Have you ever almost missed your flight because you got so engrossed in cleaning up the house before you left? Or have you found yourself knee-deep in finishing your assignment until dawn, which made you forget all about meeting your friend for breakfast? It’s an occasional feeling that many of us can relate to. But for those of us on the autism spectrum or with ADHD, this is a frequent happening, and it’s called hyperfixation.
Hyperfixation is when you pick up a particular interest or activity and become too preoccupied with it for your own good. While our passions and interests are healthy and fulfilling, being hyperfixated on them can really hinder our daily life and well-being.
What is Hyperfixation?
Have you ever felt like the world around you faded away as you engaged in your activity of deep interest? Well, this is hyperfixation. It may also be referred to as “hyperfocus” since the activity of your focus occupies the majority of your thoughts, time, and energy.
Initially, it can be a positive experience for you as you’re learning so much and having fun doing it. But ultimately, as you get overwhelmed, you may start neglecting your work, social commitments, and even caring for yourself. Losing chunks of time and not being able to focus on other important parts of your life can result in an imbalance that may affect your overall well-being.
For instance, as a writer with ADHD, when I’m hyperfixated on work, I inadvertently delay meals or miss getting back to people. This eventually makes me feel burnt out and even lonely.
What are Hyperfixation Symptoms
As we have already established, hyperfixation makes us disconnected from our external world and other equally important responsibilities. While the symptoms may differ from person to person, here are some common signs to look out for:
- You lose track of time: Be it an hour or ten, when you come out from your activity of fixation, you have trouble recollecting where all that time went.
- You don’t notice what’s going on around you: You don’t hear people around you, you don’t remember to eat or drink water, and you don’t even notice that there’s a violent thunderstorm outside. You lose track of the world around you and focus only on your activity.
- You have an extraordinary level of concentration: You spend hours engrossed in your activity, so you’re able to make a lot of progress in your activity but not much otherwise.
- You inadvertently neglect responsibilities: You miss work deadlines or let household responsibilities slide. Hence, you end up having strained relationships and difficulties at work.
- You feel lonely or estranged from loved ones: You’re so engrossed in your activity that you often decline invitations or isolate yourself, not showing up socially.
- You feel physically exhausted: You’re not able to sleep and eat properly because of the stress and anxiety your hyperfixation gives you.
- You oscillate between interests: For instance, for a few weeks, you’re obsessed with learning about cooking, but then you’re completely over it and pick up gardening as your new all-consuming interest.
What are Causes of Hyperfixation
The causes of hyperfixation can be as varied as the people who experience it. Often, it is a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some of the potential causes include:
- Neurodiversity: If you’re on the autism spectrum or have ADHD, you may be more prone to hyperfixation because your brain processes information and experiences differently.
- Stress escape: You may be simply trying to escape from life’s stressors by coping with hyperfixating on something else that wouldn’t bother you.
- Interest and passion: You may be genuinely interested in and passionate about the specific activity. The happiness it gives you drives you to immerse yourself more deeply in it.
- Brain’s reward pathways: Engaging with the activity of your hyperfixation can trigger dopamine release, reinforcing your behaviour and creating a feedback loop. You “feel good” every time you engage in the fixation, and so you keep on engaging.
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How to Cope with Hyperfixation
You do not need to drop your special interests altogether. There are several strategies to help you cope with hyperfixation and maintain a balanced life:
- Keeping yourself in check: Be honest with yourself about how intense your hyperfixation is and how it’s affecting other areas of your life. Self-reflection is a great tool to build awareness.
- Time management and setting boundaries: Be your own best guide and establish specific time limits for indulging in your interests. This way, you can ensure a balanced allocation of time for all your other responsibilities.
- Building and seeking support: Reaching out and leaning on your friends and family can give you emotional support as well as fresh perspectives. They can even stop you from drifting too far into your fixation.
- Routine structuring: Create a well-defined daily routine for yourself to fight against all the disruptions your hyperfixation may be causing. Be sure to allocate time for work, leisure, and self-care equally.
- Mindfulness practices: The grounding effect from meditation can help you regain control over your thoughts and emotions. It can also reduce anxiety and stress.
- Therapeutic interventions: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you identify thought patterns and behaviors that do not serve you and modify them.
- Medication: If you have an underlying condition such as ADHD or OCD, your psychiatrist may prescribe medication to manage these conditions that contribute to your hyperfixation.
Must Read: Hyperfixation vs Hyperfocus
Hyperfixation is a complex phenomenon that can have both positive and negative effects on your life. You may be thrilled by the intense passion and expertise it can give you in a particular subject, but it can also disrupt your daily lives and well-being.
Losing track of time, detaching from your surroundings, and neglecting your responsibilities and loved ones are just some of the grave ramifications of hyperfixation.
Your genetic and environmental factors can cause hyperfixation. If you have ADHD or are on the autism spectrum, you may be more likely to experience it. Engaging in your fixation activity can release dopamine and make you engage in it further. Simply wanting to escape your stresses can also push you into a hyperfixation.
It is possible to balance your special interests along with your personal growth, meaningful relationships, and overall well-being.
Recognizing your hyperfixation and acknowledging how it’s affecting other areas of your life is the first step to coping with it. You can also be more mindful and set boundaries around the time you spend on your interests. A mental health professional can support you in adopting healthy coping strategies to achieve this balance.
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