5 Executive Dysfunction Coping Skills You Should Know

January 7, 2020 Megan Griffith

We need executive dysfunction coping skills because this type of dysfunction is a common symptom of all kinds of mental illnesses, from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to depression to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Executive dysfunction makes a person struggle to perform tasks that they are otherwise completely capable of performing. Although this is often mistaken for laziness, it is a completely different experience.

Is It Laziness or Executive Dysfunction?

Laziness might make me feel a bit guilty for not being productive, but executive dysfunction makes me feel incredibly anxious, ashamed and trapped. When I'm being lazy, I might think, "I should really do that thing . . . oh well."

But when I'm dealing with executive dysfunction, I typically think, "Just do the thing, Megan. Just do it already. Why aren't you doing it? What is wrong with you?"

Laziness is a choice we all make sometimes, whereas executive dysfunction is not a choice at all. It is actually the opposite: a complete lack of agency in your normal daily functioning, which can be incredibly frustrating and painful. Luckily, there are ways to cope with executive dysfunction.

Executive Dysfunction Coping Skills

  1. Talk your way through tasks out loud. If you're having trouble getting started with a task, try talking yourself through it. Even though it may seem minor, speaking is a physical activity and sometimes it can help kickstart other physical activities, like standing up, which can help you start your task.
  2. Identify where to start. Executive dysfunction has the power to make you completely forget how to prioritize the steps in a task, and when you can't prioritize, you can't start because every part of the task seems equally vital to getting started. Try to slow down, talk to yourself out loud, and find a good place to start. It doesn't have to be the "right" place to start or even the most effective place, it just has to be a place where you are able to start.
  3. Break the task into steps. Sometimes when I'm struggling with executive dysfunction, everything just feels like it's too complicated. Breaking things down into more easily accomplishable tasks can help.
  4. Plan ahead, if possible. Executive dysfunction often makes it difficult for me to get ready in the morning because there are so many decisions to be made such as: "Do I want to shower?" or "What clothes are most appropriate for what I have to do that day?" I've found that simple planning, like setting out my clothes the night before, can make my morning go much more smoothly.
  5. Get encouragement from others. Shame and executive dysfunction often go hand in hand because you don't understand why you aren't just doing the things you need to do, and it feels like maybe you're just bad at being a person. This can prevent you from reaching out for help, but the truth is, even a tiny bit of encouragement from others can be one of the best ways to get unstuck. Take that leap and shoot someone a text saying "My brain won't let me get started on the dishes, help!" Let your loved ones love you and help you.

Do you have ideas for coping skills for executive dysfunction? I'm always looking for new ways to wiggle my way out of the traps of executive dysfunction, so please share in the comments.

APA Reference
Griffith, M. (2020, January 7). 5 Executive Dysfunction Coping Skills You Should Know, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Author: Megan Griffith

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Susan Sheldon
April, 9 2022 at 2:50 pm

Thankyou so much for this. Sooo helpful. Starting is my main issue... inability to prioritise.... equal importance .... 💡THATS what it is.
Thankyou, I now have a way to explain.

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