What is hyperfixation? Symptoms, causes, and how it can be managed

Hyperfixation is a unique state of mind, which, while often linked to conditions like ADHD, doesn’t always indicate a mental health condition. Hyperfixation involves an intense and prolonged focus on a specific interest, something that many individuals with and without conditions like ADHD may experience.

This article explores the nuances of hyperfixation, examining its manifestations, underlying causes, and the broader impact it has on individuals and our understanding of attention and passion.

What Exactly Is Hyperfixation?

A hyperfixation can be an object, person, place, or thing (abstract or real) that someone spends a lot of time devoted to understanding, exploring, and learning about. A hyperfixation can:

  • Be more than an interest; a hyperfixation is something that takes up a significant amount of time in someone’s day and is something that they are consistently interested in and thinking about. 
  • Remain the same for days, weeks, months, and even years. 
  • Never end, as someone can never seem to know enough, or understand enough a

Another key identifying factor of hyperfixation is to spend not only a lot of one’s time but a disproportionate amount of one’s time and attention, perhaps to the point of disrupting their ability to function. 

What Is an Example of Hyperfixation?

Hyperfixations can range widely and are often congruent with someone’s personality and personal preferences. Hyperfixations in current popular culture can be fans of famous singers; such as Taylor Swift’s fans, Swifties. 

Swifties might spend countless hours and days learning statistics about their famous singer, down to her birthday, the names of her cats, and the name of her high school. Other examples of hyperfixations can be seen in romantic relationships through the form of co-dependency (though this does have other contributing factors as well), research on current political events, or only consuming one source of news media, as an example (only watching FOX News or CNN).

Is It Normal to Hyperfixate?

Yes, it is normal to hyperfixate. Many of us have our own firsthand experiences with hyperfixation; think about your first celebrity crush or your favorite subject in school. When a hyperfixation becomes disruptive, it becomes obsessive and persistent, and the individual or others may notice that this hyperfixation consumes excessive amounts of thoughts, time, and energy. 

Most of us tend to hyperfixate on things (people, places, things, etc.) that are interesting to us—this is normal and helps us to develop interests and to learn! It’s important to understand that a hyperfixation differs from an “interest.”  

If someone is only interested in something, usually they can easily put it down and come back to it, whereas a hyperfixation tends to demonstrate a lot more rigidity and is less likely to be easily “walked away from.”

What Is the Difference Between a Special Interest and a Hyperfixation?

A special interest and a hyperfixation can share a lot of commonalities; however, there are some key differences. Primarily, a hyperfixation contains an urgency, a necessity to be constantly immersed in it that a special interest does not necessarily have. 

A special interest is something that does not necessarily trigger an anxiety response or a compulsion to engage in it and with it constantly. A special interest is something that you learn about or engage with continually, gradually over time, whereas hyperfixations tend to involve ‘frontloading’ a lot of information about a new topic in a short period without any breaks in the consumption of information and stimuli related to that topic/person/place/thing.

What Is Hyperfixation a Symptom of? 

Hyperfixations are not necessarily symptoms of a mental health condition or disorder. However, they are prevalent in a few mental illnesses.

For example: 

  • Those with ADHD tend to exhibit hyperfixations and these tend to be a large reason that they have difficulty managing their time and schedules effectively. 
  • Generalized anxiety disorder and OCD may present anxiety-related symptoms of hyperfixations 
  • Trauma and stressor-related disorders such as PTSD and those who have survived abuse may hyperfixate, as well

Can You Have a Hyperfixation Without Having ADHD?

Yes absolutely! As described above, hyperfixation can also be a symptom of anxiety-related disorders like generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Hyperfixations can also be present in trauma and stressor-related disorders such as PTSD and those who have survived abuse. 

Do Neurotypicals Experience Hyperfixation?

Yes, both neurotypical and neurodivergent people experience hyperfixation. It’s a unifying experience across humanity.

While those with neurotypical brains might demonstrate different thinking patterns and trends than those with neurodivergent brains, they can still experience difficulty managing and regulating their experienced thought patterns when experiencing hyperfixation. 

Neurotypical people can also share and experience similar hyperfixations that neurodivergent individuals experience as well. A hyperfixation for someone who is neurotypical might not be “as intense” of an experience as it ‘might’ be for someone who is neurodivergent, due to the sensory regulation differences often seen between the two.

Is Hyperfixation Neurodivergent? 

Typically, neurodivergent individuals tend to experience hyperfixations frequently and at a higher rate than those who are neurotypical. While this has many factors that contribute, one of the many contributing factors involves sensory regulation differences between the two. 

Is Hyperfixation a Symptom of Autism?

Hyperfixation is not a specific diagnostic criterion as specified in the DSM 5. Still, it can fall under the category of social impairment that is used to diagnose individuals with autism. Often, individuals with autism will find themselves engaging in what appears to be a special interest to them but often appears as a hyperfixation to neurotypical people/others. 

This hyperfixation often causes impairments in social interaction because it does not typically offer opportunities for social interaction and reciprocity within conversations and general social interactions. 

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How Do You Break a Hyperfixation?

One of the best ways to break a hyperfixation is to seek professional counseling services, where you can receive professional help and support as well as evidence-based coping strategies. Outside of therapy, however, using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness strategies and skills, someone can learn to break and slow down the hyperfixation thought processing. 

Using cognitive restructuring, you can follow this simple formula to help you break hyperfixations: 

1.) Identify the thought 

2.) Check for factual information 

3.) Replace the false thoughts with factual information

Recalling the Swiftie example referenced above, no amount of knowledge about Taylor Swift will make her “notice you”, and is taking up a lot of your time. Lastly, a popular mindfulness coping strategy is to use your senses to regulate if you notice that you’re going “down the rabbit hole” of a hyperfixation. 

Focus on: 

1.) What can you see

2.) What can you feel 

3.) Trying to name 3 things that are blue in your current environment

These steps may seem simple but are evidence-based tools that have been shown to help people slow down and redirect harmful thought patterns—states of mind that won’t help them achieve better overall well-being. 

Table of contents

What Exactly Is Hyperfixation?

What Is an Example of Hyperfixation?

Is It Normal to Hyperfixate?

What Is the Difference Between a Special Interest and a Hyperfixation?

Do Neurotypicals Experience Hyperfixation?

Is Hyperfixation a Symptom of Autism?

How Do You Break a Hyperfixation?

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  • Ashinoff, B. K., & Abu‐Akel, A. (2019). Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention. Psychological Research, 85(1), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00426-019-01245-8

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