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Treating And Taking Control Of Executive Dysfunction

executive dysfunction

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

If you don’t have enough gas in your car, there’s going to be a limit as to how far you can drive. When someone is experiencing executive dysfunction it can often stand in their way. Lack of executive function can be a barrier to achieving goals, experiencing healthy emotions, and living the kind of lifestyle someone desires.  

Executive dysfunction broadly refers to the control we need to exert over our mental processes in order to accomplish important daily tasks, regulate our emotions, and achieve life goals. These are essential skills someone can lack when their executive function is impaired, which leaves them out of gas to complete what they want to do. Executive dysfunction may be associated with certain mental conditions and illnesses, such as depression. Check out BetterHelp’s informative guide explaining how executive dysfunction and depression are related to learn more.

What Executive Dysfunction Isn’t

When someone is lacking is executive dysfunction, they may be wrongly characterized as lazy or disorganized. People lacking executive function are actually lacking certain mental processes, which stand in the way of them completing certain tasks, which can include our cognitive skills, working memory, and self-regulation.

Different Ways Executive Dysfunction Can Affect Our Daily Lives

When a person experiences executive dysfunction, it can often lead to a number of deficits that interfere with their ability to complete tasks that are vital to their wellbeing and accomplishing their goals. People with executive dysfunction may display deficits in these key areas:

Working Memory

A person’s working memory is the amount of memory a person needs to complete a task at hand. For example, if you’re getting lunch for a friend and they tell you they want a hamburger and French fries. Unless you write down their order, you’ll need to remember that in your head until you place the order at the restaurant. When someone’s working memory is compromised, they may have issues with staying on task and becoming easily distracted.

Being Able To Shift Tasks

Throughout the day, we’re faced with a number of tasks we need to complete in order to do our jobs and take care of the people around us. So, our morning may begin at work by giving emails a check, then attending a meeting, deciding where to get lunch and which projects to work on.

Moving between each of these tasks requires being able to consciously move our focus from one task to another. If a person feels resistance to shifting to the task they wish to complete, they may be experiencing a symptom of executive dysfunction.

Initiating A Task

A symptom related task shifting is a lack of ability to initiate a task. When someone is experiencing this form of executive dysfunction, they may have issues related to their problem-solving capabilities at a given time. A sign of someone having issues with initiation would be if there’s a pattern of them following someone once they’ve already started working on something. Yet, they’re not able to summon the necessary cognitive ability to begin a task in a timely manner without procrastinating. 

Ability To Exert Emotional Control

There are a number of ways a lack of executive function can show up in terms of a person’s emotional control. Sometimes, people can display a lack of being able to filter their emotions or speech. They may also be prone to emotional outbursts. A person’s inability to exert emotional control may also show up in their lack of inhibition, which could be in terms of a lack of control when it comes to inappropriate behavior.

Organizing And Retrieving Items

In this form of executive dysfunction, a person has issues with properly organizing the items in their life and being able to efficiently retrieve them. This isn’t necessarily a messy desk. Some people can function quite well when surrounded by many things. It may not look pretty, but it works for them.

Where it becomes more symptomatic of executive dysfunction is when the person is struggling with their things and can’t find something when they need. Sort of like having files with no labels. There’s no repeatable way to find what you’re looking for at any given time.

Planning And Organizational Skills

For someone lacking executive dysfunction, planning and organization can be overwhelming. Similar to the skillset needed for organizing items, completing larger projects requires a level of organization in managing each of the steps that are part of an important goal or project. This could mean looking at something like completing a college education and becoming overwhelmed by the many steps. Stuck in that place of frustration, a person may just decide to avoid the whole process of attending university and completing a degree.

Larger accomplishments in life almost always require a number of smaller steps, not being able to break life goals down into these smaller steps can become an impediment to growth.

Treating Executive Dysfunction

Although there are many ways executive dysfunction can appear in our lives, there are effective methods that have been proven to treat executive dysfunction and related conditions, such as depression. These methods include therapy, healthy lifestyle changes, and setting up systems to better manage life with executive dysfunction.

  1. Break Down Tasks – Breaking down tasks helps bolster planning and organizational skills that a person with executive dysfunction may lack. By breaking larger tasks down into smaller pieces, it can be easier to initiate tasks and help them to not feel so overwhelming.
  2. Use Planners – Write everything down in planners and calendars. Trying to remember things we need to do on a daily basis uses up working memory, which people with executive dysfunction may already have a deficit in.
  3. Set Up Alarms And Reminders – Often people with executive dysfunction struggle with managing their time and staying on task. Simply setting up a pleasant chime to ring each hour can provide a gentle reminder to stay on task or to review what’s on the calendar that day.
  4. Leave Yourself Buffer Zones – Since people with executive dysfunction often find task switching challenging, it’s important to give yourself a little bit of wiggle room between tasks. Having a moment to consciously orient yourself or do some deep breathing can help bolster your ability to switch from what you were doing and tackle the next task.
  5. Be Aware Of Visual Cues And Zones – We often respond to cues in our environment without being aware of them acting on us. When we go to the kitchen, we know it’s the place to eat. When we arrive at the office, we know it’s time for work. For people with executive dysfunction, they may already have issues with initiating and staying on a certain task. It’s important to be aware of the associations they have with certain zones, and try to keep them separate whenever possible. For example, not working in bed where you sleep.
  6. Take Moments Of Mindfulness – Being attuned to our breath and connected to the moment can help avert feelings of overwhelm. Take short breaks to support improved cognitive function, which can be helpful for people experiencing executive dysfunction.

In Conclusion

Executive dysfunction is a broad term that refers to many important ways our brain can interfere with our ability to focus and complete tasks, as well as accomplish life goals. Whether this is the way someone’s brain works naturally or there’s an underlying cause to be addressed, there is hope out there. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional for more help. A therapist can help guide you and provide important support and strategies for treating executive dysfunction.

Myself Sanjeev Kumar a dynamic writer and digital marketing expert, currently contributing his expertise to OurNetHelps. With a passion for crafting compelling content and a deep understanding of the ever-evolving digital landscape i dedicated to creating informative and engaging materials that help businesses thrive online.
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