What is Maths Anxiety?

Time for maths. Your heart begins to pound, your stomach knots, and your hands are clammier than a Durban beach. The fear of failure settles on your shoulders and you can’t help but hope the ground will open up and swallow you whole.

Maths anxiety is real.

As educators, we play a vital role in helping remove the stigma around maths anxiety – but first we need to understand it. Watch the short video below.

Why do people get so anxious about math?

What’s the difference between maths anxiety and dyscalculia?

Maths anxiety is a feeling of fear, tension, or apprehension that interferes with maths performance. Maths-anxious people have a fixed mindset and truly believe they cannot do anything maths related – despite having the skill and knowledge to succeed.

Dyscalculia is a learning difference that affects the brain, and makes it difficult to make sense of and work with numbers. Solving maths with dyscalculia is like running with a sprained ankle. Maths anxiety, on the other hand, is like being a physically fit runner who worries that they cannot finish the race: self-doubt gets in the way of success.

Academic anxiety seems to affect maths more

Academic stress is not limited to maths but seems to affect this field more – why? While researchers haven’t fully solved this problem, studies suggest that the way children are exposed to mathematics by their parents and teachers play a large role.

If parents talk about maths like it’s something challenging and unfamiliar, children can internalise that. Teachers with mathematical anxiety are also likely to spread it to their students. Pressure to solve problems quickly adds to that stress, and in some cultures being good at maths indicates that you’re smart in general. With the stakes stacked that high, it’s no wonder students are anxious.

I have maths anxiety – now what?

Relaxation techniques (like breathing exercises) are known to improve test performance for anxious students. Writing down your fears can also help, giving you a chance to reevaluate a stressful experience and apply a growth mindset to the situation. If possible, physical activity like a brisk walk can help to deepen breathing and relieve muscle tension, preventing anxiety from building.

Remember, the anxiety is not a reflection on ability – not even close. With time and awareness, maths anxiety can be conquered.

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