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25 'Hyperfixation' Habits People Use to Cope With Mental Illness

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What is hyperfixation?

Hyperfixation is being completely immersed in something — whether it be a video game, movie/TV fandom culture or a hobby like crocheting. While typically associated with ADHD and autism, people with mental illness may also experience hyperfixation.

How do you you use hyperfixation to cope with mental illness?

Mighty contributor Alaura Filbin explained why hyperfixation has become a tool for coping with her anxiety and depression.

So why do I hyperfixate? Why can’t I just like something without becoming completely immersed in it? My theory is because I’m typically overwhelmed by bad mental health days… I don’t know how to cope with my undesirable thoughts without total immersion… In a way, I’m protecting myself. I would much rather think about how Phoebe and Joey would have made a great couple than about how I feel alone. I would love to read a book with depth instead of think about how I haven’t been productive for a week and a half… In any case, it’s a coping mechanism.


We wanted to know what members of our Mighty community “hyperfixate” on to cope with mental illness, so we asked them to share their experiences. You can read their responses below.

Here’s what our community had to say:

  1. I hyperfixate on cleaning. When my space is clean, my mind feels less cluttered. I clean to cope with so many things. I clean to pick myself up when I’m sad and rage clean to let off steam when I’m angry. When it’s all said and done, my house is clean, I burned out negative energy and I can relax.” — Amanda C.
  2. Video games, specifically role-playing games. I can lose myself in the gameplay and story. It completely envelops me and I can forget, at least for a little while, the fog and cloying fingers of depression.” — Suzanne K.
  3. “Thrifting. I’m so anxious about what’s going on in the USA that I find it hard to concentrate on anything, but when I go into a thrift store, I completely lose myself in going through the racks. Looking at and touching pretty clothes calms me down, and I’ve started reselling my purchases online, which is exciting. It’s like going on a treasure hunt several times a week.” — Stacy P.
  4. “I hyperfixate on TV shows and books. I watch the same three TV shows over and over to fall asleep to. Because I’ve already seen all the episodes, it’s a simple pattern that I know well. There are no surprises, so it’s a constant that helps me fall asleep.” — Kaleigh M.
  5. “TV shows. I’ll become obsessed to the point I won’t sleep or do anything else. If I have to go somewhere, I’ll be thinking about the show/counting down to when I can watch the next episode. I do it even if I’m not that interested in the show. Sometimes it’s books, or audiobooks. Something to get me out of my head I suppose.” — Charlotte K.
  6. Crochet and knitting, the repetitive movements help me channel the nervous energy and can be soothing. Also binge-watching or reading, for the escapism. I’ll watch or read a series every chance I get from the moment I get up until I’m able to sleep when I’m hyperfixating, usually while crocheting or knitting something at the same time.” — Kirstie M.
  7. “Pokemon. Especially the Sun version since it’s so much easier to breed Pokemon. I can just pick one, try to breed for certain stats or moves and I can spend hours running around in circles, and I forget about anything I’m stressing about.” — Krystal A.
  8. “I’ve been hyperfixating on the ‘Harry Potter’ series. It’s so much easier for me to cope with life when I can just whisk myself away to a world where anything and everything is possible. It helps me to see all of the different characters in the movies and be able to realize that no matter who they are, where they come from or what their personalities are like, they all come together to form something bigger. It puts my mind at ease in a way to focus on being in another place and know that anything is possible with magic. It’s easier for me to become absorbed into fantasy rather than focus on the stresses of reality.” — Bree C.
  9. “Legos. Handling the tiny pieces and building the kit really helps me focus down and put the racing thoughts to sleep. When I am finished, I have a competed project which also provides a sense of achievement.” — Fred T.
  10. I’m drawn to Minecraft, specifically. In ‘survival’ mode, I enjoy the monotony of farming crops because then I don’t have to think much. I can shut down my brain for a while. In ‘creative’ mode, I enjoy designing and building houses of different styles, large and small. It challenges me to think outside the box and keeps me from dwelling on negative thoughts.” — Beth L.
  11. “I hyperfixate on art. I picked up painting in my mid-teens. Keeping my hands busy has always been helpful — they’re my fidget area. My mind usually races too, but I’m so focused on detail and getting the lines, colors, everything just right. I work on one small section at a time rather than the whole picture as a whole, so it looks completely off until it’s completely done, but that just draws me in more.” — Nic R.
  12. “I’m basically engaged, so I hyperfixate on planning my future wedding all by myself. I write and rewrite details constantly and spend hours searching useless things. It helps me deal with the anxiety in my life and helps when depression hits and I feel like life isn’t worth living. At least I have marriage to look forward to.” — Hayley L.
  13. “Twitter is my worst hyperfixation. It certainly isn’t good for me because I become extremely emotionally invested. If it’s not Twitter, it’s TV. Usually I have to have two things going at once, so it’s usually TV and Twitter or TV and games on my tablet, phone or laptop.” — Tamasi G.
  14. “I hyperfixate on potential purchases. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent looking up and reading reviews on ceramic non-stick pans and cordless stick vacuums. It’s been months and I bought pans only a few weeks ago. Still no vacuum.” — Lauren D.
  15. “I like looking at fashion every day. I used to hide my interest in it because I would get made fun of by men. I had almost no friends in high school. Letting that go later in life and just accepting myself as I am has helped with self-confidence.” — Tony V.
  16. “I hyperfixate on cars, specifically police interceptors. Nothing handles better then on old cop car and having a V6 or a V8 can be fun. Plus the gadgets that are installed or even reinstalling the gadgets that you can legally have is fun.” — Amanda P.
  17. “I fixate on fitness, more specifically, Crossfit. The exercise helps my anxiety and because I feel so good afterwards, I fixate on the topic, often doing tons of research/browsing on the topic in between workouts.” — Mallory B.
  18. “My foster kittens. Whenever I’m having a rough day, I care extra hard for them and use them as a means of distracting myself from whatever problem I may be having. They make me feel whole.” — Kaylee B.
  19. “I used to be able to hyperfixate on schoolwork when I was a teenager. Served me well in terms of scholarships and grades but led to an eventual crash.” — Amy L.
  20. “Cleaning or budgeting/list writing for hours. Anything that gives me some ‘control.’ Re-organizing cupboards, color-checking my clothes and re-stacking CDs and DVDs or redecorating the house.” — Jess B.
  21. “I fixate on shopping. Sometimes it’s online and sometimes it is thrift stores. I shop a lot. I spent hours shopping online for a Halloween costume the other day.” — Becky O.
  22. “Planning. I have two planners and they make me feel prepared and in control. I decorate the pages and make them nice.” — Deanine B.
  23. “‘Star Wars.’ I love everything, and John Williams is my favorite composer, not just his ‘Star Wars’ stuff. Darth Vader is probably my favorite character. He’s very complex and sad, which makes him interesting. When I need to be strong (or need hair inspiration), I think about princess Leia. She’s one of the original badass women of cinema and Carrie Fisher also had a mental illness. Both character and actress are positive role models.” — AshleyT.
  24. “I hyperfixate on my college work and interests, such as my passions for clinical psychology and my dreams to attend graduate school about two years from now. It’s a big part of who I am. I have a genuine interest and love for the field, especially considering my own experience with mental illness. In its own way, it helps me cope. On the negative side, sometimes I tend to hyperfixate on my grades, and I get really stressed out. I have horrible perfectionism, struggle with the workload, structural changes and transitions. On the positive side, it provides me lots of fulfillment, passion and a sense of achievement and esteem. I feel less empty. If I didn’t follow my dreams and passions for the field and my work, I’d definitely be worse off. It’s part of who I am.” — Kellyann N.
  25. “Running. Running gives me so much. It helps me when I’m at my lowest. It gives me a natural high, a sense of achievement, a competition against myself, a reason to get out of the house. The most unexpected benefit it has given me is a change in mindset. I’m not going to pretend I’m ever going to be cured, but I do feel more capable in life, because of running.” — Leanne J.

Can hyperfixation cause problems?

While getting immersed in a hobby or TV series can be an effective coping mechanism for managing overwhelming mental struggles, it’s worth noting that sometimes hyperfixation can become a source of avoidance. It’s important to develop many kinds of coping techniques that may include but aren’t limited to: going to therapy on a regular basis, attending support groups and opening up to loved ones when you’re struggling. If you want some suggestions for coping techniques, check out the stories below:

Image via Pexels

Originally published: August 23, 2018
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