ADHD hyperfocus is a state that many people with ADHD are familiar with. It’s exceptionally powerful, sometimes erratic, and can vanish as quickly as it appears. Sometimes, it can be peaceful in the sense that the rest of the world ceases to exist while your current task becomes your sole focus. That doesn’t mean it’s always a good thing, but this focused state can be highly beneficial when someone with ADHD needs to get something done.
The experience of ADHD hyperfocus can sometimes make it easy to lose track of time, sleep, and even cause you to forget to eat meals. When you’re in a highly focused state, it’s important to maintain a level of awareness about needing food, setting a timer for dinner time, and also setting a timer for bedtime.
Sometimes, states of ADHD hyperfocus can get in the way of healthy schedules or healthy routines, and other aspects of personal and romantic relationships.
However, there are some benefits of ADHD hyperfocus that we can’t deny. Let’s explore some of the positives of this exceptionally focused state that sometimes occurs for people with ADHD, but let’s start with a reminder of what the mental health condition of ADHD is all about.
What is ADHD?
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a neurodevelopmental disorder and the most common one found in children. It can be diagnosed in childhood, but it can also be diagnosed in adulthood, and tends to be a lifelong condition. While it doesn’t go away, those with ADHD learn to manage their symptoms and behaviors to make life easier for themselves.
Essentially, ADHD is an executive function deficit disorder (EFDD) which means the executive functioning (your brain’s problem-solving and organizational skills) aren’t naturally as sharp as some other people.
Executive functioning skills can be improved for those with ADHD, with the help of various types of therapy and medicines.
ADHD is often seen as restlessness and difficulty concentrating, as well as finding it hard to focus or listen to people when they are talking to you, difficulty getting along with others, and taking unnecessary risks. It is a lot more complex than much of the media makes it out to be, and much like other conditions, such as autism, the severity of ADHD is a spectrum.
What is ADHD Hyperfocus?
When people think about ADHD hyperfocus, they don’t immediately consider the idea of a person with ADHD being highly focused on activities such as knitting, video games, or fantasy league football. However, hyperfocus doesn’t have to be some wildly academic task (although it can be). Hyperfocus can be applied to anything.
The way in which we define hyperfocus is a period of intense focus on a specific task or subject that causes the person experiencing it to have the ability to completely block out the world around them, and work solely on their chosen project until the period of hyperfocus ends.
You can’t really switch ADHD hyperfocus on and off; it’s not a trait that you can control. However, there are those who have discovered what triggers them to enter a state of hyperfocus so that they can succeed at training their minds to enter it. Essentially, it allows you to set the stage for hyperfocus to begin. It might not work every time, but it increases the likelihood.
It’s not the only brain chemicals that you can essentially hack either; there are others that you can harness to help yourself feel good and bring more positive energy to your life.
What Causes ADHD Hyperfocus?
The science behind hyperfocus is not 100% confirmed, but the scientific theories about ADHD hyperfocus are strong and well-researched. Since ADHD has a dopamine deficiency as one of its main aspects, hyperfocus is thought to be strongly linked to this.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain, and it is known as the reward center in the brain. It allows you to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation - all essential to maintaining regular functionality. When you achieve something and feel good, that’s the dopamine in your brain.
It is one of several neurotransmitters that make us feel good, and it often pairs with the love hormone oxytocin.
Hyperfocus tends to lead to a dopamine high, that good feeling because you are doing something that feels rewarding. This is why it can become so intense and difficult to break out of.
How Can Hyperfocus be Beneficial to Those with ADHD?
Hyperfocus definitely has the power to be beneficial to those who have ADHD. Sometimes, it can be the greatest gift we’ve been given. It could allow us to get an exceptional amount of work done in a very short period of time, all without lowering the quality of the finished result.
States of hyperfocus can be beneficial to adults and children, and studies have backed this time and time again. It can be a great way for children to get through piles of homework or adults to finally finish the stack of paperwork that has been building up, or the writing assignment with a looming deadline.
Being able to fully devote your attention to improving a skill or knowledge-based interest also means that hours of focused and dedicated effort tend to pay off tenfold.
Essentially, ADHD hyperfocus can beautifully counter the procrastination tendencies that so many people with ADHD struggle with - making up for hours of time spent putting off important tasks.
The fact that ADHD hyperfocus can also apply to one’s focus on relationships has pros and cons as well. While the dangers of such attachment or being overly focused on a person are evident, it can also lead to deep friendships that last a lifetime, as well as vibrant romances that sweep you off your feet.
What are the Downsides to Hyperfocus?
Of course, there are downsides to ADHD hyperfocus. This experience has some negatives for those who go through it, as well as negatives for the people around them. As we mentioned before, states of ADHD hyperfocus can prevent people from taking care of their physical needs, such as eating, sleeping, and showering.
Similarly, the level of focus gained can make it very easy to lose sight of the big picture - leading you to intensely focus on small aspects of the task at hand until the whole thing becomes overwhelming, stressful, and eventually abandoned.
It can be stressful for those who live with someone going through ADHD hyperfocus as well. Trying to gain their attention can be exceptionally difficult, and pulling them out of hyperfocus for a conversation or to ask for assistance with general chores and tasks around the house is often impossible. As a result, it can be exhausting for both sides to deal with.
Is ADHD a Genetic Condition, or Environmental?
For a long time, it was believed that ADHD was purely caused by environmental factors. While evidence shows that your environment can play a part in the development of ADHD, recent studies have revealed that there is a genetic link to ADHD (just like there are genetic factors that can cause autism and other mental health conditions).
If you’re curious to find out if you have a genetic predisposition for ADHD, CirceDNA has a very comprehensive at-home DNA test that can help you to discover if you have a higher risk of this and other conditions based on your genetic makeup. There is so much you could discover about yourself, and it’s worth looking at your DNA to learn more about yourself.
ADHD hyperfocus is often referred to as ‘the ADHD superpower’. As someone who has ADHD and experiences ADHD hyperfocus, there are times when I can definitely agree with that statement, as the ability to hyperfocus can be massively beneficial - especially when getting through stacks of work.
While it is not always a good thing, and there are certainly struggles that come with it, hyperfocus can be a great asset to have, and it has helped to open up ADHD to further scientific study so that we can learn more about how one’s brain works when they have ADHD.
If you think you might have ADHD, it’s best to go through the lengthy process of getting a formal diagnosis. Some people mistake ADHD for other conditions when they’re attempting to self-diagnose, so self-diagnosis is never recommended.
- Health Direct Australia, Dopamine:https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/dopamine
- NCBI, Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2626918/
- CDC, What is ADHD?:https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html
- NCBI, An Overview on the Genetics of ADHD:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2854824/
- NCBI, Hyperfocus: the forgotten frontier of attention:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7851038/
- Frontiers Journal (Kids), Hyperfocus: The ADHD Superpower: https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2021.625433