Is Hyperfixation a symptom of anxiety? What are the signs and symptoms?
In different ways, we have hyperfixated type behaviour in a number of conditions. They may look similar on the surface, but when we delve deeper we see that each condition has a hyperfocus behaviour which is different.
Differentiating them is important because they can’t all be treated as if they were the same thing.
We see preoccupations in anxiety, special interests in autism, obsessions in OCD, but hyperfixation is more often associated with symptoms of ADHD and the ADHD brain. In the end, whatever we call them, these problems in peoples’ daily lives can have real negative consequences and can disrupt important tasks the hyperfocused person should be doing, impair their social skills and destroy their quality of life.
(For the record, I do not consider preoccupations in rare and serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or other mood disorders to be hyperfixations.)
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Can people with anxiety have a hyperfixation?
Hyperfixation in its Classic Sense is not a symptom of anxiety. You won’t find it on the diagnostic questionnaires like GAD-7. But, people with anxiety can have symptoms which they would mistake for hyperfixation.
People suffering from anxiety disorders may become hyper-focused on a threat or a thought associated with a threat. They will become terrified of certain phobic things like spiders, rats, bridges, or heart attacks to the point where they obsess over them and it’s on their mind all the time., but that is not traditionally what is meant by “hyperfixation.”
I may be accused of splitting hairs here, but this kind of anxious preoccupation and psychogenic rumination is not the same as the classic hyperfixation of someone who is focused on a video game to the exclusion of everything else in life, including washing, sleeping and eating.
Is It Normal To Have A Hyperfixation?
No, it is not most peoples’ experience to have a hyperfixation. We may have a fixation (meaning a strong interest) on a hobby or a person, or anything else really, but it’s only a hyperfixation when it occupies huge amounts of our daily life and interferes with necessary tasks.
Can People With OCD have a Hyperfixation?
No, not from OCD alone. People with obsessive compulsive disorder can also become obsessed with repetitive negative thoughts, rituals and behaviours, but that is not classic hyperfixation either. This is what is described as the obsessive nature of OCD.
They are often compelled to do certain things, but these compulsions are rarely pleasurable and people can move on from them. Again it may seem like splitting hairs, but this is the obsession and compulsion part of obsessive-compulsive disorder rather than a hyperfixation.
Can People with Autism Have A Hyperfixation?
No. People with autism spectrum disorder often do have intense interests in a particular subject and they will spend lots of time engaged with them. But we wouldn’t call this a hyperfixation, instead we know it as the ‘special’ interest.
Autistic people often develop a ‘special interest’ which is an obsessive fixation on certain items.
This might be a certain Disney Character, or dinosaurs, or World Wrestling Federation or trains. But this intense passion is not what is meant generally by hyperfixating: this is known as the ‘special interest’.
However, hyperfocus on a special interest subject in someone with autism can cause many of the same problems as hyperfixation and wreak havoc on social skill development.
Generally, hyperfixation is more associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Though ADHD is known for symptoms of inattentiveness and distraction, paradoxically, someone with ADHD can enter periods of hyperfocus where they are fixated on a specific task and not usually what their family think is a productive one.
This kind of hyperfixation can be defined as an obsession with a particular topic or subject to the exclusion of all others. For some people, this obsession may lead to severe problems, such as addiction or hyperfocus. So what are the signs and symptoms of hyperfixation? Is it a mental illness, and how can you deal with it if you find yourself suffering from it? Read on to find out!
What Mental Illness Causes Fixation?
Hyperfixation is most associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Though not everyone who has ADHD has a tendency to hyperfixate, and it is not necessary to have a hyperfixation to get diagnosed with ADHD.
Also, I would take issue with whether ADHD is a disorder. I see it describing a neurodivergent person rather than someone suffering a disorder.
See this article here:
Hyperfixation is a term used to describe the tendency for people to fixate on one specific object or idea. The classic modern example is of the teen who is hyperfixated on a video game or hobbies that they pursue with intense focus that leads them to forget daily life and the avoidance of the essential tasks of everyday life.
It is generally seen as a bad thing and because of that gets blamed on different mental disorders and is placed within the realm of psychiatry.
On the other hand, other people experience their hyperfixation as a flow state where they are totally absorbed whatever they are doing and are not aware of outside distractions. The author James Clear in his book Atomic Habits. He says
This blend of happiness and peak performance is sometimes referred to as flow, which is what athletes and performers experience when they are “in the zone.” Flow is the mental state you experience when you are so focused on the task at hand that the rest of the world fades away.
I suspect the subject of the hyperfocus is what’s important.
You don’t mind your teen hyperfixating on school work, getting reports written, or even being involved in more creative hobbies. But when the hyperfocus is on something seen as not an essential task or productive and instead is seen as a binge on something wasteful or trivial it can become a problem.
Examples of Hyperfixation
- Obsessing On Your favourite video games.
- Putting all of your time and energy into a hobby.
- Evenings and days are wasted on social media.
- Binge-watch a particular show or TV series you really like.
Hyperfixation and Neurodiversity
Neurodiversity refers to different people have cognitive styles. They are still thought of in many circles as mental health disorders but the truth is that they are just different abilities. People with ASD are very good at routines and detail — they don’t miss things. They bring depth to whatever they do.
People with ADHD are quick thinkers, can make quick decisions, and ideas come to them creatively.
You see that, far from being mental health disorders, ASD and ADHD are just different skill sets. Neurodiverse people like this bring valuable skills to society. More enlightened people speak of neurodiversity rather than disorder, and believe you can be different without being disabled, and to call these groups “disordered” is to be prejudiced from a majority viewpoint rather than valuing them for their differences. I am even uncomfortable with referring to neurotypical people and neurodivergent people as it suggests the divergent are odd.
They are not. You could consider your ADHD or your ASD as your superpower.
WHEN DOES INTEREST TURN INTO OBSESSION?
But after setting out the advantages of different cognitive styles, we must acknowledge that hyperfixation can be a social disruptor and lead to problems in the long run when people neglect their everyday tasks
The consequences of hyperfixation can be serious, particularly if it persists over time. It can lead to problems such as social withdrawal and difficulty concentrating on tasks at hand. In extreme cases, individuals may even develop mental health issues such as depression or addiction due to their fixation on one subject matter and the fact that the rest of their life: relationships, education, work and other responsibilities have been neglected.
What’s The Difference Between Hyperfixation and Addiction?
Hyperfixation is a term used to describe the excessive focus on one topic or thing. Some of the signs and symptoms of hyperfixation include spending too much time on websites, checking Facebook multiple times per day, and fixating on specific objects or ideas.
It is very probable that the dopamine system is involved in this hyperfixation which causes people to return to it time and again just as if they were addicted to gambling or shopping.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it might be worth seeking out help from a therapist or counselor.
Try reading a book instead of obsessively checking social media. Take a break every now and then, and focus on things that make you happy and make you feel good. Who knows, maybe hyperfixation is just a symptom of something else that needs to be addressed!
What’s The Difference Between Hyperfocus and Hyperfixation?
Everyone has moments where they get lost in their thoughts, but for some people, it can become a problem. Hyperfixation is a term used to describe when someone is so focused on something that they lose sight of the outside world. Hyperfocus occurs when someone becomes so absorbed in an activity that they don’t notice their surroundings or how tired they are. If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of hyperfixation, it’s important to talk to your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.
When does hyperfixation become harmful?
Hyperfixation can easily become a harmful habit if it’s not addressed and uncontrolled. Some signs that hyperfixation might be a problem include experiencing anxiety consistently, withdrawing from social situations, and having trouble concentrating. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or someone you know, it’s important to seek out counseling or therapy to address the issue head-on! It’s important to be mindful of the dangers of hyperfixation and take steps to address it as soon as possible. With the help of a professional, you can start to break the cycle of hyperfixation and improve your mental health in the process.
Is Hyperfixation A Coping Mechanism?
Yes, but only if coping means avoiding your responsibilities. I know you may be avoiding your responsibilities because you’re anxious about them. I am not without sympathy, but don’t use hyperfixation as a coping mechanism. Instead, seek help for your anxiety so that you can calm that and get on with whatever useful thing the world has put you here to do.
What are Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental health disorder and they have different focuses or flavors such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder or panic disorder or social phobia or health anxiety. You can have severe anxiety with physical symptoms or less severe. Anxiety symptoms include restlessness, muscle tension, difficulty concentrating, and fearfulness. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s time to take a step back and assess if you might have an anxiety disorder. There is no shame in seeking help, and the DSM-5 Checklist for Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) can help you in making that assessment. In the meantime, keep practicing your breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises, and self-compassion practices to help you manage your anxiety in a healthy way.
Explaining ADHD Hyperfixation
ADHD is a disorder that is characterised by hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Hyperfixation is a common symptom of ADHD, and it refers to an excessive focus on one thing. There are many theories about the root cause of ADHD which include childhood traumas or delayed development of the frontal lobe or not enough dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. We don’t know if one of these is right or many.
This can lead to problems in school, at work, and with social interactions. The signs and symptoms of hyperfixation include being overly focused on one object or activity, losing track of time, having trouble switching gears, feeling overwhelmed by stimuli, and spending too much time on the Internet or in video games. If you think your child might be suffering from hyperfixation, it’s important to talk to them about how to deal with the condition. There are various ways to do this, such as setting time limits for how much time they can spend on one activity, providing distraction options, or setting specific goals for the day. By talking to your child about hyperfixation and helping them manage it, you can help them to lead a more fulfilling and productive life.
Hyperfixation Is Not New
Over the past decade or so, hyperfixation has typically focused on video games or an obsession with social media, but a generation ago the hyperfixating would have been about a particular TV show or a certain fictional character a TV show.
Either that or certain hobbies became the most important things in a young hyperfocused person person’s life to the extent of them driving out all other activities, even sleeping.
It’s not new, but perhaps new technology has made it easier to become hyperfixated.
7 Tips To Help With Hyperfixation
1. Treat Your ADHD
There is evidence to show that treatment with medication such as methylphenidate or lisdexamfetamine can help people with ADHD become more focused, less distracted, do less procrastinating and become more productive.
Speak to your doctor to get an expert opinion about this
2. Treat any Co-morbid Mental Health Conditions
It may be that you have social anxiety or agoraphobia and your hyperfixation on video games (let’s say) has a useful purpose in helping you avoid anxious situations.
But this is no solution, and you should try to pull yourself away from the dominating activity. It’s important to get any underlying mental health conditions. It’s maybe easier to stay doing what you’re doing and avoid change, but change will come one day whether you like it or not, so get yourself fit and ready for it by becoming mentally well.
3. Get Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT has become the go-to therapy for nearly all mental health conditions because it has a strong evidence based. It suits people who can think analytically and analyse their behaviours into thoughts and feelings and see how one leads to another and question what actual evidence there is for unhelpful beliefs.
It may be able to help with your fixation, but it will certainly be useful for any anxiety or depression you might have as well
4. Get Exercise
Simple and obvious: physical exercise, particularly of the sort that takes you out of your bedroom, is very helpful for mood and life in general. Add this to getting good quality sleep by setting times to stop what you’re fixated on, and eating quality healthy food instead of snacking on high-carb, high-sugar, high-salt treats with no real nutrients, and you are going to feel a lot happier and healthier.
5. Make plans for new things to do.
Plan new things to do is one way to deal with hyperfixation. This can give you a much-needed change of scene, company and activity
6. Keep in touch with your friends and family members
People need people to be happy. Nurture relationships with people who care for you and who boost your self-esteem and who you just like being around.
Online communities are great and you can make good friends there, so why don’t you organise a meet-up?
7. Try Mindfulness and Other Kinds Of Meditation
The purpose of meditation is to find enlightenment and discover your true nature and purpose in the universe.
Once you start getting into big things like this and see results in terms of calm and happiness, you might find all the other unhealthy stuff just becomes less compelling.
Mediation is great, just don’t get hyperfixated on it.
7. Learn Time Management
Placing time limits on yourself can help if you find yourself getting lost in a hyperfixation. This helps so you to enjoy your hobby without letting it take over your entire life
You probably know that you should be doing other things in order to get the most out of life, but time just runs away with you and the next time you look, it’s 3 am, so you might as well go on until 6 am and then sleep until 3 pm and then start again on your hyperfixated obsession.
You may have been living like this for a long time. It’s such a waste.
Set deadlines. Put an alarm on your clock. Wake up at 7 am, get up by 8 am. Go to bed by 10pm. You will be a better, happier, more useful person.
And that’s what this is all about. If you were hyperfixated on building your business or serving your community or helping the environment, everyone would be saying how great you were.
The problem is that you are hyperfixated on something that produces no good for the world.
Sorry, but it’s true. Switch your efforts to something productive and no one will complain.
Hyperfixation is a term used to describe the excessive focus on a particular topic or activity. It can be characterized as an addiction-like behavior, as individuals tend to become fixated on the topic in question to the exclusion of all else. While Hyperfixation can be a symptom of anxiety, it is not always the case. If you are struggling with Hyperfixation, it is important to get professional help with your doctor to determine the best way to deal with the problem.
Though we can see hyperfixation like behaviour in OCD, Anxiety, ADHD and ASD, we see that the type of hyperfixation is different in each condition.
I would refer you back to the tips above. Try one, try three, or try them all. One will work if you really, sincerely set out to fix it.
If you just say you are trying to keep others off your back, then they won’t
Reach out to mental health professionals. Read research articles. You can fix this hyperfixation. I believe in you.