Unravelling the Fear of Numbers

In a world filled with numbers, the prospect of dealing with Mathematics can evoke feelings of worry, stress, and even physical discomfort for many adults and children alike. This phenomenon, known as Maths Anxiety, is a pervasive issue that affects a significant portion of the population.

In this guide, we will delve into the various aspects of Maths Anxiety, examining its signs, impacts, causes, and, most importantly, effective strategies to overcome it.

Understanding Maths Anxiety: Signs and Impacts

Recognising the Symptoms

Woman calculating bills on a desk with an anxious look

Maths anxiety isn’t just a mental hurdle; it often manifests physically. Individuals experiencing maths anxiety may find themselves feeling panicked, stressed, or struggling to concentrate on calculations. Physical symptoms like increased heart rate, sweating, and nausea may also accompany the emotional distress. Avoidance of situations involving maths is a common coping mechanism.


These symptoms, while challenging, are crucial signals. Recognising that these feelings are temporary and can be managed is the first step toward overcoming maths anxiety. It’s essential to understand that these symptoms do not correlate with intelligence or ability but are a natural response to stress.


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How It Affects Performance

As we’ve established, while Maths Anxiety isn’t necessarily linked to low intelligence or ability, the stress associated with it can hinder performance in certain situations. This creates a cycle where poor performance feeds into anxiety, perpetuating the belief that Maths skills are unchangeable. The consequences can extend beyond an academic setting, affecting career choices and everyday tasks involving Mathematics.


To break this cycle, it’s important to understand that performance in specific situations does not define overall mathematical capability. By addressing the anxiety itself, individuals can regain control over their reactions and, in turn, improve their performance in mathematical tasks.


Exploring the Roots: What Causes Maths Anxiety?

The causes of Maths Anxiety can be diverse and complex and different for each individual. Pressured situations, negative past experiences, and cultural biases all contribute to the development of this anxiety. Fear of judgment, past humiliations, and societal stereotypes can shape an individual’s relationship with Mathematics.


Understanding the specific root causes is crucial for developing targeted strategies to overcome Maths Anxiety. By pinpointing specific triggers, individuals can work towards changing their perceptions and building a healthier relationship with numbers to benefit their personal and professional lives.


Overcoming Maths Anxiety: A Range of Approaches

Psychological Strategies

young male with a laptop during a one to one Multiply tutoring sessions in the library

Experts who specialise in this field suggest several psychological approaches to address Maths Anxiety. Recognising the emotion is the first step, understanding that the current discomfort is temporary. Making dedicated time for Maths practice, creating a relaxed environment, and easing into problem-solving gradually are essential strategies. Setting achievable goals and seeking support from colleagues or friends are also crucial steps in overcoming Maths Anxiety.


It’s important to emphasise that overcoming Maths Anxiety is a gradual process. Individuals should acknowledge that improvement takes time and effort. Celebrating small victories along the way and maintaining a positive mindset are key elements of the journey towards overcoming Maths Anxiety.


Challenging Myths about Maths

Changing one’s perspective on Mathematics is vital. Dispelling myths about inherent mathematical abilities and understanding that everyone can improve with time and effort can boost confidence and motivation.


Mathematics is a skill that can be developed through practice and perseverance. By challenging negative beliefs and embracing a growth mindset, individuals can reshape their relationship with Maths and cultivate a more positive and constructive attitude towards learning.


Dyscalculia and Maths Anxiety: Breaking the Connection

Dyscalculia, a learning disability in arithmetic, shares a connection with Maths Anxiety. Research suggests a potential link between the two, emphasising the need to address both the emotional and learning aspects for effective intervention.


Individuals with dyscalculia may experience heightened anxiety surrounding Maths-related tasks, creating a challenging environment for learning. By adopting tailored strategies that consider both the emotional and learning components, educators and individuals can work towards a comprehensive approach to overcoming challenges associated with dyscalculia and Maths Anxiety.


Parental Influence and Breaking the Cycle

Tutoring with parental support

Parents and guardians play a significant role in shaping a child’s attitude toward Maths. Negative attitudes or anxieties about Maths can be inadvertently passed on to children. Encouraging positive discussions about Maths and integrating it into everyday activities can help break the cycle of Maths Anxiety.


Parents must recognise their own attitudes towards Mathematics and actively work towards fostering a positive environment. Engaging children in real-life applications of Maths, such as cooking, travelling, or playing games, can demystify the subject and promote a healthy relationship with numbers.


Education: Building Confidence and Emotion Regulation

In the educational context, building the learner’s confidence is paramount. Emotion regulation skills are crucial in managing the symptoms of Maths Anxiety. Techniques such as writing out negative emotions can help reflect and regulate emotional responses.


Educators should focus not only on teaching mathematical concepts but also on fostering a supportive learning environment. By incorporating strategies that promote emotional well-being and providing individualised support, educators can empower students to navigate mathematical challenges with confidence.


Cultural Impact and Societal Perceptions

The impact of Maths Anxiety extends beyond individual experiences and can influence societal perceptions. Stereotypes such as “Maths is hard” or “Maths is only for nerds” contribute to a culture of fear surrounding mathematics. Changing these perceptions requires a collective effort to promote a positive view of Maths and highlight its relevance in various aspects of life.


Connecting to the Multiply Numeracy Skills Programme

The Maths for Adults Wales skills programme offers a beacon of hope for those grappling with Maths Anxiety. This government-funded initiative, part of the Multiply programme is accessible to all adults aged 19 and over without a Maths GCSE at grade C or equivalent, provides free numeracy courses helping to pave the way for a better relationship and increased confidence with numbers in daily and working lives. Individuals who engage with the course can also work towards a recognised qualification, opening up doors to better paid jobs and improved salaries.


At Equal, we are committed to supporting adults in improving skills and qualifications later in life, and we will play a pivotal role in delivering Maths for Adults Wales courses across numerous Local Authorities in Wales. Our network of expert tutors specialise in helping people overcome Maths Anxiety, ensuring that learners not only confront their fears but thrive in their numerical pursuits. Our inclusive and collaborative learning environment will help all learners to master Maths in a way that they’ve previously not been able to. We offer group, 1-2-1 and online self-learning options to increase understanding and confidence so learners can approach learning Maths in the way that best suits their needs.

Discover how Equal can support you to boost your number know how:


Overcoming the Dread of Numbers

Maths Anxiety is a common challenge, but it is not insurmountable. By understanding its signs, causes, and impacts, individuals can embark on a journey to overcome this anxiety. With a combination of psychological strategies, changing perspectives, and targeted education, Maths Anxiety can be addressed, paving the way for increased confidence and success in daily and working lives.

Remember, it’s never too late to conquer the fear of numbers and embrace the world of Mathematics!