Math Anxiety: Unraveling the Factors that Cause Students to Disengage

Math Anxiety: Unraveling the Factors that Cause Students to Disengage

Do you don’t like math? Are your child’s or students can’t understand math well. Then try to find out the reasons. Check whether your students feel fear while solving math problems. Then they are suffering from math anxiety. 

Math anxiety is a widespread problem that impacts people of all ages and makes it difficult for them to participate in and be successful in mathematical tasks. Math anxiety has been linked to poor academic achievement and career decisions, according to research (Hembree, 1990).

Numerous facets of our life depend on mathematics, from routine jobs to sophisticated problem-solving in the workplace. But for many youngsters, math can cause anxiety and fear—a condition known as “math anxiety.” This phenomenon extends beyond a mere disliking for the subject.  It takes the form of a crippling anxiety that prevents learning. This anxiety also has a significant impact on a student’s academic and personal growth. This blog will cover common topics regarding math anxiety as well as examine the causes of math anxiety, real-world examples, and solved problems that illustrate important ideas.

Understanding Math Anxiety:

Math anxiety is more than just a dislike for math. It is a psychological condition characterized by intense fear or apprehension about mathematics.

How to reveals you are suffering from anxiety? What are the factors that cause anxiety.  This anxiety can manifest in various ways, such as feeling nervous, experiencing physical symptoms like sweating or trembling, and avoiding math-related activities altogether. The fear of failure and the belief that one is not “good at math” are common contributors to math anxiety.

According to Ashcraft and Krause (2007), math anxiety is characterized by stress and anxiety that interferes with working with numbers and solving mathematical issues in a variety of contexts. Suárez-Pellicioni et al. (2015) found that math anxiety is a common problem, with 20% of the population reporting significant levels of anxiety.

Causes of Math Anxiety:

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It’s important to remember that different age groups and cultural backgrounds experience arithmetic anxiety at different rates. Interventions and instructional techniques can also be used to lessen arithmetic anxiety. Research in this area is still ongoing and continues to shed light on practical strategies for lowering math anxiety and encouraging a love of mathematics.

Let discuss some common causes of math fears.

Negative Past Experiences:

People are more prone to develop math fears if they have had bad math experiences, such as low grades or awkward circumstances. Math anxiety was found to be significantly predicted by past bad experiences, according to a study by Hembree (1990).


  • A high school student, Sarah consistently struggled with algebra during her freshman year. Her teacher’s frustration and classmates’ judgment created an environment where she began associating math with failure. As a result, she developed math anxiety, leading to disengagement from future math-related activities.

Pressure to Perform:

Math anxiety can be exacerbated by pressure to perform well in mathematics and by societal expectations. Anxiety levels may rise as a result of performance-based evaluation schemes and high stakes testing. The National Center for Education Statistics (2019) report emphasizes how stressful standardized testing is.


  • James, a college student majoring in engineering, felt immense pressure to maintain high grades in his math courses. The fear of disappointing his parents and jeopardizing his future career prospects led to heightened anxiety, ultimately causing him to withdraw from actively participating in class.

Lack of Confidence:

Students who lack confidence in their mathematical abilities are more susceptible to developing math anxiety. This lack of confidence may stem from factors, including learning difficulties, a perceived lack of innate mathematical talent, or a general sense of not belonging in a math-centric environment.

  • A middle school student, Maria always considered herself “bad at math.” Despite putting in effort, she struggled to grasp basic concepts. The constant feeling of inadequacy eroded her confidence, making her reluctant to engage in math-related activities and perpetuating a cycle of anxiety

Parental influence:

How parents feel about math can have an effect on how their kids feel about it. According to a research by Maloney et al. (2015), there may be a connection between parents’ math anxiety and their kids’ arithmetic achievement and anxiety.


  • A child whose parents express discomfort with math or openly share their own math anxiety may internalize these feelings, impacting their own confidence and performance in math.

Teaching strategies:

Math anxiety may be exacerbated by inefficient or unsettling teaching strategies. According to a 2004 study by Ma and Xu, students’ levels of arithmetic anxiety were highly influenced by the classroom setting and teaching strategies.

Prejudices based on gender:

Arithmetic anxiety can be exacerbated by prejudices about gender and arithmetic prowess, especially for women. A 1999 study by Spencer et al. brought attention to the effect that gender stereotypes have on women’s arithmetic ability.

Neurological issues:

According to some studies, there may be a connection between certain neurological characteristics and math anxiety.

A neurological approach was presented by Lyons and Beilock (2011) to explain math anxiety and how it affects performance.

Overcoming Math Anxiety: A Data-Driven Approach

Overcoming math anxiety
  1. Positive Mindset and Self-Talk

Positive self-talk and cultivating a growth mindset have been shown to reduce math anxiety. Researchers found that students who adopted a growth mindset, believing that intelligence is not fixed and can be developed, demonstrated lower levels of anxiety (Dweck, 2007). Encouraging positive affirmations and challenging negative thoughts can contribute to a healthier attitude towards math.

  1. Practice and Exposure

Increased exposure to mathematical problems through regular practice can desensitize individuals to the anxiety-inducing aspects of math (Ramirez et al., 2013). Research suggests that repeated exposure to mathematical concepts enhances familiarity and comfort, leading to reduced anxiety (Foley et al., 2017).

  1. Visualization Techniques

Visualization techniques, such as picturing oneself successfully solving math problems, have been found to alleviate anxiety (Hodges, 2016). Visualization can help create a positive association with mathematical tasks, promoting a sense of confidence and competence.

  1. Real-World Applications

Connecting mathematical concepts to real-world applications can enhance understanding and reduce anxiety (Ramirez et al., 2018). Statistics show that students who perceive the relevance of math in their daily lives are more likely to engage positively with mathematical tasks (Stacey, 2016).

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Math Anxiety:

Can math anxiety be overcome?

Yes, math anxiety can be overcome through targeted interventions, positive reinforcement, and a growth mindset. Seeking support from teachers, tutors, or mental health professionals can also be beneficial.

How can educators help students overcome math anxiety?

Educators can create a positive and inclusive learning environment, provide constructive feedback, and offer additional resources for students who need extra support. Implementing teaching strategies that focus on real-world applications and collaborative learning can also help alleviate anxiety.

Are there online resources to practice math in a stress-free way?

 Yes, several online platforms offer interactive and engaging math exercises, games, and tutorials. These resources allow students to practice math in a low-pressure environment, building confidence and reducing anxiety.

What role do parents play in addressing math anxiety?

Parents can support their children by fostering a positive attitude toward math, emphasizing effort over perfection, and avoiding negative language. Encouraging open communication and seeking external support, such as tutoring, can also be beneficial.


Math anxiety is a pervasive issue that can significantly impact a student’s engagement with and understanding of mathematics. By understanding the causes of math anxiety, providing real-life examples to illustrate key concepts, and addressing frequently asked questions, we can work towards creating a more positive and inclusive learning environment. Educators, parents, and students alike must recognize the signs of math anxiety and take proactive steps to overcome this obstacle, ensuring everyone can develop a strong foundation in mathematics.


  • Hembree, R. (1990). The Nature, Effects, and Results of Mathematics Anxiety. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 21(1), 33-46.

  • Maloney, E. A., Ramirez, G., Gunderson, E. A., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2015). Intergenerational Effects of Parents’ Math Anxiety on Children’s Math Achievement and Anxiety. Psychological Science, 26(9), 1480–1488.

  • National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). The Condition of Education 2019. U.S. Department of Education.

  • Ma, X., & Xu, J. (2004). The causal ordering of mathematics anxiety and mathematics achievement: A longitudinal panel analysis. Journal of Adolescence, 27(2), 165–179.

  • Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999). Stereotype threat and women’s math performance. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35(1), 4-28.

  • Lyons, I. M., & Beilock, S. L. (2011). Mathematics anxiety: Separating the math from the anxiety. Cerebral Cortex, 22(9), 2102–2110.

  • Ashcraft, M. H., & Krause, J. A. (2007). Working memory, math performance, and math anxiety. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14(2), 243-248.
  • Dweck, C. S. (2007). The perils and promises of praise. Educational Leadership, 65(2), 34-39.
  • Foley, A. E., Herts, J. B., Borgonovi, F., Guerriero, S., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2017). The math anxiety-performance link: A global phenomenon. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 26(1), 52-58.
  • Hodges, T. E. (2016). Visualization and its effect on mathematics achievement. The Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 43, 98-111.
  • Ramirez, G., Gunderson, E. A., Levine, S. C., & Beilock, S. L. (2013). Math anxiety, working memory, and math achievement in early elementary school. Journal of Cognition and Development, 14(2), 187-202.
  • Ramirez, G., Shaw, S. T., & Maloney, E. A. (2018). Math at home adds up to achievement in school. Science, 359(6381), 1025-1026.
  • Stacey, K. (2016). The Learning and Teaching of Algebra: Ideas, Insights and Activities. Springer.
  • Suárez-Pellicioni, M., Núñez-Peña, M. I., & Colomé, À. (2015). Math anxiety: A review of its cognitive consequences, psychophysiological correlates, and brain bases. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 15(3), 187-202.

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