The Struggles of Executive Functioning When OCD Is Present

The Struggles of Executive Functioning When OCD Is Present

People with OCD have various impaired cognitive functions that may include executive functioning. OCD and executive functioning issues often appear with the presence of one or both avoidance or anxious behaviors. In examining neuroimaging data, there seems to be a correlation between OCD and the areas of the brain that handle executive function.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function allows for individuals to go back and forth between tasks. It also enables people to make decisions and cope with new and different situations. Executive function is also part of working memory and self-control. 

To put things simply, executive function is responsible for:

  • Organization
  • Prioritization
  • Starting and completing tasks
  • Staying focused
  • Understanding multiple perspectives
  • Emotional regulation
  • Monitoring your own actions
  • Paying attention to what’s in front of you

Typically, executive functioning skills start in the early years and through the teen years, with some continuing to develop these skills through their early to mid-20s.

Considering some of the issues that are seen with OCD, it is easy to see why executive functioning is challenging for individuals with this diagnosis.

What Are The Symptoms of Executive Functioning Issues?

Executive functioning struggles occur differently from person to person. When dealing with these issues, you may experience difficulty prioritizing tasks or have trouble switching back and forth between tasks.

It’s also not unusual to fixate on something specific or get overly emotional when you’re dealing with executive functioning challenges. Time management can also become a problem when dealing with this particular set of difficulties.

What Do Executive Functioning Issues Look Like Alongside OCD?

Let’s consider, for a moment, what OCD is — a disorder comprised of obsessive and compulsive disorders. Some people only have one to deal with, and some deal with both. 

Examples of obsessions and compulsions can include:

  • Being afraid of getting dirty
  • Controlling behaviors when you’re faced with uncertainty
  • Needing to have everything organized
  • Symmetry is vital
  • Feeling compelled to check doors frequently
  • Counting things or identifying specific patterns

Now, let’s place an executive functioning lens on top of these behaviors to further understand what executive functioning struggles can look like in someone with OCD.

  • Organization may be overly emphasized, for example, where labels on cans must all face the same way.
  • Prioritization becomes difficult when faced with uncertainty because you don’t always know what you’re dealing with, and making decisions becomes hard.
  • Starting and completing tasks can feel overwhelming because you may be preoccupied with compulsions that pull you away.
  • Staying focused is a monumental task when you feel compelled to do something else.
  • Understanding multiple perspectives is a direct affront to your certainty because to consider someone else’s perspective feels uncertain.
  • Emotional regulation is complicated because of every other obstacle you face to simply function from day to day.
  • Monitoring your own actions becomes self-important due to being obsessive or compulsive in your actions, even if you recognize what is happening.
  • Paying attention is hard to do when you’re obsessed with an idea that your brain would rather focus on.

Are Executive Function Issues Common in People with OCD?

It’s not uncommon, but individual studies have also not conclusively proven that executive function difficulties are common for those with OCD. As a result, a meta-analysis was done in 2014 to identify how common executive function deficits are among those diagnosed with OCD.

In pooling the information provided in over 100 different studies, it appears that OCD groups frequently have issues with executive functioning tasks, including:

  • Shifting between tasks
  • Updating knowledge
  • Verbal working memory
  • Planning
  • Measuring inhibition

The results of the meta-analysis suggest that executive functioning issues exist congruent with OCD diagnoses. It seems to go beyond the often theorized ideas regarding shifting and being able to measure inhibition. More research is needed to confirm these findings, but the information found so far indicates that individuals with OCD are likely to also experience executive functioning issues.

What Causes Executive Function Issues?

There are potentially many different factors that cause executive function issues. A couple of the more common factors include:

Brain Development

Studies have been done to examine the part of the brain that is responsible for executive function. Researchers have found that for people who have issues with it, their brains develop more slowly or just altogether differently.

Heredity and Genetics

It’s also not unusual to recognize that people with executive function struggles also have family members who struggle in similar ways. These same issues can also present themselves when learning difficulties exist.

Diagnosis and Treatment

It’s important to note that executive function disorder, also known as executive dysfunction, is not a standalone diagnosis. Other disorders like OCD affect executive function. Therefore, there is no diagnosis for executive function issues alone.

Treatment depends on the primary disorder you may be experiencing. For example, if you or someone you know is dealing with dementia, the approach is markedly different from treating someone with an OCD diagnosis.

Treatment options can include psychotherapy, medications like ketamine, or cognitive behavioral therapy. Depending on the severity of the issue at hand will determine the best treatment for your particular situation.

Addressing Executive Function Issues

Executive function issues are something millions of people deal with every single day. Those who also have OCD often find that their executive function issues are intensified and can cause a great deal of distress.

Many things can fall under the umbrella of executive function issues. This can include problems with organization, time management, planning, and task flexibility. People with OCD often have difficulty with these things because they tend to get stuck in rigid patterns of thinking and behaving.

One of the most challenging things about having executive function issues is that they can make it very hard to meet deadlines or keep up with demands. This can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety, which can make the OCD symptoms worse. If you’re struggling with executive function issues, it’s critical to seek out help from a mental health professional who can help you develop strategies for dealing with them.

Executive Functioning in OCD

Executive function is an important aspect of cognitive health.

For people with OCD, executive functioning can be impaired due to the disorder.

This blog post will discuss executive functioning, why it is important, and how OCD can impair it.

We will also explore strategies for improving executive functioning in people with OCD.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive functioning is a set of cognitive skills that enable us to plan, organize, and complete tasks.

It can be broken down into three main categories:

Working memory

This is the ability to remember and process information in the moment and use it to complete a task.

For example, if you are trying to remember a grocery list while searching for the items in the store, that is using working memory.


This is the ability to change your behavior in response to new information or demands.

Flexibility is used if you are driving to a new location and need to take a different route than usual. 


This is the ability to resist impulses or urges. This is needed when trying to resist a temptation or stick to a plan.

If you try not to eat dessert before dinner, you use inhibition.

Why Is Executive Function Important?

Executive function is important because it allows us to use many different skills needed in everyday life.

It allows us to set goals, makes plans, and carry out tasks.

People with impaired executive function may have difficulty completing schoolwork, keeping a job, or managing their finances.

They may also have trouble with relationships and social interactions.

A few additional skills we use executive function for include:

  • Focusing or paying attention to a single task
  • Staying on task and not getting distracted
  • Remembering instructions
  • Organizing materials or information
  • Multitasking or switching between tasks
  • Controlling our emotions

These skills are important for people of all ages, but especially for children as they are developing.

Signs of Executive Functioning Impairment

There are a few different ways to measure executive function.

One common way is through the use of questionnaires or surveys.

These can be completed by parents, teachers, or other adults who know the person well.

Another way to measure executive function is through neuropsychological testing.

This usually involves taking some paper-and-pencil tests as well as some computerized 


These tests can give a more detailed look at which specific skills are impaired.

In general, people with executive functioning impairments may have difficulty with:

  • Starting or finishing tasks
  • Prioritizing tasks by importantance
  • Remembering how to organize materials or information
  • Multitasking or switching between tasks
  • Routine changes
  • Not getting heavely invested emotionally in small or insignificant tasks
  • Planning and problem-solving
  • Time management

If you or a loved one displace these signs,  it does not necessarily mean you have an executive function impairment.

However, if you have several of these signs and they are negatively impacting your life, it may be time to seek professional help.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects around 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children.

It is characterized by intrusive, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions).

People with OCD often feel like they have to do things a certain way or something bad will happen.

This can lead to a lot of anxiety and distress. OCD can cause people to miss work, school, or important social events.

It can also interfere with relationships and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.

How Does OCD Manifest?

OCD can manifest in many different ways. Here are some common obsessions and compulsions:

Fear of contamination or germs: This can lead to compulsions such as excessive hand-washing, cleaning, or avoiding touching things.

Fear of losing control: This can lead to compulsions such as repeating certain words or phrases, counting, or organizing objects in a certain way.

Fear of making mistakes: This can lead to compulsions such as checking and rechecking work, needing reassurance from others, or doing things a certain way to avoid mistakes.

Fear of harm: This can lead to compulsions such as checking on loved ones to ensure they are safe, avoiding certain activities or places, or repeating certain words or phrases.

How Does OCD Impair Executive Function?

OCD can impair executive function in a few different ways. First, the obsessions can make it difficult to focus on tasks or stay on track.

The compulsions can also take up a lot of time and energy, making it difficult to complete other tasks.

Additionally, OCD can lead to a lot of anxiety, further impairing executive function.

People with OCD often have difficulty with planning and problem-solving as well.

If you or a loved one have OCD, treatment options are available.

Colorado Ketamine Can Help Find  Relief

If you or someone you love is struggling with OCD, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.

At Colorado Ketamine, we are dedicated to helping our patients find relief from their symptoms.

We offer ketamine-assisted therapy, effective treatment for OCD.

While traditional medications can take weeks to start working, ketamine has been shown to provide relief within hours.

Ketamine can help people with OCD reduce their compulsions and improve their quality of life.

If you’re ready to take the first step toward recovery, our passionate team at Colorado Ketamine will work with you to develop a treatment plan that works.

We know suffering from OCD can be isolating, but you don’t have to go through this alone.

Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to find soutions.

[Learn More About Colorado Ketamine]

Share Now :

Schedule a Consultation

By submitting this form, you consent to receive SMS messages and/or emails from our company. To unsubscribe, follow the instructions provided in our communications. Msg & data rates may apply for SMS. Your information is secure and will not be sold to third parties.

Call US
Email Us