ADHD and Watching Long Movies

Is It Possible To Finish Long Movies with our ADHD Brain?

Watching movies is a great way to unwind, especially after a busy week. But, is it still relaxing when you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder? Learn more here. 

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Reviewed by

Dr. Guia Canonizado - Custorio

Mental Health Professional
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Distracted in Watching Long Movies? Here's What You Need to Know

Are you the type of person who always looks forward to the coming weekends to relieve stress and fatigue brought on by the hustle and bustle of the work week 💗? I am. In fact, I am always excited for the weekends because this is the only time I get to do things I love. I always plan to workout more every weekend morning or have a walking trip somewhere to keep my blood flowing 🚶. Having a weekend morning routine is appropriate, particularly if you stay up late because of movie night, which I usually love to do to take my mind off of different things. 

But, Alas! This isn’t always how things go on my end. 

Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder late, I didn't understand at first what this neurodivergent disorder is all about. There were things I struggled with before that didn’t make sense until I reached out to my mental health doctor about it 👩‍⚕️ . Difficulties in remembering details or maintaining information about essential matters, and trouble staying still and seated for an extended period are some of those I barely knew were part of my ADHD symptoms.

excited to watch the movie

One thing I have observed is that even though I am enthusiastic and looking forward to the weekends for some movie nights, I cannot focus well and direct my attention to the film 😢. There are moments when I catch myself browsing through my social media accounts instead of relating to the movie I am watching.

Inattentive Symptoms for Adult ADHD

A lot of people with ADHD can get easily distracted by the simplest things that can take their eyes and mind off the films. For instance, when notifications come into their smartphones 📱, they'll most likely struggle to keep their eyes off the screen and go back to the movie. I, for instance, tend to think about other things when I'm watching a movie 🤔. 

checking phone for messages

Truly, being easily distracted can be one of my most challenging ADHD symptoms. After all, our interests can interfere with how we tackle tasks and goals we have set for ourselves. It can be hard to focus on the things we are passionate about because our ADHD symptoms will most likely get in the way 😔. 

Aside from this ADHD symptom, our struggle to notice details might also hinder us from enjoying our time watching movies. Have you ever experienced getting lost in the middle of a movie and ultimately lost interest in watching it? When I miss these small details, which play an essential part in the plot, I tend to rewatch the scenes and pay more attention to spot what they are talking about. If I still don't get it and follow the story, I'll get disinterested and probably won't be paying attention to the other half 😭. Then you'll catch me holding my cell phone and browsing through social media again.\

The Mini ADHD Coach Medical Advisor says: Inability to sustain attention coupled with frustration and impatience may result in reduced enjoyment and understanding of plotlines -particularly the complex ones, character development, and intricate details in longer narratives. This may hinder overall appreciation and immersion in the story and hence allowing someone with ADHD to get distracted with other things.

Getting Fidgety Because of Excitement or Boredom

Watching movies during weekends (or in the middle of the week if it interests me) can get overly exciting 🎞️, especially if there are new good titles to watch. If I hear that a movie is good and it has a compelling story, expect me to watch it immediately. When there are characters that are funny and make you laugh 😆, I can't help but get all hyped up about it. And if the excitement is too much for me, I'll start getting fidgety and want to move around instead of sitting still.

You'll catch me getting a hold of any stuff near me— my pillow, the remote control, or my phone. I started to feel antsy and would want to do something else instead of just watching. Or whenever the scenes are intense, I'll most likely bite my nails or peel off my skin, and then I'll realize that I already hurt myself 😞.

fluffing pillow

The same thing happens when I get bored. When the plot is not that interesting or if it's too slow for me, my mind starts to wander off and think about other things 💭. I'll begin to fidget and move around as if my body can't take it anymore. This is when I'll probably have difficulties sitting for longer periods and would want to take a break in between.

Moreover, long-form entertainment such as movies or series can involve prolonged periods of sitting and passive viewing, which can be monotonous for people with ADHD like me. The lack of active engagement, sometimes regardless if it’s interesting or not, may make it harder to sustain interest and attention.

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Take a Break or Continue Watching the Movie?

When we tend to overthink, we'll have unlimited things to choose from. For example, before arriving at which movie to watch, it might take a couple of hours for us to decide. Lucky for us if we are the only ones watching the movie. But what if there are other people involved in determining the movie title? Probably, few arguments will arise, and it'll just be a hassle.

The same thing happens when we are in the middle of watching a movie, and we can't seem to focus on it anymore 🎦. We either take a break or continue forcing ourselves to watch it until the end. If we take a break, there's a big chance that we won't return to watching the movie and take another course of action utterly unrelated to it. Alternatively, there’s a big chance that sleeping off in the middle of the show might happen when we continue to watch 😴.

getting sleepy

Many adult ADHD tends to experience these options struggle more often. Analysis paralysis can make us question everything related to our choices. Will this be a better film than the other one? I do love the actors in this film, but is there anything more it can offer? Do I watch this movie or continue with the task I am supposed to finish by the end of the week? 🤔

Most people with ADHD can easily get lost in their thoughts and can't seem to focus on one thing. This is why we often have a hard time deciding whether it's about watching a movie or not.

Problems with Listening and Understanding Everything

Paying attention is one of the significant challenges that many people diagnosed with ADHD experience. They often get into trouble processing the external information they gather and turning it into something more understandable. Our interests also play a role in this struggle. When we are interested, there's a good chance that we can understand what's happening, but when it's the other way around, you'll probably run into trouble 😅.

Learning about this, I always wonder why I often don’t understand the actors’ lines in their scenes. I often get lost in getting a sense of what they are saying, so I'll add the subtitles and just read through their dialogues. But, I'll get distracted as well by these texts continuously appearing and end up not focusing on the movie 😭.

When I get distracted by the movie I'm watching and don't understand anything anymore, I'll just sit on the couch while my ADHD brain is wandering. Then I'll realize that I have been idle for too long and let the noise sound in the background as if it was a white noise that hypnotized me to daydream somewhere else.

The End... Wait What?

And just like that, I am done watching the show and end up not understanding anything🥺. I know some neurotypicals also tend to experience these struggles, but our differences about this matter can be pretty significant. It'll often take multiple viewings just to get the gist of what's going on in the story. 

I often have problems, especially when my friends are with me watching these movies, and we end up having more trouble than just trying to find a good film to watch.

finishing the movie without understanding the story

What else do we need to prepare? Will there be alcohol for our refreshments during our sleepover? Which movies will we watch? I already watched 50 First Dates. Do you want me to explain to you why I like it? It'll be a hassle if we don't have the same taste in films. And I wonder, are you even listening to what I am saying? Too many questions need to be answered when I plan to watch movies with my friends. The trouble of being with them, plus the immediate decluttering that I need to do in a short time because they're coming over 😨, stresses me more instead of making me relaxed.

And in the end, I didn't understand the movie I watched. I know it was related to the main character's conflict and how she was able to resolve it in the end. But other than that, I am clueless about what happened in between. Maybe I'll pay more attention to these movies next time, or should I watch a TV show instead? Or do I start making friends with others to match my movie preference? Just kidding.

Tips in Enhancing Movie Watching Experience from The Mini ADHD Coach

Considering these various challenges, individuals with ADHD can employ strategies to optimize viewing experience with lengthy movies or tvshows. These are some of the things that you can do:

  • Utilize subtitles or closed captions: these can help follow the dialogue more closely.
  • Be intentional with break times while watching. If you know that you can’t sit through the whole thing, make it a point to take a break at a certain episode or scene to process information or refocus.
  • Minimize distractions like clutter, unnecessary noise, or light. Reduce interruptions by silencing notifications on electronic devices.
  • Alternatively, use a noise-cancelling headphones when watching alone. This device can help you filter unnecessary noise that can distract you while watching movies.
  • Implement Mindfulness Techniques.  Practice deep breathing exercises or meditation before watching. Moreover, engage in grounding techniques to enhance present-moment awareness.
  • Seek social support and discuss interests with people who share the same passion with you. Connect with family or friends who you can watch movies with and talk about it after. Also, these people can provide support and accountability once scenes get heavy.

ADHD and Watching Long Movies: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can an adult with ADHD watch a whole movie?

Yes, they can, but there may be difficulties along the way. While others can watch a movie in one sitting, some adults with ADHD may take a break from time to time to cater to their symptoms. 

Does ADHD make it hard to watch a long film?

Some ADHD symptoms can make it difficult to watch a long film. In particular, being easily distracted can increase the time you need to finish a movie. The difficulty in paying attention to details can also pose some problems. 

Can movies help with ADHD?

Any activity that relieves stress or is meaningful can help not only people with ADHD but even neurotypicals. As such, yes, movies can be helpful. It can help ADHD adults unwind and gain insights.

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