Maths Anxiety

Symptoms & Solutions

Maths Anxiety

Maths anxiety symptoms can appear before children even start school. Some children find learning to count numbers a struggle so when they begin school their attitude towards maths is already one of anxiety.

“Help - I can’t cope with more issues!!” I hear you cry. Don’t panic we are here to help and make some suggestions for solutions below. Now breathe it’s going to be ok.


Writing down your fears can increase exam results


  1. Are children bad at maths because they feel anxious about the subject?

  2. Do children have maths anxiety because they find processing maths ideas hard?

The answer is probably a combination of factors depending on the student and their brain development or what’s happening at home and in school life.

However, research has been able to prove that if students write down their maths fears or do breathing exercises before an exam their scores improve. Which is fantastic news as this demonstrates you CAN do something about maths anxiety and it doesn’t need to be a lifelong affliction — more on the writing technique below.


We suggest playing games to calm children/teenagers through maths anxieties. Sites like Table Fables can help children grasp their basic maths like NUMBER BONDS, TIMES TABLES, DIVISION and ADDITION. Table Fables use funny animations with poops and farts to make children laugh and learn. Anything that makes children laugh is brilliant. It’s impossible to feel anxious when laughing.

If your child is showing signs of maths anxiety or struggling with maths the sooner you address the issue the faster the problem can be sorted out. If you had problems with your heart you wouldn’t say “Doctor, it’s ok I’ll fix my heart issues in 5 years, I can live with the heart palpitations and panic for another few years!!”. Don’t let your child's self-esteem and confidence suffer if they have problems, sort them out sooner rather than later.


Do you remember ever feeling stressed or anxious when a maths teacher asked you a question? What about maths homework when nothing made sense?

Being extremely nervous when faced with doing basic mathematics isn’t a great feeling but can be overcome with patience and time. You are also NOT alone. Many people fear maths and any situation where maths is required.

anxiety can cause eye rubbing

We may not know the exact causes of maths anxiety but below are a few Common physical symptoms :

  1. Racing heart

  2. Nervous habits when faced with maths: like excessively rubbing eyes

  3. Tantrums

  4. Tears

Child with maths anxiety


Scientists and educators until recently thought that maths anxieties first appear when children begin to learn complex maths such as algebra.

However new studies have established that children as young as age 6 or younger can feel anxious and have negative feelings towards maths.

Researchers found that almost half of the children who participated in the study said that they were at least somewhat nervous about doing maths. Also, children with higher maths anxiety got worse scores on their math test. Researchers concluded that the relationship between maths anxiety and maths ability develops when children are very young.


But what are the causes of Maths Anxiety?

Researchers have two ideas about how maths anxiety may develop:

IDEA 1 :

Those who start school struggling with numbers are more likely to develop maths anxiety. This idea hasn’t been tested yet but feedback from parents of children with Dyscalculia or Number Dyslexia would suggest that those who develop maths anxiety struggled to learn to count in pre-school.

IDEA 2 :

Maths anxiety develops in children who are exposed to social situations that affect their thoughts and feelings towards maths. For example, children normally pick up negative thoughts and feelings from parents, teachers or other individuals in their lives.

Studies have shown that teachers with high maths anxiety have students with poorer maths achievement at the end of the school year. Unsurprisingly suggesting that the way the teachers act when delivering maths lessons affects their pupils.



What happens in the brain when people experience maths anxiety?

One idea is that our human brain can only process a certain amount of information at a time. This system is called WORKING MEMORY - this area of the brain holds information so you can use it when doing activities. WORKING MEMORY is where we can think of multiple things at the same time. Thinking of several things at once is essential for maths eg Mental maths:

1. Your brain has to remember the numbers.

2. Your brain needs to work out what steps are needed to solve the problem.

3. You say or write the answer down - ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Researchers have a theory that when people experience maths anxiety, the anxiety uses up massive amounts of their WORKING MEMORY not leaving enough space to process the math problem itself.


Maths Anxiety makes your brain function differently

The theory being that if students weren’t so anxious then they would have more space in their Working Memory to solve the maths problem. In other words, their maths anxiety is causing them to repeatedly fail. This theory has been supported by various studies.

Studies have also demonstrated that children’s brains scanned in an MRI machine while completing maths tasks, showed that children with high maths anxiety overused an area of the brain called the amygdala, rather than those children who didn’t have maths anxiety.

Also, those children that suffer from high maths anxiety underuse two areas in their brains that deal with Working Memory and Mathematical processing compared to those children that don’t have maths anxiety.

Leading researchers to believe that those students with math anxiety are massively over using an area of the brain that deals with anxiety while under using the areas of the brain designed to help work out mathematical procedures.



Idea 1 :

The ultimate goal is for students to never develop maths anxieties in the first place. Sites like Table Fables will help children regain confidence or not develop any issues, sites like Table Fables use humour and animation to make children laugh while they are learning maths. When a child is laughing and having fun they can’t feel anxious.

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Idea 2 :

Research has shown that writing down thoughts and feelings, which would normally clog up Working Memory or mathematical procedure areas of the brain with anxiety, has proven to help students that suffer from maths anxiety feel calmer before tests. And guess what? When they are calmer they score HIGHER on their tests. So make sure you or your child ALWAYS write down thoughts and feelings before an exam or before maths lessons. The act of writing down anxieties lets us see that a lot of our worries are unfounded and frees up our brain to concentrate on the maths.

A. Get them to write down as many of their fears as possible eg “I’m scared of failing.”, “This is too hard for me” etc.

B. Now take a moment to carefully consider a rational response to each thought based on evidence from your past. Eg “I’ve passed exams before, I can do it again.”, “Some questions might be hard but I will know the answers to lots of questions.” etc.

Breathing before exams helps a lot.

Idea 3 :

A different group of researchers showed that if college students with maths anxiety did breathing exercises before tests to calm them down then scores on their test improved.

These studies proved that with intervention maths anxieties can be controlled - which is very reassuring as it means that maths anxiety doesn’t need to be a lifelong affliction.

However, it would be better for children not to develop maths anxiety in the first place. We have discovered that playing board or card games and using websites like Table Fables massively helps children laugh and have fun with maths rather than feeling stressed and anxious.

Math anxiety

Causes of Maths Anxiety Summary

Maths anxieties challenge those who suffer from it in classes, careers and everyday lives and can greatly affect those who suffer from maths anxiety as they progress through life. Research has shown that maths anxiety starts early and is affected by social situations as well as brain activity. However calming exercises can be used to make sure the correct areas of the brain are functioning properly rather than hindering the mathematical process.

More research is needed into why only some people suffer from maths anxiety and not others. Until more is understood, most researchers believe that talking to fellow students, parents, teachers and colleagues about your emotional response to maths is the first step to reducing the harmful effects of maths anxiety.