Maths Anxiety

What is Maths Anxiety?

Maths Anxiety is the negative emotional or physical response a person gets when they encounter maths, whether it’s in the classroom or in the outside world as an adult.

 The symptoms of Maths Anxiety can be:

  • Physical: Nausea, shortness-of-breath, sweating, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure.
  • Psychological: Memory loss, paralysis of thought, loss of self-confidence, negative self-talk, maths avoidance, isolation (thinking you’re the only one who feels this way).
Maths Anxiety Symptons
Examples of Maths Anxiety in Children

The impact of Maths Anxiety

Does it matter?

It matters to a person with maths anxiety because it leads to stress, low self-esteem, poorly managed finances and decreased social mobility.

It matters nationally to compete in the modern world Mathematics is vital.  The UK is only 18th out of 35 countries listed in the 2018 table of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s PISA mathematical rating.

It matters nationally because it has a profound impact upon the UK economy and affects businesses who have to pay large sums to train their key staff to tackle maths. 


Maths Anxiety affects many thousands of children, young people and adults across the world This feeling is seen and felt in classrooms, homes and workplaces in the UK, it is widely acknowledged as a barrier to engagement and progress in maths, as well as other areas of education, employment and life.

Sean Harvey’s article in The Guardian Newspaper (2019), states that nearly everyone has felt anxious about a maths question at some time in their lives.

Despite this high prevalence, the same research showed that 80% 
of adults have never heard of the term maths anxiety.

The infographic below highlights some of the alarming statistics which are the result of Maths.

Maths Anxiety Infographic

Maths Anxiety - Cycle of Failure

Many people have had negative maths experiences of maths, such as embarrassment or humiliation from failure, negative attitudes about maths from

peers or family, being taught in ways that don’t suit them and added pressure from for example rote learning and timed tests.

Maths often therefore triggers negative thoughts and memories so many maths anxious learners will avoid maths. This could mean avoiding subjects or modules they think contain maths (including statistics) or in

situations where they have to study maths, avoid studying until the last minute. Poor preparation leads to poor performance, which is another negative maths experience, making the learner more anxious as it reinforces their view that they are bad at maths. Avoiding maths or statistics is becoming increasingly hard given that most degrees now require students to study at least one of them.

This is presented as ‘The Maths Anxiety Cycle of Failure’, where over time things get worse and can lead to a total disengagement with Maths learning.

However, it is important to know that maths anxiety can be overcome, If a learner experiences a nurturing teaching experience,  is able to  recognise and control their anxiety and accepts that maths requires practice rather than an inbuilt ability.

Tips to overcome Maths Anxiety at Home

  • Ensure regular practice happens ‘little and often’
    10 minutes of practice every day, is much better than a gruelling 45-minute maths session on a Sunday evening.
  • Practice only on topics which have been taught already
    Homework works best when it follows up on already attempted work. This will be more effective if revised from work done in class on the same day.
  • Make maths part of everyday life
    Think of ways to incorporate maths learning into everyday activities.
  • Make sure maths is interesting and relevant for your child
    Board and computer games and even sports contain elements of maths. Make maths fun!
  • Don’t pass on your Maths Anxiety
    Allow your child to talk openly about their Maths Anxiety
    Getting your child to share and verbalise their feelings about maths is very important, as something can be done to help their struggles if you know about it.
  • Teach your child to ask about things they don’t understand
    As important in the classroom as it is at home. If your child is not encouraged to ask questions, they may bottle up their anxiety and fear.
  • Communicate with your child’s teacher
    You need to share information about your child’s Maths Anxiety with their teacher. This will enable you to help them sooner!
  • Remain calm when it comes to Maths Anxiety
    We all know that it is not easy to remain calm with your own child as the relationship can become strained.
  • Praise success, no matter how small this may be and not just for getting things right but for effort and progress as well.

Tips to overcome Maths Anxiety in the classroom

  • The best thing one can do as a teacher is just to be on the lookout for maths anxiety; simply by identifying it at an early stage of a child’s numeracy development you will be better placed to support them.
  • Be ready to adjust your teaching approach to accommodate the potentially triggering of high levels of maths anxiety.
  • For example, be aware of the demands that learning new content can place on working memory and ensure that, where ever possible you have designed your activities with cognitive load theory in mind. If a child starts to experience cognitive overload this can trigger maths anxiety symptoms.
  • Break new teaching moments down into their smallest components so that your learners can continue to have small wins on their way to experience challenge.
  • Build up confidence
  • Provide lots of practice opportunities
  • Don’t be afraid of providing additional concrete resources for every age learners . By starting from the concrete, you can ground a learner’s understanding of a new maths idea and then move gradually from this to the more conceptual.
  • Praise, Praise, Praise! Appropriate and relevant praise helps to build up the confidence in the learner.
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