Almost everyone has been so engaged, so enraptured, so fixated on something that time slips by unnoticed. But those of us with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder seem to be far more prone to Hyperfocus and Hyperfixation. Lately I’ve been thinking about Hyperfixating, Hyperfocusing, and Addiction. Here are the differences that I see.
What does Hyperfixation look like?
Video games that you love.
Working on a hobby that’sall consuming.
Evenings and days lost to social media.
Binge watching a show you love.
Knitting. Crafts.Searching online for vintage Barbies.
These can become our go to activities when we’re overwhelmed, sad, anxious. “I need a break. I just want to unwind. Relax. Not think about anything.”
We gladly lose ourselves in The Crown, Minecraft, or planning our dream home. All well and good.
What Is Hyperfixation?
In the world of ADHD, this state has been described as Hyperfocus.
Some refer to it as being ‘in the zone,’ or ‘completely engaged.’ We are doing something at the exclusion of everything else,
Hyperfixation is different. It’s not just in that moment, but obsessed with something. If it’s something healthy or at least harmless, great.
But at some point, this may become a way of self-medicating ADHD. We become addicted to running, a high-risk sport, hunting for bargains, or hunting for sex. All ways to wake up the ADHD brain so it’s getting those neurotransmitters that it’s missing. We run risks to generate adrenaline. As our adrenal glands get overworked, we need bigger risks, bigger thrills.
When I’m constructing a model, working meticulously, but at my own speed, it engages my brain, demanding care, precision, craftsmanship, and art. Time falls away, I’m in the moment. Hyperfocussed. The cares and worries of the day vanish. (Temporarily.)
But model railroading has been a constant pleasure for most of my life. Rather than a relief, it can become a refuge, a way of avoiding what needs doing.
Model railroading is a form of meditation for me, and as numerous studies have shown, Mindful Meditation can rewire the ADHD brain. (Or any brain. But the impact on those of us with ADHD can be dramatic, in a surprisingly short time as this video on explains.)
It’s relaxing. It’s stress relieving for me. Other comedians I know do needlepoint, knitting, wood-working, or collecting something particular like sheet music or antique toys. In the moment they’re hyper-focused. But it’s something they come back to again and again… Hyperfixation. A passion.
The Difference Between Hyperfixation and Addiction
In one sense it’s a matterof degree.
Addiction is a constant craving. Friends who have recovered from an addiction to a substance know that they will always face that temptation to go back, to seek solace and comfort in drugs or alcohol. Even if they haven’t had a drink in 15 years they don’t say, “I was an alcoholic.” They say, “I am an alcoholic.”
It’s always there.
Hyperfocus is different. It’s intense. Then it’s over. I’m locked into something, then the spell is broken.
My parents had a large collection of murder mysteries on a book shelf at their cottage. So, one rainy day I grabbed an Agatha Christie mystery novel to pass the time. I was hooked. After reading all 20 of her novels in the book case, I tried a Nero Wolfe mystery. After devouring all 15 of those I came to the Ngaio Marsh mysteries. I read them, one after another.
Then… nothing. I haven’t read a murder mystery in the 20years since.
Another difference between hyperfocus and addiction? Being able to hyperfocus on work, or learning a topic can be helpful in my career, or developing skills. Hyperfocus has a potential upside. A doctor would call it “An Adaptive Strategy.” Whereas an Addiction has a very short term upside, “Ahhh… So good…” but long term it’s what doctor’s call, “Maladaptive.” Harmful. Unsustainable.
As a recovered Workaholic Ilearned the cost of constantly working in order to feel good: exhaustion,burnout, divorce, and no close friends. Therewas an upside to producing so many comedy shows. But when that’s all I had in my life itbecame stifling. Depressing. The joy turned to onerous obligation.
Dependence versus Addiction
For me, the difference between Hyperfixation and Addiction is like the difference between ‘Dependence’ and ‘Addiction.’ When a doctor told me ADHD medications might lead to dependency, but they were not addictive, I asked, “What’s the difference?”
He explained, “You maydepend on a cup of coffee in the morning (or four of them) to feel focused andif you don’t have coffee you may feel lousy, tired, even get a headache, butyou’re not going out and robbing corner stores to get cash for a largelatte.”
Addiction is extreme. All consuming.
Miss your ‘fix’ of whateveryour addiction is, then emotions start to go haywire, moods swing wildly, youdevelop physical symptoms. The scenethat comes to mind is Gene Hackman trying to get off heroin in FrenchConnection 2. (Good film, BTW.)
Addiction is 24/7. The need is always there.
Whereas hyperfixation is not a constant craving, or an absolute must-have.
You may find a video game, a hobby, TV series—or in my case, working on my model railroad— an activity that you can become immersed in for a long time. Hopefully you find it relaxing, stress relieving, comforting. Perhaps even restorative and healing.
When I’m working on my model railroad, I can lose myself in creative problem solving, crafting an imaginary world.
But I’m not craving trains every day. If I don’t get to my railroad for a week or two I’m not shaking, shivering, exploding with angry, or thrashing around.
In fact, I may find something else to hyperfixate on and not touch the railroad for months. A few years ago I discovered the Diabolo and spent the better part of a whole summer learning to juggle the spinning toy. Then, just as quickly, I move on to something else. A new interest.
Is Hyperfixating Helpful?
Hyperfixation has been associated with ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Depression.
I know many people with ADHD who claim that hyperfocus is their superpower. I find it can be a helpful strategy, a tool to cope when I’m overwhelmed with To-Dos, frustrations, worries, or distractions. Hyperfixation can be powerful, or a time-sucking vortex, depending on what we fixate on.
But as every ADHD specialist in our videos has said, rarely, if ever, is a single tool or strategy enough to successfully manage ADHD. It takes a toolbox of them. An arsenal of weapons.
In our PBS documentary, ADD & Mastering It!, fellow comedian Patrick McKenna and I share 36 ADHD-friendly strategies that we draw upon as needed, as the particular situation demands.
Hyperfixating on an ADHDstrategy can be wonderful. When my wifebecame a yoga instructor, I became her practice student. I was so intrigued by my progress I becamehyperfixated on doing yoga every morning.I read about yoga. Watchedvideos. Bored friends describing myprogress.
Yoga became allconsuming. It helped lower my restlessnessand calm both my brain and body. Today,three years later, yoga is just another strategy. Some weeks just one or two sessions. Other weeks, four or five.
That’s okay. It’s all good. Lately I’ve been hyperfixated on diet and exercise, something I NEVER thought would happen.
That said, the hyperfixating for a while and then moving on can be frustrating. I do wish I was more consistent. More balanced. More regular. More disciplined in my yoga, exercise, eating well, and seeing friends. (Is it possible to ‘binge socialize’? Seeing friends for the first time in ages, having a great time, and suddenly filling up your calendar.)
Is hyperfixating mysuperpower?
I suppose I would say it allows me to develop a wide range of abilities, interests, skills, and knowledge. Call that a superpower if you wish. I do feel when I’m consciously using hyperfocus to my advantage, it becomes the most positive of my ADHD traits.
For information of Autism check out Autism Parenting Magazine
Do people with ADHD always have a Hyperfixation? ›
Hyperfixation is not unique to individuals with ADHD. But almost every child and adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) knows what it feels like to become so engrossed in something — a book, a home project, a video game — that they block out the world around them for hours at a time.How do you break Hyperfixation with ADHD? ›
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an effective treatment for ADHD and can help to reduce the intensity of hyperfixations. CBT helps patients to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. In addition, CBT teaches patients how to manage their time, set goals, and stay organized.Is ADHD a mental illness or coping mechanism? ›
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought).Why do people with ADHD Hyperfixate on things? ›
What Causes the ADHD Brain to Hyperfocus? Like distractibility, hyperfocus is thought to result from abnormally low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is particularly active in the brain's frontal lobes. This dopamine deficiency makes it hard to “shift gears” to take up boring-but-necessary tasks.How do you break a Hyperfixation? ›
- Knowing when to start. If you have trouble stopping your hyperfixation, knowing when to start can help you control it. ...
- Setting a time limit. ...
- Staying connected to other people. ...
- Addressing the main cause. ...
- Cognitive behavioral therapy.
Add to that people who hyperfixate but don't have one of the neurodiverse diagnoses, and the list of possible underlying causes gets very long. But that's OK. It just takes careful detective work from a skilled practitioner to figure out what's really going on.How long do ADHD Hyperfixations usually last? ›
The timeline for hyperfixation can also vary. Some people will hyperfixate on one thing for months at a time, while other hyperfixation episodes may last just a few days. You might also pick up an interest really quickly and then drop it just as suddenly after some time.How do you break an ADHD block? ›
- The Daily Brain Dump. Staying organized can be one of the biggest challenges for someone with ADHD. ...
- 2. Make Tasks Achievable (Easy Wins) ...
- Keep Your Work Schedule Simple. ...
- Focus on Completion, Not Perfection. ...
- 5. Make Room for Rewards. ...
- Get up and Move. ...
- Keep Things Interesting. ...
- Do Things You Love.
Train Your Hyperfocus
You can't just switch your trait on and off. But you can learn what causes you to zero in on certain things. Case in point: You're likely to lose yourself only in activities that you find interesting. In other words, you can set the stage -- or not -- for going into hyperfocus mode.
People living with ADHD may have a variety of skills and abilities beyond those of their neurotypical counterparts. These may include hyperfocus, resilience, creativity, conversational skills, spontaneity, and abundant energy.
What triggers ADHD meltdowns? ›
While many children have tantrums at some point, it is especially common for children with ADHD to feel irritable. They may have trouble concentrating at school, managing their emotions, or controlling impulses, all of which can cause anger and frustration. This may contribute to tantrums.Is ADHD trauma or complex? ›
Comparing ADHD and Trauma. Trauma can make children feel agitated, troubled, nervous, and on high alert — symptoms that can be mistaken for ADHD. Inattention in children with trauma may also make them disassociate, which can look like a lack of focus — another hallmark symptom of ADHD.Do people with ADHD obsess over something? ›
Obsessing and ruminating are often part of living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). No matter how hard you try to ignore them, those negative thoughts just keep coming back, replaying themselves in an infinite loop.What does ADHD hyperfocus feel like? ›
Hyperfocus is a state of intense concentration where you lose track of time, you really enjoy what you're doing and you seem to be better at that than whatever it is you're doing. Now if you're playing a video game, you're really good at playing that video game.Why do I Hyperfixate on things so easily? ›
Hyperfixation, also referred to as hyperfocus, is commonly connected with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism, and depression.How do you kick on hyperfocus? ›
- Gather all the tools you'll need for the project ahead. ...
- Set the mood. ...
- Turn off all distractions. ...
- Decide on a time frame. ...
- Set an alarm clock. ...
- Take a break.
Kids with ADHD often experience hyperfocus on things that really interest them, even when they have a hard time paying attention to things that don't interest them. For example, a child might spend hours reading a book they love but struggle to focus on homework.What is ADHD Type 3 overfocused? ›
Over-Focused ADD is the third most common type of ADD. Those with Type 3 ADD can have difficulty shifting their attention. They become hyper-focused on one thing while tuning out everything else. People with Over-Focused ADD tend to get “stuck” in negative thought patterns and behaviors.Can a neurotypical person get overstimulated? ›
Anyone can experience sensory overload. Sensory overload is also a common symptom of certain health conditions. Scientific research and firsthand accounts tell us that autistic people experience sensory information differently.How do I know if I'm neurodivergent or not? ›
You absolutely are neurodivergent if you have been diagnosed with a developmental or learning disorder, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, or Tourette's syndrome. You may decide to consider yourself neurodivergent if you have no diagnosis but think, behave, or interact in ways that are outside the norm.
What does stimming mean? ›
Stimming – or self-stimulatory behaviour – is repetitive or unusual body movement or noises. Stimming might include: hand and finger mannerisms – for example, finger-flicking and hand-flapping. unusual body movements – for example, rocking back and forth while sitting or standing.Can Hyperfixations be debilitating? ›
It can be exceptionally debilitating, but after my major hyperfixation events, that can actually be centered around a single factor, I've learned to deal.What does an ADHD shutdown look like? ›
Differences in emotions in people with ADHD can lead to 'shutdowns', where someone is so overwhelmed with emotions that they space out, may find it hard to speak or move and may struggle to articulate what they are feeling until they can process their emotions.Why do ADHD overshare? ›
Trouble with oversharing happens for different reasons. People may have trouble with executive function skills like impulse control. Or they may have trouble with social skills and low self-esteem. Kids might overshare to get attention or to look cool.What is ADHD paralysis called? ›
ADHD choice paralysis.
Also known as analysis paralysis, this is a sense of overwhelm related to too many choices or the need to make a decision.
Stimulant medication can reduce the tendency of an individual with ADHD to hyperfocus, but it won't eliminate the problem. “Stimulants increase the reward value of boring tasks so that people find them a bit more interesting and are able to stay with them longer,” says Dr. Russell Barkley.Do people with ADHD have a sixth sense? ›
The Gift of ADHD: They say that adults with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have almost a sixth sense about people. My sharp sense of intuition is the one personal attribute that I've always been proud of. Since I was little I've been able to smell a two-faced person from a mile away.What is the average IQ of someone with ADHD? ›
Each other used a cut-off of 80 or above or did not take IQ into account. For instance, among the 18 studies under scrutiny that did not explicitly state an IQ cut-off point the mean range of IQ among individuals with ADHD reported in the studies is from 102 to 110.Do people with ADHD think faster? ›
Shankman: Simply put, ADHD is the brain's inability to produce as much dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline as “regular” people's brains produce. Because of that, our brains have become “faster.” When managed right, that becomes a superpower. Have you found that you tend to think faster than most people? Yes.What are the 5 gifts of ADHD? ›
The five gifts of ADHD include creativity, emotional sensitivity, exuberance, interpersonal empathy and being nature smart (The Gift of Adult ADD, 2008).
How do you calm ADHD rage? ›
- Notice your triggers and consider new ways to respond to them.
- Give yourself permission to walk away if you feel emotions rising.
- Work with a therapist to build your self-regulating skills.
- Get plenty of rest and exercise.
Poor impulse control : ADHD affects executive function, which is the brain's ability to regulate emotions, plan activities, and control impulses. People with ADHD may have more trouble calming themselves when they feel angry, or may engage in more impulsive expressions of anger.What does ADHD overwhelm feel like? ›
Becoming easily overwhelmed and distracted can sometimes be hallmark symptoms of ADHD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, people with ADHD might experience symptoms like: restlessness. difficulty focusing.What is the hardest part of ADHD? ›
Many adults with ADHD aren't aware they have it — they just know that everyday tasks can be a challenge. Adults with ADHD may find it difficult to focus and prioritize, leading to missed deadlines and forgotten meetings or social plans.What is ADHD dissociation? ›
You might start feeling numb or emotionally unavailable. You might also begin to feel a sense of unreality, as if the world around you or even you aren't real. Often, you'll find yourself “checking out” involuntarily or “spacing out” in the middle of doing something.What can be mistaken for ADHD? ›
- Hearing problems. If you can't hear well, it's hard to pay attention — and easy to get distracted. ...
- Learning or cognitive disabilities. ...
- Sleep problems. ...
- Depression or anxiety. ...
- Substance abuse.
Maladaptive daydreaming is often associated with ADHD, with many people believing that it is a symptom of the condition, but this isn't entirely accurate. People with ADHD, specifically inattentive or combined ADHD, are more likely to daydream as a result of their mind wondering more, so to speak.Do people with ADHD fantasize more? ›
ADHD gives students lots of fantasies. These can be a distraction, but can also give students the power to create a new world. Participants will explore how to re-direct fantasies of escape toward evolution. The distinct functions of studying, thinking and imagination in the classroom will be explored.How do you quiet an ADHD brain? ›
- Take action — any action. ...
- Try to be more intentional with your thoughts. ...
- Dismiss the thoughts that do not serve you. ...
- Notice your triggers. ...
- Commit to what makes you feel best. ...
- Resisting isn't always the answer. ...
- Relax the body. ...
- Attend to your restlessness.
- sensitivity to certain textures, fabrics, clothing tags, or other things that may rub against the skin.
- unable to hear or focus over background sounds.
- dislike of certain food flavors or textures.
- urge to cover your ears or shield your eyes from too much stimuli.
- extreme irritability.
Do neurotypical people hyperfocus? ›
Some neurotypical people may occasionally experience a hyperfocus-like state. However, it occurs more often in people with conditions that reflect attention issues, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).Why ADHD brains crave stimulation? ›
Indeed, ADHD brains struggle to sustain motivation when rewards are mild or are linked to long-term gratification. As a result, ADHD brains search for stimulation that can increase dopamine more quickly and intensely. Ultimately, the pursuit of pleasurable rewards may become a potent form of self-medication.Do people with ADHD always Hyperfixate? ›
Hyperfixation is not unique to individuals with ADHD. But almost every child and adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) knows what it feels like to become so engrossed in something — a book, a home project, a video game — that they block out the world around them for hours at a time.Is Hyperfixation autism or ADHD? ›
"Hyperfixation" describes an intense and longer-term fixation or preoccupation with a topic or interest, often to the point where it interferes with other aspects of life. Compared to hyperfocus, hyperfixation is more likely to occur in people with autism or ADHD.Can you have ADHD and not hyperfocus? ›
For example, a child might spend hours reading a book they love but struggle to focus on homework. Is hyperfocus a symptom of ADHD? Hyperfocus is not a symptom of ADHD. But kids with ADHD often experience hyperfocus, which means paying intense attention to things that interest them.Do people with ADHD tend to be obsessive? ›
Obsessing and ruminating are often part of living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). No matter how hard you try to ignore them, those negative thoughts just keep coming back, replaying themselves in an infinite loop.Do people without ADHD have hyperfocus? ›
People with ADHD aren't the only ones who have hyperfocus. Just about anyone can get lost in something that interests them. A psychologist in the early 1990s came up with a concept called flow. It's when you become fully engaged in a challenging activity you enjoy.What are the most common Hyperfixations? ›
People most commonly hyperfocus on people, places, food, TV shows, hobbies, or even their own thoughts. Sometimes compared to being “in the zone” or “in a flow state,” hyperfixation can lead your teen to become so engrossed in an activity that it limits their ability to perceive life outside of what they're doing.What are things people with ADHD are good at? ›
People living with ADHD may have a variety of skills and abilities beyond those of their neurotypical counterparts. These may include hyperfocus, resilience, creativity, conversational skills, spontaneity, and abundant energy.Does Adderall help with overthinking? ›
No, and it often makes symptoms of anxiety worse. Adderall is not an anti-anxiety medication but rather a stimulant that boosts a person's attention span, motivation and energy.
Does Adderall help with obsessive thoughts? ›
Adderall and other stimulant medications are not a first-line treatment for OCD. In some anecdotal cases, they may worsen OCD symptoms. There is also a higher risk of dependency. However, doctors commonly prescribe them for people who have both OCD and ADHD.What looks like ADHD but isn t? ›
Anxiety, depression, learning disorders, physical health, and many other conditions can cause symptoms that look like ADHD but aren't.What triggers hyperfocus? ›
Hyperfocus, broadly and anecdotally speaking, is a phenomenon that reflects one's complete absorption in a task, to a point where a person appears to completely ignore or 'tune out' everything else. It is generally reported to occur when a person is engaged in an activity that is particularly fun or interesting.How do I know if I am Neurodivergent? ›
- Struggling with reading and writing.
- Finding it hard to cope with crowds, bright lights, loud, sudden noises, or social situations.
- Difficulty with focusing or keeping still.
- No smiling or social responsiveness.
ADHD brains overflow with creativity, passion, and excitement — especially for new experiences. They seek out stimulation and then hyperfocus on the source when they find it. One end result: For adults with ADHD, hobbies often accelerate from interests into obsessions in T-minus one week.