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Aug 3, 2022

Grief. Devastating for executive skills and we never talk about it.

We need our brain’s executive function skills to accomplish many things. Unfortunately, sometimes it becomes difficult to be productive. There are many factors that can affect how we work. Many things can affect how we think and what we do. Some people have difficulties controlling their emotions, especially if they are older. It’s not just about being sad, it’s about having difficulty managing our emotions.

  • Having conditions that limit our ability to accomplish what we need to do, like being neurotic or having Autism.
  • Brain injuries can also cause us to have difficulty thinking clearly and doing things that are important to us. This is true of many people, in their mid-life and older brains as well as people who have experienced recent loss in their lives.
  • Stressful situations in our lives can affect how we function. This is what happened to me during the Influenza Pandemic.

When we are constantly stressed or anxious, our emotional brain takes over and blocks our access to our prefrontal cortex. We cannot make smart decisions or make good choices. It is as though we just don’t think clearly enough or we don’t make good decisions. We often don’t be able to make good decisions or even to be able to control our emotions; we become stuck. This is one of the most obvious causes of executive dysfunction. I have learned over the years that we can often ignore grief. It is a source of difficulty that we do not often talk about.

Grief and the Ability to Function.
We as a society try to avoid talking about grief. It is uncomfortable and hard to process. People are able to put grief away in order to get over it and move on.

But executive function is not as simple as this. There are many causes. Despite the fact that people grieve differently, we all have a door open to the grief that is already present and past. Sometimes when we think about what might happen in the future, we become anxious that someone might die in the future. What will happen is that our executive functioning skills are disabled. When that happens, our ability to perform our executive functions is affected.

I’ve lost four friends in the past week. I can’t even process the things that my inner circle of friends and family says. I thought I was handling it pretty well for a couple of weeks. However, I was wrong. I was doing an extremely poor job. In my life, grief often claims its time, and for me, that came to a head on a Saturday.

After getting absolutely exhausted, I was able to see how my brain had been challenged by all of my recent losses.

There was a good article in my inbox that I could relate to. It was a very helpful and insightful piece. Floran Jansssen of the SOO Institute wrote a very good article about why we shouldn’t skip over grieving. I highly recommend that you read this blog, especially if you work with or live with children who have suffered a loss like that. I think her perspective and what she suggests is very wise and would fit in with my own experience with grief.

What We Can Do to Support Those Who Are Grieving: Identify a number of problems that might be affecting them.

If you are grieving a loved one, name it. If you are not aware that someone you love is grieving with you, find a support group for them. It really is there. Don’t pretend it isn’t there. If you’re a witness to someone’s grief, you can help them. It is important that we recognize that grief is an emotion that can cause us to lose our ability to do our job effectively.

You can’t give a fix to a grieving person. We can help them by allowing them to talk about it if they want to. Listening is important. It enables us to help them move on with their lives. Normalize their behavior. If they are coping with loss, try to have them talk to you and understand your feelings.
Activate your senses. Feels good. You can do things that will help them to be more productive. It is important to feel things deeply and smell things very carefully to calm ourselves. This helps us to stop allowing our emotional brain to rule the day. Walking mindfully around the city can be very helpful.
So be honest. Tell people what you are experiencing. It will never go away, but it is hoped that over time, our ability to function as an organized system will improve.

Stay connected with a supportive community. It is important to help other people who have experienced a loss as you would help friends who have lost someone. Reach out to people in your church, to therapists who help people cope with grief. If someone is good or if someone has been helpful to you, lean into their wisdom and cherish the times they have shared with you.
Have compassion. Often we are overwhelmed by our own feelings and cannot function well. When grief dominates, leave some space for people (and yourself) to be offline.

When grief takes over, our ability to plan for the future becomes increasingly difficult. It is very difficult to think positively about the future when we are grieving. Patience. Little by little, our desire to look forward to the future increases.
This month I planned to write a blog about spring cleaning and executive functioning. It is not easy to talk about grief on a blog or to read a blog.

But I kept hearing people talk about how painful it is to be grieving. People in my life have been letting me know that they are grieving too.

This is a topic I had to write about because I am all about recognizing and addressing the pain that executive dysfunction causes. If we own the source of our suffering, and if we name it, we can begin to live a purposeful life. Grief, in all its forms, interferes with our ability to think clearly and make decisions.

If you are experiencing grief, be kind to others. Be kind to yourself. Little by little our hearts and brains start to become functional again.
Big hug!

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