My personal definition for executive functioning is “purposeful action.” I’ll explain.
We need our brain’s executive function skills in order to accomplish anything. As a result, many internal and external factors can interfere with our executive functions. That might mean factors like:
When faced with continuous stress or uncertainty, the emotional brain takes over, blocking access to our wise prefrontal cortex. We don’t think clearly or make good choices. We can feel stuck. These are the obvious sources of executive dysfunction. However, over years of my work with clients, I’ve learned to keep my eyes open for a source that is often not expressed out loud – grief.
In the dominant western culture, grief is a topic and an emotion we try to avoid. It can be bottled up under a stoic impulse to “get over it and move on.”
But it is not that simple. While we all grieve differently, with each confronted loss, a door to grief – both present and past – is opened. We can even become hyper-anxious contemplating a future death. When that happens, our executive function skills go offline.
In recent weeks I experienced the loss of four people within my inner circle of friends and family. I thought I was handling it all pretty well for a couple of weeks. However, grief always claims its time and for me, it came to a head on a Saturday morning.
Suddenly my grief over my mother’s death when I was just 21 came roaring out of my soul. After a major sobbing spell, the whole day felt like a fog, with spotty functioning. I felt like I was losing my mind.
By the next day, utterly exhausted, I finally had the clarity to connect my brain’s challenges to all of my recent losses.
It was around this time that an appropriate blog showed up in my inbox. Erin Walsh, of the Spark and Stitch Institute, wrote a valuable piece with the title: “Why We Shouldn’t Skip Over Grief and Grieving.” I highly recommend it, especially if you are working or living around children who have been impacted by loss. Her overview and advice align with what I have learned about grief over the years.
In all honesty, this month I intended to write a light, positive post about spring cleaning and executive functioning. This is not an easy blog topic, to write about or to read.
But in recent weeks, the pain of grief kept surfacing with my clients, my colleagues, my friends, my family, and in myself.
This is the blog I had to write because I am all about acknowledging and addressing the pain of executive dysfunction in our lives. When we own the source, when we name it, we can begin to move forward into purposeful lives. Grief, in all its forms, interferes with our executive functioning capacity.
If grief is surfacing in your world, be gentle with those who are grieving, be gentle with yourself. Little by little our hearts and brains adjust. Hopefully next April I can write a blog about the joy of Spring.
In the meantime, feel the hugs.
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.
How to Support Your Executive Functions During a Big Life Transition
3 Tips to Improve Connectedness (When You Struggle with Executive Function)
Time to Give your Executive Functions a Break
How Executive Functioning Changes the Trajectory of Life