Hyperfixation vs. Addiction
We’ve all been there haven’t we?
You find that great new series on Netflix…… suddenly you’ve lost nine hours and there are no new episodes for months.
You bought that AMAZING new book you’ve heard so much about, and you settle into your warm bed to read a chapter….. now the sun is rising, the alarm’s about to go off and you’ve read the whole thing.
You lost a weekend to that video game
You listen to that one new song over and over
Work consumes you…
So do your hobbies…..
A lot of this seems to have been equated with addiction in social media, and certainly debate rages on as to what exactly ‘binging’ means in this context. But for around a third of us, it could be something very different.
Hyper-fixation is a symptom of anxiety and stress and is an example of how extraordinary our brains are at self-protection.
Hyper-fixation can be seen as a form of escapism, but it is also a form of rest. The brain shuts out all other pressures, stresses and fears and for a time focuses completely on one comparatively pleasurable point — and it just has to have more! It can feel frustratingly like procrastination, but also allows the brain time to heal from the electro-chemical maelstrom of distress, anxiety and depression. Pity about the guilt trip thereafter…
So what is the difference between hyper-fixation and addiction?
Well, in simplest terms, addiction is an extreme dependence upon a particular focus, be it chemical, experiential or a person, wherein going without that focus, even for a short time, causes incredible distress, anxiety, aggression and often physical ramifications
Hyper-fixation, by comparison is often characterised by “drop off periods” where the interest is lost entirely, or the desire to have the experience again is lessened, only to be reignited for a few days some time later. Some may even observe that their desire for outside distraction is greatly more noticeable on days where their depression and anxiety are cruelest.
When do you need to you need to worry?
Certainly if you find yourself fitting the framework of addiction it is worth assessing if you should seek help.
- Become angry, distressed, or anxious if you cannot continue your chosen distraction
- if you become utterly listless or tired without access to your activity
- if you notice a continued, powerful desire for your activity, regardless of how much you have that activity
- If you find it impossible to feel positive, energetic or ‘content’ except when participating in your activity
- If your preferred activity is interfering with family time, relationships, and other positive activities
You should definitely consider seeking advice, and being honest with yourself with your need for help.
However, if, as stated above, you find your activity fulfilling when anxiety is bad, or depression is severe, and when you need rest — but otherwise you sometimes find this need dropping off or lessened, or you are still able to feel well when you don’t have access, and can easily entertain the concept of other activities and companionship; then it is ok to accept that hyper fixation is a part of your brain surviving — and hopefully even thriving — in the face of rough days. another adaptation against anxiety and emotional fatigue.
So, since in this digital world we have more consuming distractions than ever before, what should be done? Well, certainly mindfulness techniques can help us to reframe our focus, and allowing ourselves more active and engaged lifestyles have been proven to have benefits, these are worth looking at. Certainly if you feel these distraction are causing genuine loss or suffering in your life, definitely seek advice and mentoring.
But for those of us suffering severe anxiety with life’s demands, pressures and deadlines, maybe — every so often — it’s ok for ‘Netflix and chill’ to be…. well, literal.
Reflex Social Services is an Australian nonprofit charity that delivers mental and social health services to people in need throughout Newcastle, the Central Coast and the Hunter Valley.
This publication, Flex-Ed, is a resource for the latest in mental and social health research and development.