PurposeThis research aimed to identify the levels of stress students experience, the different sources that generate them and the relationship between the stress levels and the students' gender.Design/methodology/approachA mixed-methods design was used, focusing on the quantitative stage. The qualitative section was designed to obtain supporting information. 86 Ecuadorian undergraduate polytechnic students enrolled in an English course took part in this study. Quantitative data are obtained using the Telecollaborative Foreign Language Anxiety Scale (T-FLAS), while online interviews supply insight from students.FindingsThe present research identified four types of anxiety related to emergency remote teaching (ERT). Communication anxiety is one of them that has also been found in regular foreign language classes (Horowitz et al., 1986). However, the actual contribution is regarding the other three sources of ERT-related anxiety: Online interaction anxiety, ERT anxiety and technology anxiety. Also, it was identified that girls experience higher anixety levels than men do.Research limitations/implicationsA limitation of this study is the T-FLAS, a tool that has not been widely used. However, as Fondo and Jacobetty (2020) reported, other papers have made use of this novel tool. Another limitation to this research is the number of participants; although it is not very small, it might not be considered large enough for generalization purposes. Also, this study was limited by its scope, which only looked at the relationship between the students' genders and anxiety levels.Practical implicationsFirst, this researcher recommends that language departments use the survey at the beginning of each semester. That way, there will be a clear idea of the sources of anxiety students are experiencing, and measures can be taken to lower those anxiety-causing factors. Also, this study shows students experiencing a high level of anxiety when they are required to interact with their peers using a foreign language. Thus, supplying practice through guided discussions and role-plays should allow learners to reduce their anxiety levels and perform better during these kinds of exchanges in the short term.Social implicationsAnother issue reported by this study is the feelings of uneasiness when turning cameras on to do an exercise or taking quizzes and exams, as learners feel like their classmates and teachers are invading their homes. It is recommended that the Student Welfare Department of the educational institutions deal with this and other issues. They can design intervention, relaxation and yoga programs for students who are feeling anxious to help them lower those feeling and allow them to have better interactions in class during these times of remote learning.Originality/valueThis paper's originality lies in the fact that it looks at anxiety from the point of view of the COVID-19 pandemic and the move it had to be made to the digital realm. It identifies three factors that are new and related 100% to emergency remote teaching–learning. It is also valuable as it is looking at data emerging for a South American country, as data are scarce from this continent and especially from Ecuador.