What Is Hyperfixation, What Are The Symptoms And How To Manage ItJanuary 26, 2023 • Posted in:
Hyperfixation is a form of intense concentration that lasts for a short amount of time, to the point where you lose track of everything else. It is all you can pay attention to. Another way to think about hyperfixation is that it’s a state of focus.
For some inexplicable reason, people who can be distracted by seemingly any sound or smell often also can tune out the world around them and become completely enthralled in their activities. We become mesmerized when the distractions seem to disappear and something becomes so clear and moving. It’s sort of like the effect 3-D Magic Eye pictures have on some people. Once you see the mystery picture the vision captivates all of your attention. It is not until you are interrupted that you become aware again that the world is still spinning.
Neurodiversity is defined as the range of differences in brain function and behaviors found within normal, human, variations, and often used when speaking about the autism spectrum. Hyperfixation is most common in neurodivergent people, i.e. those with autism, ADHD, OCD, and other related conditions. For neurodivergent people, too, hyperfixation can make it difficult or impossible to focus on anything else other than the task they are immersed in. This can cause problems in school/work, and at home.
What is hyperfixation?
A recent review defined hyperfixation (sometimes referred to as hyperfocus) as:
- Characterized by an intense state of concentration/focus.
- When engaged in hyperfocus, unrelated external stimuli do not appear to be consciously perceived; sometimes reported as a diminished perception of the environment.
- To engage in hyperfocus, the task has to be fun or interesting.
- During a hyperfocus state, task performance improves.
Hyperfixation involves intense and prolonged interest.
The term can refer to a form of concentration based around an interesting task or problem. It can be a helpful mode to enter when deep focus is required to achieve a particular academic or creative outcome.
Hyperfixation can be disruptive or downright harmful as it is often characterized by repetitive behaviors, obsessiveness, and a difficulty shifting attention to other tasks.
For example, consider the problems that could be caused by an unhealthy or harmful hyperfixation, such as gambling or internet addiction.
In its more benign form, hyperfixation might look like an intense preoccupation with a particular TV show, toy, or videogame. It could be a fixation on a hobby or interest to the exclusion of all else.
The obsessive preoccupation that characterizes hyperfixation can apply to people, objects, and activities. The fixation could even be imaginary. Friends, colleagues, and family members may find these fixations confusing as they can seem trivial or eccentric.
Can hyperfixation be problematic?
Hyperfixations can be helpful or they can be harmful, like many behaviors associated with neurodiversity. Whether obsessions are considered positive or negative will depend on how they fit with cultural norms. An obsessive fixation on cleanliness might be thought of as helpful whereas fixating on other people for whatever reason can be concerning or disruptive.
However, when an obsession with cleaning progresses into OCD type behaviors, this can lead to significant distress for the person concerned. One of the most well known OCD fixations is hand washing, with individuals feeling unable to go about their day until their hands are clean. This repeated hand washing may never produce the feeling of ‘clean enough’, and repeatedly washed hands can become raw, irritated, and even infected as a result.
Those experiencing hyperfixation may become so focused on their fixation that they start to neglect other aspects of their life, including work, health, and self care. Forgetting to eat, sleep, or other important life tasks and responsibilities are relatively common side effects of hyperfixation.
Likewise, hyperfixation can bring with it other behaviors. People may become very self absorbed, withdraw from other people, and miss out on normal life. Things to look out for during periods of hyperfixation include difficulty concentrating on other tasks, irritability, excessive daydreaming, and problems sleeping.
Because hyperfixation is particularly associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and OCD, we know that there is a greater likelihood of developing other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and social isolation. For example, substance abuse and sleep problems are also more common with people who have ADHD.
In some cases, hyperfixation can also be a sign of an impending mental health crisis. If someone you know seems fixated on a particular subject to the exclusion of all else, it is important to seek professional help.
A mental health professional can assess the severity of the fixation and determine whether it is indicative of a larger problem.
How can you manage hyperfixation?
Those who experience hyperfixation may find themselves getting stuck on a particular topic or task. This leads to obsessive thoughts about it or fixation to the point where it interferes with daily life. Sufferers of problematic hyperfixation are not alone. The good news is that there are ways to handle the hyperfixation to help keep it at a manageable level.
1. Figure out the causes of hyperfixation
Notice what the fixation seems to be about. It could be, for example, you may feel you need more information about a particular topic in order to feel sated. If that’s the case, establish what amount of information would be deemed sufficient and decide on a timetable for seeking it out. Determine a cut-off point for your research and then follow up with a time to establish whether you feel enough information has been gained. This is an illuminating exercise, enabling you to determine whether enough is ever enough.
Becoming aware of the thoughts and behaviors around the fixation will help you to identify triggers and regain control of the situation. Once you have identified them, you can avoid your triggers in the future.
Make sure any other contributing factors have been addressed alongside the hyperfixation. This could mean seeking treatment for underlying issues such as anxiety or depression, which could help to lessen the intensity of hyperfixations.
2. Mindfulness meditation
Focusing on the present moment can be particularly helpful as it can improve concentration, reduce anxiety, increase feelings of relaxation, and allow meditators to bring attention to thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way.
The simplest way to practice mindful meditation is to sit still, and focus on breathing. Notice your breath as you inhale, observe how it feels to take in cool breath through your nostrils and then exhale through the mouth. Every breath is different so pay attention to what you experience each time.
If your thoughts wander, gently bring them back to the present without judgment. It is all about noticing, as not even the most practiced meditators can completely empty their mind of all thoughts for a period of time.
Here are more tips on mindful meditation, or you could try an app or stream a guided meditation via YouTube.
3. Plan your hyperfixation times and stick to them
There is nothing inherently wrong with hyperfixation if you are able to stop yourself from getting lost in it. If you find yourself getting lost in a hyperfixation that feels like it’s taking over your life, it can be helpful to set time limits. This allows you to enjoy your hyperfixation focus knowing that you won’t get sucked into it for hours or days.
Build other activities into your day, as well, as this can help you to remember what else you enjoy.
4. Pursue new hobbies and interests
Breaking the cycle of a hyperfixation or obsession can be achieved in a healthy way through pursuing new hobbies and interests.
This can give you a change of scenery while trying out new activities that are stimulating, enjoyable, and challenging. Get the balance right between easy activities that might not hold your attention, and difficult activities that could be so frustrating they cause you to give up.
Finding an activity that involves other people can be really helpful for those with neurodivergent conditions as social interaction with any new connections helps to naturally develop social skills.
5. Staying connected to loved ones
Again, those with ADHD or other neurodivergent conditions sometimes find that their hyperfixations cause them to become isolated from family, friends, and loved ones. Staying connected is essential as a way to gain understanding, support, contact, and as a sounding board to notice when hyperfixation might be becoming problematic.
6. Talking therapies
Different types of therapy can be helpful to those with problematic hyperfixation. An effective treatment for ADHD, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps patients to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It can help to reduce the intensity of hyperfixations as well as teaching patients how to manage their time, set goals, and stay organized.
At The Center • A Place of HOPE, we use a unique Whole Person Care approach based on a deep understanding that no two people are alike, and that the treatment option that works for other people might not be the best choice for you.
Your treatment journey with us starts with an initial Comprehensive Personal Assessment. This helps us understand the factors in your life that have contributed to your issues. This way, we’re able to create an individualized treatment plan that directly addresses you and your needs.
We have over 35 years of experience helping people with a range of mental health conditions with proven results. We were voted a Top 10 Depression Treatment Center in the United States because of our commitment to, and success with, helping people recover from this painful disorder.
Contact us today to start your journey of recovery.
 Conner, M.L. (1994) Attention deficit disorder in children and adults strategies for experiential educators. Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse.
 Hosenbocus S, Chahal R. A review of executive function deficits and pharmacological management in children and adolescents. J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012 Aug;21(3):223-9. PMID: 22876270; PMCID: PMC3413474.
 Ashinoff, B.K., Abu-Akel, A. Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention. Psychological Research 85, 1–19 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8
 Hupfeld, K.E., Abagis, T.R. & Shah, P. Living “in the zone”: hyperfocus in adult ADHD. ADHD Atten Def Hyp Disord 11, 191–208 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12402-018-0272-y
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