Edited by: Shloka Sankar
Executive dysfunction is a term used to describe difficulties with the cognitive processes that help us plan, prioritize, initiate, and complete tasks. These processes are referred to as “executive functions” and they play a critical role in our daily lives, especially for us college students who have to manage a heavy workload and multiple responsibilities.
Imagine a typical day for a college student: Some of us have an 8:30 am class, a project due at noon, a group meeting at 2 pm, and an exam at 5 pm. To be successful, we need to prioritize our tasks, plan our day, initiate and complete each task, and remember important deadlines. All of these are examples of executive functions in action.
Unfortunately, for some students, executive dysfunction can make all of these tasks seem impossible. It can show up in different ways, such as forgetfulness, procrastination, disorganization, and difficulties with starting and finishing tasks. These difficulties can be caused by various factors such as ADHD, traumatic brain injury, or simply depression and anxiety, among others.
One of the most challenging aspects of executive dysfunction is that it can impact nearly every aspect of a student’s life. For example, a student who struggles with prioritization may have trouble balancing their school work with their social life, leading to stress and burnout. A student who struggles with initiation may procrastinate and put off their assignments until the last minute, leading to poor grades and increased anxiety.
The good news is that there are strategies that can help college students with executive dysfunction manage their difficulties and lead successful, fulfilling lives. Here are a few strategies to consider:
- Create a routine: Establishing a daily routine can help reduce the overwhelm and uncertainty that can accompany executive dysfunction. This can include things like setting aside specific times for studying, making a to-do list each morning, and taking breaks at regular intervals.
- Use a planner: A planner can be a lifesaver for a college student with executive dysfunction. It allows them to see their schedule in one place and helps them prioritize their tasks. By writing everything down, they can reduce the chances of forgetting important deadlines and appointments.
- Break tasks into smaller chunks: Large, complex tasks can seem overwhelming and make it difficult to get started. Breaking these tasks into smaller, manageable chunks can help a student with executive dysfunction get started and make progress.
- Seek support: It’s important for college students with executive dysfunction to seek support from those around them. This can include friends, family, and teachers. By sharing their difficulties and asking for help, they can reduce the stress and anxiety associated with managing their workload.
- Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment and can be a helpful tool for managing executive dysfunction. By taking deep breaths, engaging in meditation, and focusing on their thoughts and feelings, students can develop a greater sense of control and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
- Setting realistic expectations for themselves: This can involve acknowledging their difficulties, being kind to themselves, and setting small, achievable goals. By setting realistic expectations, students can reduce the stress and anxiety associated with their executive dysfunction and increase their sense of control and self-efficacy.
- Build self-awareness: This can involve reflecting on one’s strengths and weaknesses, taking note of triggers that make their executive dysfunction worse, and monitoring their progress. This self-awareness can also help students identify when they need extra support and seek out the right resources.
- Lastly, students can also benefit from engaging in activities that promote overall wellness, such as exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep. These activities can improve brain function and enhance executive function skills, as well as reduce stress and anxiety. By prioritizing their overall wellness, students can create a strong foundation for managing their executive dysfunction and achieving their goals.
Executive dysfunction can be a challenging experience for college students, but with the right strategies, they can overcome their difficulties and lead successful, fulfilling lives. In conclusion, executive dysfunction is a common issue faced by many college students, but with the right tools and support, they can overcome their difficulties and succeed. It’s important for us to understand that we are not alone and that there are resources available to help us. By working with our professors, seeking support from friends and family, and using strategies such as mindfulness and organization, we can reduce our stress and anxiety, improve our grades, and lead fulfilling lives.