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What is Executive Dysfunction, and how businesses can better manage it.


Executive dysfunction is a term used to describe a set of cognitive and behavioral difficulties that can affect an individual’s ability to plan, initiate, organize, and complete tasks. It is often associated with neurological conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), and some forms of dementia.

Executive dysfunction can manifest in a variety of ways, depending on the individual and the specific condition involved. Some common symptoms may include:

  • 1. Difficulty with planning and organization: Individuals with executive dysfunction may struggle to plan and organize tasks, leading to disorganization and difficulty completing projects.
  • 2. Difficulty with time management: Individuals with executive dysfunction may struggle with time management and may have difficulty prioritizing tasks and meeting deadlines.
  • 3. Impulsivity: Individuals with executive dysfunction may act impulsively without considering the consequences of their actions.
  • 4. Difficulty with decision-making: Individuals with executive dysfunction may struggle to make decisions, especially when faced with complex or abstract information.
  • 5. Poor working memory: Individuals with executive dysfunction may struggle to hold information in their working memory, leading to difficulties with task completion and organization.
  • 6. Difficulty with flexibility and adaptability: Individuals with executive dysfunction may struggle with adapting to changes in routine or unexpected events.
  • 7. Poor self-monitoring: Individuals with executive dysfunction may struggle to monitor their own behavior and may have difficulty recognizing when they are making mistakes or need help.

Executive dysfunction can have a significant impact on an individual’s daily life, affecting their ability to work, study, and maintain relationships. However, with appropriate support and accommodations, individuals with executive dysfunction can learn strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their functioning.


Stress triggers of executive dysfunction for “neurotypicals”

The term neurotypical is used to describe individuals who do not have neurological or developmental differences or disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or Tourette syndrome.

As a society, we now have a greater understanding of “disorders”. A diagnosis these days often lead to people getting the help they have wanted all their life.

An example for me of this was a clip I saw of Lewis Capaldi, who was recently diagnosed with Tourette’s and had an attack on stage. The crowd, obviously aware of what was happening, leaped into song as one to give Lewis enough time to regain his composure which allowed him to continue doing his job (performing his songs).

It must have brought a tear to the eyes of every parent with a disability, who lives with the fear of who will look after their kids when the parents pass away, to see this sort of public show of support (for them and their children).

But executive dysfunction does not just affect the actions of a person with a diagnosed (or undiagnosed) disability. While people with a disability are invariably coached on how to manage executive dysfunction, when they become aware that it is happening, Sadly for neurotypicals, they do not.

The term neurotypical is often used within the context of discussing and understanding the experiences of individuals who do have neurological or developmental differences, such as those with ASD or ADHD. It helps to distinguish between those who may have different experiences and challenges due to their neurological or developmental differences and those who do not.

It is important to note that the term neurotypical is not intended to be a value judgment or to suggest that individuals who do not have neurological or developmental differences are somehow “normal” or “better” than those who do. Rather, it is simply a descriptive term that helps to categorize individuals based on their neurological and developmental profiles.

Startup Group
Startup Group

Symptoms of stress

When stress triggers an attack of executive dysfunction in neurotypicals, they generally don’t have the skills to defend themselves and require an intervention to pull them out of the downward spiral that results in mental and physical health issues.

Instead of being a disability, the ability to self-manage executive dysfunction gives neurodiverse people a competitive advantage in business.

Neurotypical individuals typically exhibit typical patterns of behavior, communication, and social interaction that are considered to be within the range of what is considered normal or typical for their age and developmental stage. They may have their own individual differences in these areas, but they are not considered to have significant impairments or differences that would be classified as a neurological or developmental disorders.

The symptoms of stress are obvious when you know what to look for. You don’t need to be a neuroscientist and research fellow (I didn’t even know what that was) from Harvard University’s medical school to see them. But I just happen to know one of them.

Here are some tips from Sathiya (sam) Ramakrishnan, PhD, on how to identify 4 symptoms of stress to look out for as a cue for early intervention in all human beings to help manage executive dysfunction:

Cognitive symptoms

Cognitive symptoms refer to difficulties with thinking and perception. These can affect various cognitive processes such as memory, attention, language, problem-solving, and decision-making. Cognitive symptoms can be a result of various medical conditions such as brain injury, neurological disorders, or mental illness, and they can also be a side effect of certain medications or treatments.

In simple terms, cognitive symptoms are problems with thinking and perception that can make it hard to remember things, pay attention, or understand what others are saying.

This could include:

  1. Memory loss: Inability to recall past events or information.
  2. Difficulty to focus: Difficulty in maintaining concentration or attention on a task or activity.
  3. Impaired judgment: Decreased ability to make sound decisions or choices.
  4. Negative life outlook: Pessimistic view or expectation of future events or experiences.
  5. Anxious thoughts: Excessive worry or fear about potential future events or outcomes.
  6. Constant worry: Persistent and ongoing feeling of anxiety or concern about different aspects of life.

Emotional symptoms

Emotional symptoms refer to changes or disturbances in a person’s emotional state or mood. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can impact a person’s ability to function in daily life.

Some common emotional symptoms include:

  • Anxiety: feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease.
  • Depression: feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in life.
  • Irritability: easily getting angry or frustrated.
  • Mood swings: rapid and significant changes in mood or emotions.
  • Crying spells: frequent or sudden outbursts of tears.
  • Loss of interest: decreased enjoyment or motivation in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt: negative self-perception and negative self-talk.

Emotional symptoms can be a result of various medical conditions such as mood disorders, neurological conditions, or physical health issues. Substance abuse, grief, or stress can also contribute to emotional symptoms.

Physical symptoms

Physical symptoms are changes in the body that are a result of stress. These symptoms can be the body’s response to stressors, such as physical or emotional events, and can range from mild to severe. Some common physical symptoms of stress include:

  • Headaches: tension headaches or migraines can be a result of stress.
  • Muscle tension: stress can cause muscle tension, leading to pain or discomfort.
  • Fatigue: stress can drain a person’s energy, leading to feelings of exhaustion.
  • Insomnia: difficulty sleeping or staying asleep can be a physical symptom of stress.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: stress can cause digestive issues, such as upset stomach, acid reflux, or constipation.
  • Rapid heartbeat: stress can cause an increase in heart rate or palpitations.
  • Chest pain: stress can cause chest pain or discomfort, mimicking the symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Skin problems: stress can cause skin problems such as hives, eczema, or psoriasis to worsen.

It’s important to note that while stress can cause physical symptoms, physical symptoms can also be a result of other medical conditions. If you experience physical symptoms that persist or worsen, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Behavioral symptoms

Behavioral symptoms of stress refer to changes in a person’s behavior or habits that are a result of stress. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and can impact a person’s daily life and relationships. Some common behavioral symptoms of stress include:

  • Overeating or undereating: changes in appetite can be a result of stress.
  • Substance abuse: some people may turn to alcohol, drugs, or nicotine to cope with stress.
  • Withdrawal: stress can cause a person to withdraw from social activities or relationships.
  • Aggression: stress can cause a person to become more irritable, angry, or aggressive.
  • Nail biting, hair pulling, or skin picking: stress can cause a person to engage in these types of behaviors, known as “nervous habits.”
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior: stress can cause a person to act impulsively or recklessly without thinking about the consequences.
  • Difficulty concentrating: stress can make it hard for a person to focus or pay attention.
  • Lack of motivation: stress can decrease a person’s motivation or drive.

In simple terms, behavioral symptoms of stress are changes in behavior or habits that are a result of stress. These can range from changes in appetite and substance abuse to impulsive behavior and lack of motivation. These symptoms can impact a person’s daily life and relationships.

If you want to learn more about managing executive dysfunction,

or other stress management and self-care techniques, form an actual Neuroscientist who can explain what’s really going on in your body right down to a cellular level, connect with Dr Sam from SMB health.