The other night, I went out for a lovely dinner with a group of friends. When the bill arrived at the end, my stomach did a somersault. I feel anxious having to scan the bill for everything I ordered, remember the costs in my head, figure out the total I want to tip, and then add it all on my phone’s calculator – without making a mistake! The numbers swirl on the page and my mind goes blank. And recently, I discovered I’m not alone in this: one in three students1 and over 35% of adults in the UK report experiencing maths anxiety when confronted with number problems2.

What we learn in maths at school extends beyond mathematical concepts and procedures. These lessons help us develop some of the most important life skills and strengthen our executive functioning – from working memory (e.g. when calculating how much to charge for a meal), to time management (e.g. when getting ready for work or cooking dinner in the oven).

Experiencing maths anxiety

When we experience maths anxiety, it highlights our challenges with the EF skill of emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is the ability to manage emotions to achieve goals, complete tasks, or control and direct behaviour. You might experience a fight-fight-freeze response trigger when asked to solve a maths problem.

As a result of this trigger, your heart beats faster, your chest tightens, you get tunnel vision, and it becomes impossible to think clearly. This inevitably impairs your ability to perform and problem solve.

It’s suggested that this anxiety is an emotional response to the perceived threat a maths problem poses to our self-esteem and self-concept3, i.e., “If I can’t solve this, then I am not good enough”. This anxiety is prevalent across all education levels, and can be caused by multiple factors, including pressure from parents and teachers, and bad experiences in the classroom.

Overcoming this anxiety

Plenty of research highlights the relationship between executive functioning, and procedural and conceptual understanding, to thrive in mathematics. It’s well-established that we can teach and improve executive function skills. Addressing maths anxiety requires a collective effort from educators, parents, and students alike. Here are five ways students can be supported to overcome this:

1. Create a positive learning environment

Foster a classroom environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning, not as failures, and encourage collaborative problem-solving to alleviate the fear of judgement.

2. Personalised learning approaches

Every person has a different executive functioning profile, and so it makes sense that no two people have the same learning styles. It’s important to recognise and accommodate diverse learning styles to ensure each student can grasp mathematical concepts in a way that resonates with them. You can also provide additional resources or alternative methods for students struggling with specific topics.

3. Emphasise real-world applications

Illustrate how mathematical skills are applicable in everyday life, making the subject more relevant and less abstract. This can be done by incorporating practical examples, such as budgeting, or calculating discounts. You can also take it a step further and include maths problems relating to hobbies students enjoy – like measuring ingredients for baking, spacing out planting seeds in gardening, and measuring shutter speed for photography.

4. Encourage a growth mindset

Foster a belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. This involves praising a learner’s effort and perseverance rather than focusing solely on correct answers.

5. Offer individualised support

Identify students experiencing maths anxiety early on and provide additional support or one-on-one sessions to build their confidence. Also be sure to collaborate with parents to create a unified approach to support the student’s learning journey.

Maths helps us develop essential life skills that extend far beyond the classroom. By adopting a collaborative approach involving educators, parents, and students, we can dismantle the barriers that maths anxiety puts up. In doing so, we not only help students overcome maths anxiety but empower them with the tools to navigate a world where mathematical skills are integral to problem-solving and critical thinking. In doing so, we can transform maths from a source of fear to an essential and empowering life skill.

Don’t miss our upcoming CPD Accredited Maths Word Problems Webinar!

Join CiM co-founder & MD on the 22nd of January at 4.30pm, GMT for a CPD accredited webinar:


Why are maths word problems so hard? Executive function perspectives and solutions.

Limited space available. Click the button below to reserve your spot!


Discounts available for students – please email to apply. 


A note from the author:

“I am a teacher and mother of a neurodivergent family.  Some days it all feels too much, but time and again I remind myself to turn to our proven strategies and it makes everything more doable.


I have dedicated my life to our world changing work. It’s such a privilege to have you on this journey with us.”


– Victoria Bagnall,

CiM Co-Founder & Managing Director



1OECD. (2015). “Does Math Make You Anxious?”. PISA in Focus, No. 48. OECD Publishing, Paris. Access:

2Metha, B. (2023). “Maths anxiety is all too real for ‘sum’, new research finds”. KPMG in the UK. Access:


3Khasawneh, E., Gosling, C. & Williams, B. (2021). “What impact does maths anxiety have on university students?”. BMC Psychol 9, 37. Access: