The Relationship Between Anxiety and Learning Difficulties
When your child or student has anxiety and learning difficulties, it can be extremely challenging for everyone involved. Anxiety is very common for children with learning difficulties, to the point that many people believed that they weren’t mutually exclusive concepts. Understanding what anxiety is, the cyclical nature of anxiety disorders, how anxiety differs from stress, and the relationship between anxiety and learning difficulties is critical to helping your child or student overcome their anxiety-related obstacles. Below we delve into this connection to improve the knowledge surrounding anxiety and learning challenges and how anxiety affects learning.
Anxiety refers to the “anticipation of a future concern,” and is a standard reaction to stress. Anxiety can even be helpful in certain situations to avoid danger or prepare someone to pay closer attention. Anxiety disorders, however, are unusual feelings of nervousness that result in excessive anxiety or fear. There are several different types of anxiety disorders, and they affect almost 30% of people at some point in their lifetime.
Anxiety can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but it often presents as an unrelenting state of fear, panic attacks, increased heart rate, sweating, difficulty breathing, avoidance, or stomach and chest pains.
Children with learning difficulties often experience anxiety for a number of reasons. In some instances, the fact that they learn and think differently than their peers can create feelings of concern. Additionally, not knowing how to solve a problem, becoming lost or confused, feeling behind, and being overwhelmed are all major causes of anxiety in young students, especially those with learning differences.
People often use anxiety and stress interchangeably or even confuse the two, but they are separate terms. Anxiety is a reaction to stress, as chronic stress can often cause anxiety. The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) sums it up as: “anxiety is a state of worry about what might be—as compared to stress, which is a reaction to what is.” Because these two conditions trigger the exact same chemical reactions in the brain, they can often compound.
While anxiety can certainly make things like focusing and paying attention more difficult, anxiety is not a cause of learning difficulties, but rather one of many symptoms. Children with learning differences are significantly more likely to have challenges with anxiety than children without a learning difference. Learning difficulties often go hand in hand with processing deficits, which can produce stress and anxiety. However, anxiety disorders are treatable, and there are a variety of effective treatments to help mitigate the effects of anxiety.
The relationship between anxiety and dyslexia is typically a result of the unknown. Because many children don’t understand the nature of their learning difficulties, especially dyslexia, they often blame themselves for their shortcomings in school or in other environments. Prolonged, unaddressed periods of frustration and self-doubt can cause individuals to become less equipped to handle daily challenges and less confident in general, which leads to a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. These feelings tend to hinder progress even further, and children with dyslexia often feel defeated in environments where performance is measured, such as classrooms. Accordingly, children with dyslexia and anxiety may become socially withdrawn or act out. As a result, response efforts are commonly directed towards the overt behaviors instead of toward the development of services to elevate knowledge and skills, stop the root cause, and interrupt the cycle.
There is a strong connection between anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). For instance, children with ADHD are almost three times more likely to have anxiety challenges than children without ADHD. Additionally, ADHD and anxiety share many symptoms, such as fidgeting, avoidance, or difficulty focusing. But after years of experiencing ADHD symptoms, children commonly adopt feelings of “consistent inconsistency,” such as knowing a task needs to be done but doubting their abilities to complete it. This type of uncertainty is a core cause of anxiety, and this is how anxiety and ADHD augment each other.
We can make a difference. Hill Learning Center is dedicated to transforming students with learning differences and attention challenges into confident, independent learners. Contact us if you’re interested in taking the next step.