Interviewing an EF Expert, Part 5

Student wearing red jacket with hands on head looking over work

Top Tier Admissions(link opens in new tab/window)↗, a company devoted to empowering students from around the world in the college and graduate school admissions process, recently interviewed ResearchILD’s very own Shelly Levy*, M.Ed., M.S., who is a leader in the field of learning development. Shelly’s interview is a rich resource on executive function, and we will be diving into pieces of it here on the SMARTS blog over the next few weeks. Check out part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

How Does Anxiety Affect Executive Function and ADHD?

Shelly’s response: “It probably won’t surprise you that anxiety affects our executive function processes in a negative way.”

Anxiety is a physiological response to negative thoughts and beliefs. When experiencing heightened anxiety and stress, the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for executive function processes such as planning, prioritizing, and controlling impulses) shuts down and does not let us see the big picture.

Clogged Funnel

Students often feel inundated by the demands placed on them in school and in extracurricular activities. Whether we refer to a child developing executive function skills or an adult managing the demands of daily life, the experience of executive function overload (aka a “clogged funnel”) remains universal. Anxiety contributes to the clogged funnel effect.

ADHD and EF 

ADHD differs from anxiety disorders in that teens with ADHD typically struggle with organizational problems, working memory challenges, and impulse control. Executive function challenges can also impact how teenagers with ADHD manage their emotions. This can lead to academic or social struggles that contribute to anxiety as well.

Shelly points out that while the combination of anxiety and executive function struggles is challenging, supports are available.

The good news is that providing your teen with the proper supports such as a therapist and executive function coach can help your teen learn strategies to manage their anxiety and strengthen their executive function.

Check back soon for the final post in this series, which will cover the role of an executive function coach and who would benefit most.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

*Shelly Levy is the Director of SMARTS Training & an Educational Specialist at The Research Institute for Learning and Development in Lexington, MA. She has been in the field of Special Education for over 30 years.

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development:



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