It’s a vicious cycle. When faced with number problems you are gripped by anxiety or panic. Clearly, these feelings are no good so you go out of your way to avoid number problems as much as possible. This leads to your becoming less and less “good at maths” and the feelings of anxiety increase. Round and round you go until your maths anxiety has become a fact of life for you.
Research is currently delving into possible causes and interventions for maths anxiety. One article from youcubed at Stanford University reports that timed tests may be responsible for maths anxiety in some cases. Other research at the University of Chicago conducted by psychologist Sian Beilock found that maths-anxious parents can pass on this anxiety to their children.
A first-person account from a New York Times reporter confirmed this and mentioned as well the enormous effect teachers can have on a student’s maths anxiety. Still, other factors such as stereotype threat can severely and adversely affect students’ performance on math exams. And of course, maths learning differences such as dyscalculia can result in a child feeling intense anxiety when asked to deal with numbers.
What possibilities exist for breaking out of the cycle of anxiety-avoidance-poor performance? An experiment at Stanford University found that one-on-one tutoring alleviated maths anxiety in students by using techniques based on exposure therapy. Students faced their fears of maths in a supportive environment and gradually those fears lessened. Breathing techniques for older students at university have also been found to be effective. In the case of a learning difference then early intervention can be key in lessening anxiety caused by numbers.