How do you "break" your hyperfocus wh... - CHADD's Adult ADH...

CHADD's Adult ADHD Support

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How do you "break" your hyperfocus when you need to do other tasks?

BreeMary profile image

Hi everyone! I am new to this site - this is such a cool idea for a support group for people with ADHD. I was recently diagnosed but have been struggling with symptoms since I can remember. I am a 29 year old female, and I have read that females go wildly undiagnosed and usually end up with depression or anxiety diagnoses (i have had both over the years). I have been taking effexor for a while now but knew there was something else going on that the medication wasn't helping with. My anxiety was under control, but i was still constantly overwhelmed, highly emotional and would lose things/ distracted/hyperfocus like crazy on certain things.

I have recently started taking Vyvanse (just over a month) and i can say it is helping with alot of these symptoms. However, yesterday was a REALLY bad day for hyperfocus and I could not break out of it. I struggled to focus on work, and ended up focusing on some other art projects I was working on. I guess my question with this is - how do you guys help yourself to "break" your hyperfocus when you need it (aka to work, EAT lol, sleep etc)?

I find my medication usually works with this but yesterday was a particularly bad day.

19 Replies

The easy and not very satisfactory answer would be to set a timer. Allow yourself to hyperfocus for a set period of time, and no longer.

I prefer to set goals. What are you hyperfocussing on? Is it something you're likely to finish in a reasonable amount of time? If so, your goal is to finish the task, and no more hyperfocus after it's done. If it's an ongoing project that you won't complete today, set a milestone, like 'I will read 50 pages of this book'; thats your goal, amd no more hyperfocus after that. I find that satisfying, because you feel like you've achieved something. And hyperfocus, for me, is about a drive to get something done.

Remember self-compassion. Your hyperfocus is an ally and colleague. Sometimes they're annoying and distracting, inwhich case you compromise with them. Don't try to banish them from your life.

BreeMary profile image
BreeMary in reply to MTA-

Thank you for this suggestion! For me it’s more of my hobbies or creativity. When that starts going it’s like I could go forever and don’t realize it’s been 3 hours and I haven’t had dinner for example. I’m enthralled in doing my creative makeups and making fabrication or costuming. But it can also be things like phone games, social media or even researching certain topics I enjoy. If I love it I hyper focus. In the moment it’s awesome cause I love what I’m doing but then everything else that may need to get done doesn’t.

I’ll try the timer approach tho! For makeup it would be until I finish and take photos - so instead of continueing to do another look I can focus on just stopping after one. I think the goal is different depending on what I’m doing.

I relate to your post a lot. I was diagnosed a couple of years ago and only a few months ago found a medication that actually works. There will be good and bad days in regards to your ADHD and hyperfocus, just like good and bad days in regards to your mood.

Maybe set a reminder on your phone for different times throughout the day to remind you to focus on what you need to. What has helped me is to "gameify" different tasks. Like once I get this done I will give myself a reward or remind yourself how good it feels whenever you do complete a task.

Take it one day at a time and do not be too hard on yourself.

Thank you for the support and feedback! Good to know I’m not alone and like the comparison to mood!

That's probably the main reason I'm here. I've been given the "use the timers on your phone" answer for years, now, and I've probably tried every reminder app out there. Until someone writes and app that SPEAKS what I'm supposed to do, at a certain time, I will simply continue to tune out the reminder alerts, just like I tune out everything else! So I'm still looking for answers to this. (Not yet formally diagnosed, so I haven't been able to see if meds will help with this.)

I also occasionally have the opposite problem, where I tell myself, "Now you're going to sit down and attack that task that you've had on your list for xxx years." I sit down and IMMEDIATELY get distracted by something else.

BreeMary profile image
BreeMary in reply to Best_me

Hey! I feel your struggle. I get like that too with tasks I don’t give an f about. It’s like literally nails down a chalkboard feeling but in my whole body and then I just don’t do it and then brain just wanders then the guilt sets in . Medication has been the ONLY thing to help get me out of that funk but I still have days - obviously since I posted this

mswatsox profile image
mswatsox in reply to Best_me

The timer on my phone DOES speak whatever I write in the title of the alarm I set. I am an android user.

Best_me profile image
Best_me in reply to mswatsox

I’m thinking of making the switch. Is it an app that you use, or a “built in” timer?

mswatsox profile image
mswatsox in reply to Best_me

Its just the clock app that came with my phone. In name section, write what u want it to say. Click on alarm sound, then on ringtone. Scroll down to the bottom & choose "read time & alarm name out loud".

clock app
mswatsox profile image
mswatsox in reply to mswatsox

Not sure why this reviewer says you can only run one timer at a time because I have around 8-10 running at a time every day.

I use timers as well, but more than that ... I try ANYTHING that will disrupt the hyperfocus ... See if you can go for a walk ... the hyperfocus is such a zone, can be so sweet to be in that zone of not worrying about problems and the rest of life and just focusing on a task we're doing (even if that task isn't urgent or that important).

Going for a walk helps me come out of the zone ... exercising as well ... once my body is moving, my brain can let up some ...

Procrastination is involved in this issue as well ... sometimes when I'm in hyperfocus, I'm procrastinating on starting other tasks that are more urgent or more important. In that case over time, I've learned to do the "let me just do 5 minutes" on the important task move.

I just start the important task for five minutes. I also give myself time to just orient to the task I'm avoiding. Like, just look at the email with the task ... or just spend five minutes THINKING about the task ... or skimming it ... So I guess as I think about it, I approach the task I "should" be doing WITHOUT the expectation of immediate hyperfocus ...

You have come to the dilemma or the challenge of various medications. All of them have strengths and weaknesses ... or they interact with our strengths and weaknesses. So I learned from others in ADHD discussion that you have to figure out what the med is doing to help you ... but there is always a part that WE must do ...

Your task here it seems is to experiment with pulling yourself out of hyperfocus. Also, double check your dose ... sometimes lowering the dose gives us the additional focus we want without the unrelenting hyperfocus ...

I had to get off Adderall the first time I used it because I could not get off the internet. Ritalin was much better for me ... Later I tried out Vyvanse and Adderall again, and Adderall did not have the same hyperfocus effect. So keep an open mind. Our bodies sometimes naturally make an adjustment ...

Yes thank you! That’s good advice. I know meds won’t cure all, they can’t. And a lot of it has to come from me. I do notice they help with not being as overwhelmed with daily tasks and they do help with distraction in everyday situations. But once I’m in hyper focus mode on my passions it’s super hard to break it, meds or not. But I’m going to try all these tips! Thanks

I use a 3 stage timer with visual & audio cues. When it goes off, I make myself walk away, get some water or do something to help me transition and I also use self talk. "Good job on that, now let's crush xyz!" If I am having a super hard time with it, I may do a few jumping jacks, or run in place, or run up & down stairs. Those help re-set me. I then use my timer to ger started, telling myself I will do 30 minutes of xyz and after, I can go back to whatever I was doing before.

Hope that helps:-)

BreeMary profile image
BreeMary in reply to mswatsox

Yes thank you!

One thing that is key for ADHD is to stay with progress, even small progress. After we get diagnosed we so want to get past the handicaps of the condition and live a more relaxed and full life ... and we can expect the treatment will fix everything.

Actually we have to do lots of slow work that steadily makes progress. I remember starting to use a planner when I had ADHD. I have NO IDEA how the heck I kept track of appointments without a planner? I was relying on memory--using way too much energy.

Anyway, I started a planner ... kept it for 8 months ... and then stopped ... Well maybe a few months later, I resumed keeping a planner with the thought, "hey if I can keep it for 8 months, then I can keep it going for a year."

New habits take time to build, with or without ADHD ... and one thing I've noticed is if I'm ignoring small progress, I undermine myself. Took me three years to use a Waterpik flosser every day ... I started, stopped ... restarted ... stopped ... But I knew the habit would take time.

On hyperfocus:

I used to get parking tickets not because I forgot that my meter was running out of time, but because I could not get myself to stop the work I was doing at the moment.

I was in that hyperfocus and it was painful (unfair!) to have to stop. In that moment, I preferred to get a ticket over stopping. Well later I figured out ... that I needed to do the equivalent of using a snooze button ... Let's say my meter was expiring at 3:30 p.m. ... I can't just have one timer at 3:20 that will prompt me to get up. I need a timer to go off at 3:05 p.m. ... and maybe 3:15 ... and then again at 3:20 ... and those multiple timers would gradually allow me to get ready to stop to go refill the parking meter.

I remember reading that ADHD isn't just that we have problems "paying attention." What is also the problem is we can't control our attention or shift it as we need to.

Yes!! Thank you for that! I’ve been trying these strategies this week and they’re somewhat helping. Trying to be patient with myself and have some self compassion with this 🖤

BTW: just a couple of days ago, I was involved in some job work ... and I had other stuff to do ... but you know what? ... I felt focused on that job work so I gave myself permission to just continue with it ... and that turned out ok. The competing work ... I turned to it the next day ... and that turned out fine ... I get that this isn't always the case ...

But yeah, sometimes when I'm in hyperfocus on something, especially job stuff, I'll keep going--especially if I habit of procrastinating on the job stuff ...

Thanks for that! Today and this week is a huge struggle but I’m trying to be kind to myself to say hey look you ignored your 6-8 vibrations in your phone and continued on your work for a bit. Usually I’d look at my notifications and then be on my phone for hours and forget what I was doing before that. I even tried shutting notifications offs at one point but realized that didn’t help cause my brain went well your notifications are off but you can still click the app to check. It’s super irritating lol. I’ll try and turn off by phone and then I’m like oh shit WAIT I forgot to do abcdefg and then I’ll be on it again playing apps and not actually doing what I needed to do (aka make call, read emails, respond to people etc)

I don’t have much advice but this is my experience too - I have been taking Vyvanse for two months after a recent diagnosis (at 50!). I have been on escitalopram SSRI long term for anxiety/depression. The main positive effect of the medication for me was reduced anxiety due to it slowing my constant “racing thoughts/worries” down but like you still struggling with procrastination and hyper focus (on creative projects) when i should be doing other important things. I did find if I caught it early I could sometimes deep breath and consciously redirect my mind to avoid it. I do think it also involves retraining our brains- I find I do better if I use visual aids - colour coded to do lists with check boxes to keep me on track. I think setting a routine and schedule (with times) also helps. I’m looking at reducing my antidepressant SSRI as I think it might be exacerbating the situation. I’m hoping to start some online behaviour therapy too - I have to be realistic and realise my brain has functioned (badly) this way for a long time. I feel like the medication only slows my mind down enough to be able to recognise my symptoms and allow me to start learning new ways of doing things.

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