How Anxiety Affects Learning

Dyslexia can cause students and adults to feel anxious in so many situations. Reading and spelling are both a big part of our daily lives. We read menus, grocery store packages, and road signs everyday. Filling out job applications, writing reports, and texting/emails are just some of the examples of times when spelling is important. In the school setting, students are required to read, write, memorize, and retain information daily. Anxiety is common in students with learning differences and can make learning difficult by creating uncomfortable learning environments, impacting working memory and concentration, and causing students to avoid school and homework.

Nurturing and comfortable learning environments are crucial for students to learn. We’ve all seen situations when a student’s performance deteriorates when they are being bullied, undergoing home life stressors, or other difficult situations. A student with a learning difference is faced with an uncomfortable learning environment everyday. The shame of being different and not measuring up to other students is immense. Even if they have no one comparing them to other students, they do plenty of this themselves.

This can lead to a negative impact on working memory and concentration.  Working memory is short term memory necessary for immediately processing new information. If our working memory is negatively impacted, we are unable to hang on to new information long enough to process it and learn it. An anxious brain is a distracted brain. This can interfere with learning in all subjects. not just those that are affected by the learning difference.

Uncomfortable learning environments and working memory/concentration difficulties lead to avoidance of school and homework. The very thing they need improvement on is the very thing they want to avoid at all costs. These students resist their parents and teachers. This can have the appearance of defiance and behavior issues and students may be labeled as lazy.  However, understanding and compassion are in order for these students. Recognizing their position and their struggle is important so that they know they have an advocate.

In a perfect situation, both parents and teachers will join together to support and advocate for the student. Next week I will address steps we can take, as educators and parents, to alleviate anxiety in our students.


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