Lost in Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus is an intense form of mental concentration or visualization that focuses an individual’s consciousness on a particular subject or task. It is often a symptom of ADHD and is characterized by very long periods of highly focused attention on something that meets a person’s interests – e.g., work, hobbies, or other activities.

In many respects, it seems to be the exact opposite of the symptoms people usually associate with ADHD, such as hyperactivity and inattention. In fact,the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) does not list hyperfocus among its diagnostic criteria for ADHD.

Hyperfocus is not a sustainable state that can be summoned up on demand. Someone in a state of hyperfocus can suddenly lose interest in what they have been focusing on.  It is both a blessing and a curse. Hyperfocus can help an ADHD individual overcome challenges and achieve success as many ADHD athletes, artists and entrepreneurs have attested. But it can also pull the individual into a trance-like “rabbit hole” where they lose a sense of time and priority.

There are strategies you can follow to help manage the impacts of hyperfocus if you are an adult with ADHD:

  • Stay on top of what’s important – Set timers and reminders to help complete all essential tasks, activities, or chores.
  • Break up activities – Set priorities and achieve them step by step. This prevents focusing on one activity for too long.
  • Make friends and family aware – Talk with them about your hyperfocus. Explain that it is part of your ADHD and that you can’t turn it on and off at will. Assure them your focus on things other than them isn’t a reflection of your interest in or caring for them.
  • Get help to stay connected – Try asking people to call or email at specific times to help break up intense periods of focus.
  • Stay on your ADHD medications – This may also help relieve hyperfocus, as well as other symptoms.

Hyperfocus can be one of those “gifts of ADHD” that can lead to quite extraordinary accomplishments. It can also lead to wasted time and social disconnection if you don’t set up a strategy to help you manage it. By anticipating the impacts of your hyperfocus and using such a strategy, you can reap its benefits and avoid its disadvantages.

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