Hyperfixation, sometimes called hyperfocus, often goes together with conditions like ADHD, anxiety, OCD, autism, and depression. However, what is the connection between hyperfixation and these problems, and is it always a bad thing?
If your teenager is hyperfocusing, it is crucial to figure out why it is happening and what you can do to assist them. To learn more about this, we talked to Lauren Disner, who is a therapist at a place called New Haven in Utah.
- What Is Hyperfixation
- Signs of Hyperfixation
- Different Types of Hyperfixation
- Hyperfixation on a person
- Hyperfixation on food
- Hyperfixation on shows
- Hyperfixation on hobbies
- Hyperfixation on thoughts
- What Makes Hyperfixation Happen
- How to End Hyperfixation
- Seek Help from an Expert
- Conclusion: Hyperfixation
What Is Hyperfixation
So, what is hyperfixation? Well, it is when your teenager gets so into something that they cannot think about anything else until they finish it or someone makes them stop. They often get super focused on things like people, places, food, TV shows, hobbies, or their own thoughts. It is like when they are really into a video game or a movie and cannot pay attention to anything else.
This hyperfixation can make them so wrapped up in what they are doing that they forget about everything else in life. They might even have trouble with their daily tasks. In that case, it is a problem. For example, if I’m a baker and I’m really into baking at work, that is fine. However, if I’m so into baking all the time that I ignore my family, that is a problem.
Signs of Hyperfixation
Hyperfixation shows up in a few ways. The most usual signs, most of which mean that it is causing problems for a teenager, are:
- Not taking care of themselves.
- Ignoring the people they care about.
- Finding it hard to connect with others.
- Getting totally absorbed in things like gaming.
- Having trouble switching their attention.
- Not being aware of what is happening socially.
They find it tough to talk about anything other than what they are hyperfocused on.
Different Types of Hyperfixation
Teens can have various types of hyperfixation, which depend on their thoughts, personality, past experiences, and other things.
Hyperfixation on a person
When a teenager gets hyperfocused on a person, it is usually because they have strong feelings, whether positive or negative. It is important to handle this focus well to have healthy relationships.
Hyperfixation on food
Hyperfixation of food means getting too focused on a particular meal or a single thing to eat, like an apple. This can be a problem if the food is not healthy or if there is not enough variety in what they eat.
Hyperfixation on shows
Lots of teens enjoy watching TV to relax, but when they get so absorbed in shows that they forget about their daily lives, it can become an issue.
Hyperfixation on hobbies
It is great for teens to have hobbies they enjoy in their free time, as long as they do not get so focused on them that they ignore their everyday tasks.
Hyperfixation on thoughts
If a teenager gets really focused on a particular thought, it can make it hard for them to focus on schoolwork, their home life, and other things they need to do.
What Makes Hyperfixation Happen
It is not easy to figure out exactly why teens get so fixated on something because there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It is different for each person.
Sometimes, it happens to people who do not react much to what they see, or they are really sensitive to sounds, or they have anxiety vision problems, find it hard to switch their attention, or have trouble planning.
However, in some cases, certain conditions can make your teenager more likely to hyperfixate on things.
People of different ages who have ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) know what it is like to hyperfocus on something. ADHD and hyperfixation often go hand in hand. People with this disorder tend to get really into activities like video games, TV shows, projects at home, or reading books, for instance.
In a recent talk with an ADHD expert named Russell Barkley, he explained, “Kids and adults with ADHD have trouble switching their attention from one thing to another. If they are doing something they enjoy or find satisfying, they will keep doing it even when others would usually move on to something else.”
Like with ADHD, hyperfixation and autism can be related. For example, Lauren Disner, who works with autistic individuals, has seen some of them get really attached to others because they think something is lacking in their lives.
She explained, “For certain people with autism spectrum disorder when they realize that someone is interested in them and wants to have a relationship with them, they can become super focused on that person or the relationship in general.”
For teenagers dealing with depression, hyperfocus can be a way to cope. When someone has depression and hyperfixates on something, it means they get really absorbed in that thing, and it helps them forget about the sadness and pain they feel in their daily life.
When it comes to hyperfixation and anxiety, it is quite similar to depression. Teens use hyperfixation to shift their attention away from what is making them anxious. It is like a temporary escape that gives them a break from their worries and fears.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves unwanted thoughts or fears about various things like germs, harm, order, superstitions, and losing loved ones. When teens with OCD hyperfixate, they intensely focus on something to block out the chaos and keep these thoughts from overwhelming their minds.
How to End Hyperfixation
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to deal with hyperfixation when it becomes a problem. How to stop hyperfixation depends on what kind of issues a teenager is dealing with.
For instance, if someone has OCD, treating hyperfixation would be different from how it is done for someone with autism or ADHD. In the case of OCD, they would talk about hyperfixation as an external issue because it is not directly related to how the brain works. Instead, it is a behaviour used to divert attention from the symptoms of OCD.
Disner mentioned that no matter what kind of mental illness or problem a person is dealing with, she helps them recognize when their hyperfixation is causing issues in their relationships and daily life. She also assists them in finding ways to fulfil their needs so they do not get stuck in hyperfocusing.
Disner shared an example of how she helped a young person who was really focused on playing chess. They figured out what was so interesting about chess and found other activities that had similar elements. For instance, they discovered that rock climbing required similar thinking and planning ahead.
Another example was doing detailed research, which involved strategic thinking. These activities were just as intriguing as chess for that person. If your teenager is struggling with hyperfixation, here are a few ideas to help them stop it if it is causing problems:
Set time limits for activities like gaming or social media: Disner suggests using visual cues like clocks or timers, which are like alarms, to help your teen know when it is time to stop one activity and move on to another.
Help your teen follow a regular schedule: Having a routine is one of the best ways to prevent hyperfixation. It keeps your teen from spending too much time on one thing and helps them move from one task to another.
Place limits on activities close to bedtime: Sleep expert Michael J. Breus recommends that teens should stop using electronic devices at least 30 to 60 minutes before bed. Using screens too close to bedtime can lead to poor sleep and tiredness the next day. It might be hard to stick to these rules, especially when everyone is tired, but it is better for your teen in the long run.
Mindfulness and meditation are like exercises for the mind. They can teach your teenager how to shift their attention away from their hyperfocus. Through these practices, they will learn how to clear their thoughts, pay attention to things like their breathing or how their body feels, and be more aware of what is happening around them.
Seek Help from an Expert
Talking to a professional like Disner, who is a therapist, can provide your teen with good advice on how to deal with hyperfixation. Therapists have special knowledge and techniques to bring about positive changes.
Even though hyperfixation can be troublesome for teenagers, Disner mentioned that it is alright to be really focused on something from time to time.
She said, “It is fine and enjoyable to hyperfocus on something you like, but only for a short time.” Parents do not need to think that hyperfixation is always bad and argue with their teens about whether they can do it. However, if it starts causing problems in their daily life, that is when parents should team up with their teen and maybe a therapist to reduce this behaviour.