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Hyperfixation, aka Hyperfocus: A Dangerous Coping Strategy

Have you ever found yourself completely lost in a task? The world around you seems to disappear and it’s just you and whatever is in front of you? While this type of focus can create the perfect environment for creativity and productivity, there is a darker side to hyperfocus, or what is known as hyperfixation.

For most people, deep focus is something they come in and out of throughout the day. However, hyperfocus (or hyperfixation) is actually a term used to describe an aspect of mental health issues.

In this article, you’ll learn what hyperfixation is, what causes it, how it shows up most often, and some tools to help manage it.

What Is Hyperfixation?

The terms hyperfixation and hyperfocus may bring to mind the “flow state” that many people yearn to achieve, where the outside world melts away as you enter a deep state of creative flow and time seems to slow down as you plow through your tasks.

However, a person experiencing hyperfixation is actually not in a flow at all, and if anything they are disconnected from themselves.

Hyperfixation is a term that’s used to describe an exaggerated interest, closer to an obsession, with a specific subject. It’s most often experienced by people with some sort of mental illness, autism, or ADHD.

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What Causes Hyperfixation?

For those that struggle with hyperfixation, the root cause is not clearly understood. What is known, however, is that hyperfixation is often a tool that people use to avoid negative feelings and emotions. By focusing all of their attention on something, it crowds out the unwanted symptoms of mental illness or uncomfortable feelings that come with ADHD and autism.

Of course, this is all happening subconsciously, as many people with hyperfixations don’t realize that they are hyperfocusing at all. And in fact, more often than not the hyperfocus diversion works— helping with short term shifts in diverting negative thoughts and feelings into more positive ones.

The Problem With Hyperfixation

If it does the job to shift negative emotions and thoughts into positive ones, what is the issue with hyperfixation?

  • Wasted time. Most people who struggle with hyperfixation don’t realize the amount of time and energy they are pouring into their subject of focus. This can lead to isolation, and hours wasted in a world where they are cut off from reality. In the worst cases, people may lose track of what’s important and things like hygiene and everyday tasks can go by the wayside.
  • Insomnia. Insomnia is a very common side effect of hyperfixation, as the subject of obsession may keep people up at night, or awaken them in the middle of night making it hard to fall back asleep.
  • Social difficulty. Other issues that are commonly seen with hyperfixation include problems connecting and socializing, as the subject of fixation takes up too much mental space to content with other people. This often leads to social isolation, loneliness, and boredom.

Hyperfixation can also become addictive, as the subject of focus turns more into an escape than a positive outlet. Taken out of their environment, it can become increasingly uncomfortable for someone with hyperfixation to function without having access to the subject of their focus.

Common Types Of Hyperfixation

Hyperfixation can show up in many different forms. Below are some of the more common types of hyperfixation that people may display.

Fixating On Shows Or Video Games

We can all relate to the feeling of crashing on the sofa and binge watching a Netflix series. However, someone with hyperfixation that’s focused on TV shows doesn’t just blow through a series in a week, they obsess about the show even when they aren’t watching. Furthermore, they’ll often rewatch episodes in between the release of seasons, and stay up late or wake up early to get their fix of the show.

They may start to feel like they are in the show, immersing themselves as much as possible in the subject of the show. Outside events and activities all pale in comparison to watching their TV show, and when that show is over they are quick to find a replacement that they can jump into.

The same goes for video games. In some instances people will stay up all night playing their game, or they might lock themselves in their bedroom and ask to be undisturbed as they enter the world of the video game they are playing. The fixation ehre isn’t just about believing in the game, but rather being in the game environment.

Fixating On A Person (real or fictional)

Another type of hyperfixation is focusing on another person. This can be anyone in your life— friends, coworkers, romantic partners, crushes, and so on. This typically shows up as fantasizing or worrying about the person and being unable to clear them from your mind.

People may also fixate on fictional characters. This is commonly seen in conjunction with fixation on TV shows or movies. In some cases, the characters become a focus for romantic interest (even though they aren’t real). In other cases, the character of fixation becomes an idol for the person, and they may start dressing, talking, or acting like the character they see on TV.

Fixating On Thoughts

While almost everyone can find themselves in a thought loop from time to time, those that struggle with hyperfixation of thoughts can find the loops to be debilitating.

The subject of the thought can be anything that comes up, but often stems from negative thoughts or worries. The hyperfocus can make people more sensitive to their thinking process, and may also make untrue thoughts or beliefs feel more real.

How To Manage Hyperfixation

Many people struggling with hyperfixation aren’t even aware of it. Therefore, the first step in managing hyperfixation is to become aware of this habit, and figure out what exactly the subject of your hyperfocus is.

From here, there are several steps you can take to try to break the hyperfocus habit.

  1. Don’t rush it. Allow yourself time to contemplate your subject of hyperfocus, without trying to push it away. If you immediately try to cut cords with the subject of your focus, it will boomerang back and you’ll just make the problem worse. By making intentional mental space for your subject you allow yourself to acknowledge that there may be an issue, and you can start coming up with a plan of action to deal with it.
  2. Create a schedule. If for instance, the subject of your focus is a TV show, video game, or character, you can create a set schedule where you are accountable to others to stop. For this to work, it is very helpful to have someone else around that will remind you or pull you away. If you have a child that tends to hyperfocus, you can be that person for them. For the rest of your day (or your childs), schedule in other activities to reduce potential downtime.
  3. Use mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques help you to stay present and grounded in the moment — which is the opposite state that you are in whole hyperfocusing. You can use mindfulness in a variety of ways, including mindfulness meditation, setting alarms on your phone to remind you to get present, and engaging in mindfulness activities where your primary goal is to stay awake and alert to the world around you. Mindfulness can also help you manage uncomfortable feelings and emotions that may emerge as you try to break free of your hyperfixation.
  4. Seek professional help. If you struggle with mental illness or ADHD, seeking professional help for your hyperfixation can make a significant difference. Everybodies brains work differently, and health professionals will know which techniques will work best for you. They may also be able to provide more information about the root cause of your hyperfixation, and help you unravel what’s going on internally.

Takeaway

Hyperfixation is often a side effect of mental illness, ADHD, or autism, and presents as a way for people to escape or avoid uncomfortable feelings and thoughts.

This type of behavior can show up in a myriad of ways, including obsessive thoughts, over engagement in video games or TV shows, or emulating characters they see or people they know. Even creative ventures which may appear to be productive can be taken over by hyperfixation, and what would be a positive outcome can become all-encompassing and debilitating.

When someone is in a state of hyperfixation, the world around them disappears and they can lose sight of their priorities, self-isolate, and slowly lose their sense of self.

Dealing with hyperfixation can be challenging, but there are tools you can use to help loosen the grip. First, you must become aware of the focus of your fixation, you can then use logical planning and mindfulness techniques to create distance and structure around the subject. In most cases, working with a professional can be very helpful for identifying the underlying root of the fixation, and unraveling the obsessive need or fixation in your life.

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