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21 ADHD: The Series – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of ADHD: The Series. In this post, I wanted to explore a topic that is relatively new to me, yet retrospectively has unknowingly affected my life for as long as I can remember: executive dysfunction. 


What is Executive Functioning? 


Executive functioning encompasses the cognitive and mental abilities that help people engage in goal-directed actions, control behaviour, stay motivated to achieve goals and prepare for future events (ADDitude Magazine, n.d.). These skills are essential for managing everyday tasks and are fundamental to our ability to plan, focus, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Here’s what executive functions enable us to do: 

 

  1. Analyse a task: Understand what needs to be done. 

  2. Plan How to Address the Task: Develop a strategy to tackle it. 

  3. Organise the Steps Needed to Carry Out the Task: Break down the task into manageable steps. 

  4. Develop Timelines for Completing the Task: Set deadlines to stay on track. 

  5. Adjust or Shift the Steps, if Needed, to Complete the Task: Be flexible and adapt as necessary. 

  6. Complete the Task in a Timely Way: Finish tasks efficiently. (ADDitude Magazine, n.d.). 

 

These functions begin developing around age two and continue to mature until around thirty. However, for individuals with ADHD, this development is often delayed by 30 to 40 percent, impacting their ability to effectively manage tasks and responsibilities (The ADHD Centre, n.d.). 

 

People with executive dysfunction may experience a range of symptoms that can interfere with their daily activities and long-term goals. Some of the most common symptoms include: 

  • Time Blindness: Difficulty perceiving the passage of time, which can lead to chronic lateness, earliness or rushing to meet deadlines. I have an entire blog dedicated to time blindness, which you can explore here

  • Difficulty Meeting Long-Term Goals: Struggling to set and achieve extended objectives due to poor planning and follow-through. 

  • Trouble with Organisation and Setting Schedules: Challenges in keeping things in order and planning effectively. 

  • Trouble Controlling Emotions or Impulses: Difficulty managing emotional responses and impulses, leading to impulsive actions or emotional outbursts. 


 

My Executive Dysfunction


Inertia 


I often experience something called ADHD or Autism inertia. Inertia, defined as a tendency to do nothing or remain unchanged (Edge Foundation, n.d.), is something most humans can relate to; we all sometimes have trouble feeling motivated to carry out tasks. However, for neurodivergent individuals, this inertia can be seriously debilitating. 


Individuals with ADHD often have millions of ideas swarming around their minds, but when it comes to actually doing a task, they get stuck and quickly become overwhelmed. I picture this like the cogs of a clock. These cogs turn synergistically to move the hands of a clock face. But if they get jammed, the movement stops, the clock hands no longer turn, and it feels like you are stuck or frozen in time. Dealing with this jam is not as simple as changing the clock batteries; it requires the expertise of a clock specialist who can open up the hardwiring of the clock, fix the jam, and reset the time. 


I often feel like this jammed clock. Engulfed with the number of thoughts, ideas, and tasks I want to achieve, I find myself unable to prioritise and unable to begin. My thoughts take over, and the next thing I know, I am jammed. With practice, I have started to recognise this feeling. Instead of burying myself under my covers, I reach out to friends or family - my clock experts - to help me work through my thoughts and feelings and reset. 


Tools to Manage Inertia 

  • Break Tasks Down into Smaller, More Achievable Steps: Simplify tasks to make them less overwhelming and more manageable. For instance, instead of tackling an entire project at once, break it down into individual tasks that can be completed one at a time. Ticking off each individual tasks also releases Dopamine (a neurotransmitter that is responsible for generating feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction and happiness, encouraging you to complete further tasks).

  • Be Open and Honest with Friends and Family When You Need Help: Often, I get my mum to call the doctor when I feel stuck with these kinds of tasks. 

  • Talk Through Lists with a Friend: My best friend understands me very well and helps plan my day when I can’t. 

  • Get into the Habit of Making a Daily To-Do List: Write down tasks to ensure nothing is forgotten and to provide a clear roadmap for the day. 

  • Make Use of Alarms and Set Them Earlier Than Needed: If you need to leave the house by 10 am, set alarms at 8 am to wake up, 8:30 am to shower, 9 am to eat breakfast, and 9:30 am to leave. This provides you with a buffer of 30 minutes to ensure even if you are running behind you still have time. 


Attention 


My mind often tends to drift, making it challenging to focus on long conversations - or even short ones on particularly tough days. I might be physically present but mentally somewhere else, which makes it hard to retain information. From a young age, my parents could tell when I was "spaced out" as my eyes would glaze over and my gaze would drift off. I have a so-called "empty" face, and people who know me can easily tell when I've clocked out. 


Over the years, I've become increasingly aware of my short attention span, a key trait commonly associated with ADHD. This is something I am very self-conscious about, especially since starting university. At university, managing your own timetable becomes crucial. Aside from scheduled lectures, you're responsible for organising your own study hours. For instance, if you have an upcoming assessment, it's up to you to decide whether to spend one hour or twenty-four hours revising. 


Many university students cram for exams, pulling all-nighters and spending long hours in the library. However, for someone like me, this approach is far from ideal and often unattainable. My concentration span requires very regular breaks. My hyperactivity needs exercise. And for my well-being, I need downtime to recover. Unfortunately, these needs are often seen as luxuries by my peers. Over recent years, this has made me increasingly self-conscious, for not working the same long hours as other students. However, in the short time I do spend working, I often find I am very productive, especially when I am in hyperfocus mode with my noise-cancelling Loop earbuds. This hyperfocus allows me to accomplish a lot in a condensed period, proving that my productivity is not about the quantity of hours but the quality of focus during those hours. 


Tools to Improve Attention

  • Pomodoro Technique: Use a timer to break work into intervals (usually 25 minutes), separated by short breaks. This helps maintain focus and provides regular rest periods. I use the Flora app, which works in a similar manner, and allows you to grow virtual plants by sticking to your work schedule! 

  • Exercise Regularly: Physical activity can help reduce hyperactivity and improve concentration. 

  • Designate a Quiet Study Area: Create a distraction-free environment to enhance focus. I recently purchased a pair of Loop earbuds and they are life-changing, I would highly recommend them (shout out to my brother for the recommendation!). 


Memory 


While I would say I am organised, I realise that I am actually highly disorganised, but I have developed strategies to help me stay on top of things. I am a complete list control freak (I write everything down somewhere so I “can’t forget”). This includes tasks like taking my daily medication, weekly chores (such as a food shop) and one-off jobs, like emailing a professor at university. I use reminders, alarms, Apple Calendar, and often friends and family as reminder tools. I notice that as I become more stressed and the tasks build up, it becomes harder to maintain organisation. My organisation works in a cycle: it starts lovely and clean (usually after a period of feeling very productive), but as tasks accumulate, this organisation starts to fall apart. Soon, I enter the complete chaos phase—messy room, messy thoughts, messy life—a completely chaotic nightmare. Eventually, my autism will kick in, and no longer able to function in such a messy environment, I will force myself to reorganise and restart my life. 


Tools to Enhance Memory

  • Make Use of Alarms and Alerts for Upcoming Events: Set reminders to stay on track and ensure important tasks and appointments are not forgotten. 

  • Get Organised Ahead of Time: Prepare your clothes and your bag the night before to save time in the morning and reduce stress. 

  • Use Visual Aids: Calendars, whiteboards, and sticky notes and place them around the house to serve as constant visual reminders. Your bathroom mirror is one perfect example of a place you go to first thing in the morning when you brush your teeth! 

  • Create a schedule (and try your best to stick to it): As much as possible, I try follow a routine, especially when it comes to household chores. I will meal prep lunches twice a week (on Sundays and Wednesdays). Additionally, I label Sundays as a “get-ready-for-the-week day” where I change my bed sheets, do my laundry and hoover the house. Again, having a sticker chart or weekly chores to-do list can be useful to tick off and motivate yourself!

 

Emotional dysregulation


Emotional dysregulation refers to small frustrations that often trigger intense emotional responses that seem disproportionate to the situation. This occurs more frequently when an individual is already feeling overwhelmed. For instance, I find that on days when plans change unexpectedly, I may feel disproportionately anxious or sensitive to all stimuli. I recently went to a shopping mall and found that the sensory overload led to even small sensory inputs, like the sound of someone breathing or the smell of food, becoming unbearable. This resulted in huge frustration and anger outbursts. If I have been stuck indoors for an extended period, it can completely throw my emotions out of whack. 


In times like these, I feel grateful to live alone and have an established support network. This allows me to stay in my own space while still receiving the help I need. Sometimes this means my friends or family ordering food for me or even coming over to drag me out of bed when I enter complete shutdown or executive dysfunction mode. While it can be embarrassing to talk about and sometimes makes me feel completely incapable, I remind myself that seeking support is a strength, not a weakness. 


Living alone provides the space to manage my emotions without feeling judged, and having a supportive network ensures I am not truly alone in these difficult moments. This balance helps me navigate the challenges of emotional dysregulation, enabling me to regain control and continue moving forward. 


Tools to Manage Emotional Dysregulation

  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga can help manage stress and improve emotional regulation. 

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity can be a great way to release built-up tension and improve mood. 

  • Establish a Support Network: Having trusted friends or family members to talk to can provide emotional support and practical help when needed. 

  • Sensory Tools: Items like noise-cancelling headphones, fidget toys, or weighted blankets can help manage sensory overload. 


Conclusion 


Referring back to the aim of this blog, I wanted to shed light on the complexities of ADHD. It can be very disheartening when people feel they know ADHD and thus know me when often they are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Even I don’t fully know myself, so how can you? 


Executive dysfunction presents significant challenges for individuals with ADHD, impacting various aspects of their lives. Understanding the nature of executive dysfunction is the first step towards developing a proactive approach to overcoming its effects. Whether it's through breaking down tasks, using visual aids, or seeking professional help, each strategy contributes to a more organised and manageable daily routine. If you or someone you know struggles with executive dysfunction, remember that help is available and that small changes can lead to substantial improvements over time. Practice really does make it easier to manage! 


Thanks for reading, 

Nidhi :) 


 

References 


ADDitude Magazine. (n.d.). What is executive function disorder? Retrieved from https://www.additudemag.com/what-is-executive-function-disorder/ 


Edge Foundation. (n.d.). Overcoming ADHD inertia. Retrieved from https://edgefoundation.org/overcoming-adhd-inertia/ 


The ADHD Centre. (n.d.). How does ADHD affect executive function? Retrieved from https://www.adhdcentre.co.uk/how-does-adhd-affect-executive-function/ 

 

 

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