Why Anxiety Hinders Learning — and a Solution​

If your child is often anxious, it can be a struggle for them to learn. This is because when we experience a stress response (fight, flight, or freeze) our brain is occupied with responding to what is making us anxious. That means there isn't much room left to take in new information. There doesn't need to be an immediate issue at hand; a student could be anxious about the test coming up two hours from now, or she could be remembering the fight she had with a friend.


For many students, even entering a classroom or being asked to read aloud causes sufficient anxiety to make it difficult to learn. This article in ADDitude magazine discusses this in more depth. (And if you have a child with ADD or ADHD, the magazine and web site are great resources.) Knowing that an anxious brain can’t easily take in new information, what can a student do to calm down? I think you know what I'm going to say: practice mindfulness. Even a few deep, calming breaths before a test or five minutes of mindful breathing before homework can significantly help a child who is anxious.


Coming back to the breath and focusing on the present moment can help anxious children find balance and better focus for the task at hand. And what about a more long-term solution? Regular — ideally daily — mindfulness or meditation practice will reduce a student’s anxiety overall.


Journaling is another fantastic stress reduction technique. For students whose anxiety is diagnosed, working with a therapist is a good long-term option. Whatever technique you employ, the important thing is to find ways to help your child reduce their anxiety so their brain is free to learn.​