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  • Writer's picturePetra

A Spotlight on Hyperfocus

A popular misconception about ADHD is that affected people can't focus, but it's actually more complex than that. Hyperfocus falls within the inattentive symptoms of ADHD. Attentional issues in ADHD are about reduced control of attention, not that attention does not occur. Attention can occur anywhere from not at all, to intensely and unhelpfully.

During hyperfocus, individuals with ADHD can become so engrossed in a task or activity that they lose track of time and their surroundings, and are able to block out distractions that would normally be perceived as important or attention-grabbing. This can lead to a sense of being "in the zone," where the individual feels a high level of productivity, creativity, and satisfaction. Hyperfocus can be triggered by activities that are stimulating, interesting, or challenging to the individual, and can occur in a variety of contexts, such as work, school, hobbies, or social interactions. People without ADHD can also experience hyperfocus periods.

While hyperfocus can be a positive experience for individuals with ADHD, it can also have negative consequences, particularly when it interferes with other important tasks or

responsibilities. For example, a student may hyperfocus on a particular subject to the exclusion of other subjects or assignments, leading to a decrease in grades overall. Additionally, hyperfocus can lead to difficulties transitioning between tasks or activities. This can be very evident in children with ADHD, who benefit from repeated reminders that an activity will be ending soon to aid the transition and reduce anger or emotional distress.

I have met a few clients who say they don't experience hyperfocus, but most of the people with ADHD I see do. People generally do not get to choose when they hyperfocus, but for some people, it happens reliably and often in a work situation. This means they can fairly reliably get a lot of work done, but it can have negative consequences, such as increasing fatigue after a period of hyperfocus, and increasing the risk of burnout.

To me, it seems that few people with ADHD can choose when to hyperfocus reliably in a way that is overwhelmingly positive. Usually, there is a price to pay even when falling into a hyperfocus state is reliable and mostly useful. More than one client has told me that they risk slipping into a hyperfocus state when they are engaged in a task when their medication wears off, which is often in the evening and can contribute to sleep procrastination and a delayed sleep phase.

Stimulant medication can reduce the negative toll of hyperfocus by allowing it to become more permeable to environmental and internal cues. A person may become more aware that they are in a hyperfocus state and can choose to either continue or use some strategies to disengage and re-evaluate where they want to put their attention. This increased flexibility can help to avoid some of the pitfalls of hyperfocus, like forgetting to eat, drink or go to the toilet, or spending too long on one part of a project to the detriment of the remainder. It may also help to avoid hyperfocus states that lead to chronic overwork and eventual burnout.

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