Coping with Math Anxiety



Math anxiety is extremely common. I’ve observed that many students develop fear about mathematics because the subject is cumulative.

If they miss one bit of math early on—say, their multiplication tables—everything else they learn afterwards will be a bit hazy. Eventually, math comes to seem totally confusing and the student starts to believe she can’t do math.

Simple formula:

Missing math info + new material + beliefs such as “I’m not very good at math” + learning problems caused by stress = math anxiety

It can be debilitating. They key is to separate out the two issues: math and anxiety.

Handle the math

Help with math

You’ll probably need a professional tutor to help with the math. That’s because figuring out what information is missing from the student’s knowledge bank and then re-teaching much of the math learned subsequently requires expertise.

The process of working with a math tutor may take some time and money, but it is an excellent investment. (After all, good mathematical skills lead to good jobs—ask a doctor or an engineer.)

Here are some tips to help you find a tutor.

Deal with the anxiety

A little bit of tension can boost brain function, but too much anxiety shuts down the parts of the brain that we use for math, critical thinking, and similar skills.

Students learn a lot better when they know how to cope with their stress. Here are some ideas:

• Breathe deeply, making the inhale (count 1, 2, 3, 4) half the length of the exhale (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). Try it for a few minutes. My yoga teacher showed me this technique, and it really helps

• Exercise before tackling math problems

• Talk to your doctor—she may be able to help with anxiety management

• I’ve had great success with hypnosis for anxiety management, and so have some of my friends. I go to Bay Area Hypnotherapist Susan Gold. She’s amazing.

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