Surviving executive dysfunction


Paige Atkison

Paige Atkison, Senior Digital Editor

While executive dysfunction can be a diagnosis in and of itself, it can also be a symptom of various disorders such as ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder among other diagnoses. So what is executive dysfunction? Executive dysfunction is a term for the skills that involve mental control and self-regulation.

In layman’s terms, it is extreme difficulty in regulating your emotions and completing everyday tasks. It involves difficulties in starting tasks, stopping behaviors, managing emotional responses, transitioning between tasks, maintaining working memory, and organization. So what can you do to combat executive dysfunction and thrive despite it?

Utilize time-organizing tools

Since executive dysfunction makes organization and initiating tasks particularly difficult, it is important to utilize the tools around us to better your ability to stay on track. The first step is to invest in a planner. Whether it be a physical planner or an online version, planning your days and tasks in advance can make a world of difference.

But simply writing down one’s tasks will not help in initiating those tasks. However, it will help you navigate problems with working memory. Writing down your tasks can make it so you can find them even when you can’t recall what they were. Next, set timers and reminders on your phone for when you need to begin and complete a task. This helps with time organization and can serve as a reminder to start any given task.

Break down large tasks into smaller ones

Executive dysfunction can make completing multi-step tasks nearly impossible. The more steps a task involves, the harder it becomes to complete. Braking large tasks into smaller, easier chunks can help you complete even the most difficult of projects. Say making a sandwich is too difficult to make due to the number of steps it involves.

To make things simpler, you might consider eating each ingredient individually, rather than assembling a complete meal. The same is true with tasks like large essays, assignments, or group projects. Instead of trying to complete it all at once, just break each step down into its own individual process. Take your time when trying to complete an intricate process and remember to have self-compassion.

Pay attention to your emotions

Since trouble regulating your emotions is a classic symptom of executive dysfunction, it is important to pay close attention to how you are feeling. Emotional dysregulation can lead to outbursts and impulsive behavior, which is destructive to both the person experiencing it and the friends and family who are around them.

Taking an inventory of your emotions can make a world of difference when struggling with impulsivity. Take the time to ask yourself why you are feeling the way you do and consider which steps are necessary to help regulate them. If you are feeling impulsive, try to take a step back from the situation and take deep breaths. Try to think through the possible ramifications of acting on an impulse.

Avoid drugs and alcohol

Drugs like nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis can greatly impair your executive function. Stimulants like nicotine and cocaine can lead to memory impairment and lessening control of impulses. Depressants like cannabis can severely worsen your executive function as well. It is best to avoid drugs and alcohol in order to preserve your working memory, ability to complete tasks, and emotional control