Creating Smooth Transitions When You Struggle with Executive Functions

Tips for Creating Smooth Transitions When You Struggle with Executive Functions

Do you feel out of sync returning home after a recent vacation? Or perhaps dreading the end of summer as you face heading back to school and work? Transition times like these are hard on our executive functions!

Our brains like predictable patterns and therefore change can be unsettling. During times of transition, our wise prefrontal cortex has to work overtime to create or restore predictable schedules and patterns to our days. Personally, I dreaded the transitions for summer and back to school when my children were home. It took so much work and effort, especially in the days when I had very poor executive functioning skills. And that was long before COVID-19!

One Seeing My Time adult client reported that his two-week vacation was incredibly refreshing. However, coming home and facing new stressors at work made him lose momentum to get things done. He was beating himself up again, losing touch with his prior success using tools and strategies to support his ADHD brain. I told him I have the same experience every time I come home from a vacation.

Here’s my advice to him and everyone else who is dealing with transitions during this pandemic:

Pause. Take a couple of deep breaths. Stretch your body. Calm your brain. Learning to pause, especially during these long online and Zoom work sessions is essential for mental focus and brain health.

Fuel up. Grab a high protein / low sugar snack (like some nuts) to fuel your brain so you can think deeply and clearly.

Face the future. Get some paper and write down all the issues that need addressing to get your life back into balance. Our Seeing My Time Adult Planner System has forms that are very helpful. Getting this information out of your brain and onto paper helps clear space for new information and calms our nerves.

Accept that you can’t do it all in a day. Spread out your tasks over a week or even longer. Remember the Second Truth of Time that I teach in my Seeing My Time Course: time doesn’t stretch so you can do more!

Get a picture of your weekly commitments. When are those Zoom meetings? Write them down so you can see the open spaces in your days to accomplish tasks. This is especially important for students doing distance learning. The videos that go with my student and college planner guides students through this critical process. Post that schedule clearly in sight.

Evaluate your home setting. If you are working from home, create a comfortable office space. Set up a standing desk to alternate between sitting and standing. I made my standing desk using an old upside-down IKEA bookshelf. What do you think?

Standing desk work station with executive function planner and laptop
If you have children, they also need a designated and organized “classroom” space. Warning! A bedroom is not a workspace! Bedrooms are full of distractions that many students can’t avoid. It is better to put your students in view of your workspace. Accept that in this remote learning environment you are a support teacher. And remind your kids that teachers don’t leave a classroom full of students. Besides instructing, teachers are monitoring behavior and making sure students are not playing games on their tablets or laptops. If your students balk at this, have them brainstorm the reasons teachers don’t leave the classroom.

Plan your ‘intermission” times. Our brains and bodies are not designed to sit in front of a computer screen for hours on end. Pre-COVID, you’d be walking to meetings and getting coffee. Kids would be walking to different classes. Intermission time is essential. I want to stress that these are not “break” times of 15+ minutes. I’m thinking more like intermissions during a play; 5-minute “brain breaks” where you give your brain and body something different to do that isn’t staring at a screen.

Here’s a fun tip: have all family members create a list of activities that they can do in 5 minutes or less. Here are some examples:

    • 15 jumping jacks
    • 3 yoga poses
    • Working on a jigsaw puzzle
    • Folding laundry
    • Listening to your favorite song
    • Chopping veggies to put in your stir fry dinner

Then cut your list into strips. Put the strips in a bowl and draw one each time you need a brain break. Set a timer for five minutes and when it beeps, head back to work. A little game like this stimulates your brain and takes away the effort of deciding what to do. Have fun with it!

Speaking of Fun – Plan for Fun! Facing darker, winter days while working and schooling from home may not be filled with joy. I encourage you to intentionally plan activities that are fun. These could be low-key evenings with other family members, like board games or movie nights.

Fresh baked artisan bread from Marydee Sklar

My fresh-baked artisan bread!

I especially encourage you to choose fun activities that help you to learn something. The brain loves to learn while having fun. My husband studies Spanish in an online group course, practices his conversation with a native speaker in Chile and listens to the news in Spanish with El Mundo!

One of my adult clients has online piano lessons. Another is taking a drawing class. A high school student is studying ballet online. I’ve watched hours of bread baking videos and am really proud of my artisan loaves that just get better and better. I’m considering online salsa lessons with my husband in preparation for dancing at my daughter’s wedding in October 2021 (Fingers crossed and prayers being sent that we can gather by then!).

With the internet, we can do more than escape, slipping into things like mindless bingeing on Netflix. I encourage you to pursue options to learn and do things that will challenge your brain and ultimately bring you joy.

I hope this list gives you some inspiration to embrace this time of transition. Breathe. You can get new structures in place to support yourself and others in your family sphere.

And remember, if you are struggling with overwhelming negative emotions, that seems to be part of our new normal. Seek out professional help to process those emotions. With help, and a little planning, and a little fun, we can get through this.

Little by little, Marydee

PS: We also have learning opportunities at EFS. Check out our Seeing My Time Courses to get help with executive function challenges. And you might investigate our very popular online class: Teaching the Seeing My Time Course. It was designed for professionals, but appropriate for parents who want to use a family member as a practice client. All of these classes are currently open for enrollment.

About the Author Marydee Sklar

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.

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