Freaking out at the sight of numbers? Trembling when you have to actually do your math homework? Panicked when you sit down to write that math test you studied for all night? It’s called math anxiety – and yes, it’s a thing. So what is math anxiety anyways?
Math anxiety is more than a dislike for math. It’s a lack of ability to do math, regardless of how good at it you might actually be. And yes, it’s different than just hating math – there’s even science to back it up!
Math anxiety can literally cut off the working memory needed to solve problems. The negative thought patterns associated with math anxiety actually take up the brain’s working memory, using brainpower to combat anxiety rather than to solve the problem at hand.
Math anxiety can develop for a variety of reasons, including the tendency to compare oneself with peers (who doesn’t!), poor instruction, a history of bad experiences with math (classic), and cultural stereotypes surrounding mathematical ability.
Anxiety acts up most when we’re faced with something we’re insecure about or with something we’re already sort of scared of – for many of us, math is THAT thing.
When math anxiety rears its ugly head, what can you do to chill out and actually use your brainpower productively? Here are some useful tips on how to deal with – and ultimately eradicate – the evil that is math anxiety!
1. Stop Lying to Yourself.
Seriously, chill out. Often math anxiety is simply caused by crazy intrusive thoughts that tell you lies about yourself. How often have you thought “I’m such a failure. I’m never going to get this. This is so much easier for everyone else. Blah blah negative blah.” Write those thoughts on a page, one at a time. Now make a list of FACTS that support each thought, and facts that DON’T support it. You will find that deep down you know that most of those things aren’t true – it’s simply anxiety messing with you!
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Get Help!
We can’t do everything on our own and there are so many ways to get support. Study with your smart friends! Often teaching one another is how we learn best, and plus, you’ll feel like you’re socializing when you’re actually just doing homework. If you need more than that, it’s never too early or too late to get a professional tutor – ask your friends for recommendations or do an online search to find someone in your area. Lastly, the internet has a ton of resources like Khan Academy or Purplemath, that can help you understand concepts that you might need a little clarification on.
3. Pump Yourself UP!
Math anxiety depends on insecurity for its continued reign of terror! Make a list of things you’re awesome at, great marks you’ve achieved, accomplishments that you’re proud of. Stick them next to your mirror and every time you feel like you ‘just can’t do it,’ go stare at that list. Bonus points if you then look yourself in the eye and tell yourself that you’re a TEN. Like you mean it.
4. Love Learning (yes, it’s possible)
Part of what stresses everyone out is the pressure to ‘act out’ what learning ‘is supposed to’ look like. Some people study best in libraries while others hit their peak at coffee shops. Some need to rewrite all of their class notes while others are fine never having to do that. The point is that you need to get to know YOUR inner math geek. Figure out what makes you tick, what helps you learn, what does it for you when it comes to being organized and studying. Learning this about yourself NOW will make university a million times easier!
5. Focus on Hard Work – Not Good Grades!
Getting good marks – the ultimate anxiety inducer! And yes, they ARE important. But the fact is that the work ethic you develop while AIMING for those grades is going to be just as useful to you in LIFE as those grades themselves. Everyone hates the kid that gets good marks effortlessly. But guess what, that doesn’t actually happen that often, if ever. Don’t beat yourself up. Be proud of the hard work you put in, and know that all that hard work will eventually pay off!
6. Reality Check
Above all, the most important thing, hands down – is to keep things in perspective. Not ‘getting’ math isn’t the end of the world, and the sooner you realize that math is one teeny tiny thing in a list of a million things going on in your life, the sooner you will be able to chill out about it, and finally actually ace that math test – without freaking out!
Got the inside scoop on how to deal with math anxiety? We would love to hear from you! Comment below and share your secrets!