Does Math Make You Cringe?

Many students struggle with math.  But for some, even the word “math” makes them cringe.  A few hear the word and want to leave the room screaming. “My mouth gets dry and hands get cold.  My mind races and all I can think about is, well anything but math” is what some say.  Others say, “I can’t do math.  My brain is not wired for numbers.”  Some have perfected the art of math avoidance and say, “If I do something relaxing, like watch TV or talk with friends, THEN I’ll be ready to study math.”  Reading between the lines: If I avoid math by doing something fun, THEN I’ll be ready to face it (yeah, right!).  These are classic signs of math anxiety. 

Math anxiety is a form of performance anxiety where a strong negative emotional response is associated with math class, homework, or tests.  Fear of failing contributes to anxious feelings.  Individuals with math anxiety report difficulty concentrating while doing homework or taking tests.  Some avoid doing homework or attending class all together. 

There are several ways to overcome math anxiety.  One way is to “put the outcome on the shelf.”  Math anxious students often put the cart before the horse.  They are so focused on the outcome (e.g., “I hope I pass this test”) that nervous thoughts intrude while studying.  While studying, individuals think, “This is really hard.”  What’s wrong with me -- I should get this.  I hope I don’t freeze up on the test.”  These thoughts get practiced while studying.  With enough preparation you can perform anything well.  If you practice negative self-talk, you will perform them on the test. 

Shifting your focus away from the outcome (e.g., test grade) is the key.  Catch yourself when your start the negative self-talk.  Shout, “Stop” to yourself.  Remind yourself to put your math test on the shelf for now.  Thinking about the outcome will get in the way. 

Focus on one problem at a time, one step at a time.  Maintain a calm and steady pace.  Break the problem down in smaller steps and highlight what you DO get (not what you don’t).  Many math anxious students are more focused on their mistakes than successes.  Focusing on what you don’t know WILL make you more anxious.  Focus on what you’re doing right and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The combination of your small, individual successes will lead to a large, positive outcome. 

If you would like help with math anxiety, come by the Academic Enrichment Center, or call Rachael Bein at 793-4621.