to discuss how to develop coping skills and navigate difficult situations.

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC believes, “Fortunately, people with ADHD can develop strategies to manage hyperfixation, such as setting time limits, incorporating breaks, and maintaining a balance between their focused interests and other aspects of life. Additionally, seeking support from a therapist specializing in ADHD can be beneficial in learning to navigate the challenges associated with ADHD, including hyperfixation.”

Wrapping Up

Great job! Now you know what ADHD hyperfixation really is and why people experience it.

Remember that you’re not alone — many people face hyperfixation and are able to cope with its symptoms. If you feel that it affects your quality of life, searching for support from your friends and family or getting in touch with a therapist can be valuable.

Additionally, you can try Breeze to learn more about your mental health and take the first steps in the journey to wellness.

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC photo

Reviewed by Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC

Rychel Johnson, M.S., LCPC, is a licensed clinical professional counselor. She owns a private practice specializing in anxiety tre...