# Math Anxiety

## Introduction

Math classes are a source of anxiety for many students who feel they are not good at math, or who just do not like math. The mere thought of math causes feelings of dread and helplessness. But there is hope.

## What is Math Anxiety?

Math anxiety is a learned, intensely negative, psychological reaction to math, which interferes with a student's ability to learn and to do math. Math anxiety is characterized by emotions such as feelings of panic, fear, worry, nervousness, helplessness and/or any other such feelings some people have about their ability to do math. These negative feeling almost always interfere with learning math. However, it is possible to overcome math anxiety. Overcoming math anxiety is more about convincing yourself that you can do math than it is about any lack of ability.

## How to Recognize Math Anxiety

The math anxiety self-test below is adapted from the www.mathpower.com website.

Rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 means you strongly disagree and 5 means you strongly agree. Place a number in the space before each item. The sum appears at the bottom of the list.

- Sum: 0

If your score is in the 40-50 range, then you most likely have some degree of math anxiety.

### A Word of Caution

If your self-test shows that you have math anxiety, do not use that as an excuse to do poorly in math. Instead, devise a plan to cope with and ultimately overcome your math anxiety.

## How to Overcome Math Anxiety

In most cases, math anxiety has been learned and reinforced over a long period of time. Consequently, it will take time and effort to overcome math anxiety. The suggestions given here, if diligently practiced, will enable you to control your anxiety instead of anxiety controlling you.

- Avoid negative self-talk. Negative self-talk only increases math anxiety. Mathematical proficiency is a skill that must be developed. Most people are not born with a natural talent for doing math. Much like playing the guitar, skill in mathematics comes with much practice. Negative self-talk is the enemy of success. Examples of negative self-talk are statements like:
- I've never been good at math.
- This is hopeless, so why even try?
- When it comes to doing math, I'm just stupid!
- I already know I'm going to fail.

- Practice positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is the opposite of negative self-talk. Unlike negative self-talk, which increases math anxiety, positive self-talk reduces math anxiety. In addition, positive self-talk helps build self-confidence and a positive attitude about one's ability to do math. The result is increased success in learning and doing math.
- Don't believe ethnic and gender stereotypes. We have all heard that girls are not as good at math as boys. Research has shown that this is simply not true. We have also heard that Asians have the "math gene" which gives them superior mathematical ability. African-Americans, on the other hand, do not have the "math gene." Therefore, African-Americans are just not good at math. Don't believe the lie! There is no "math gene." This is simply a myth. Ethnic differences in math achievement have more to do with cultural differences and acceptance of stereotypes, than with inborn ability.
- Study math according to your unique learning style. We all learn differently. Understand your unique learning style and practice effective learning strategies. This will reduce your level of anxiety and improve your overall success in math.
- Ask questions. Students who suffer from math anxiety often avoid asking questions. Fear of public embarrassment often stops these students from asking questions in class. Rest assured that other students have the same question. You are not alone. In addition to asking questions in class, seek help from your professor after class and during his/her office hours. Even if they seem a bit scary at first, you will find that your professors are eager to help any student who truly wants to learn.
- Sit near the front of the classroom. When you sit near the front, you can avoid most distractions and be fully engaged in the lesson. Students who suffer from math anxiety often sit in the back of the classroom in a futile attempt to reduce anxiety. This simply does not work. Sit near the front where you can get the most out of class.
- Learn to control your emotions. If necessary, seek help from a trained counselor or psychologist. They can teach you relaxation skills and anxiety management techniques. Simply put, learn to calm yourself down.

## Conclusion

To overcome math anxiety you first have to believe in yourself. Secondly, you must avoid self-handicapping behaviors such as negative self-talk. With time and effort, you can overcome math anxiety.