Overcoming the Fear of Math

By Grace Fleming, About.com

Do you feel a little flushed when you think about doing math homework? Do you think you're no good at math? If you find yourself putting off your math work or dreading math tests, you may suffer from math anxiety.

What is Math Anxiety?

Math Anxiety is a type of fear. Sometimes fear is merely the dread of some unknown that lurks out there. How do you conquer this type of fear? You isolate it, examine it closely, and understand what it's made of. When you do this, you'll soon find that the fear goes away.

There are five common factors and feelings that make us avoid math. When we avoid it, we lose confidence and then start building up dread and fear. Let's confront the things that cause us to avoid math!

"I'm Just Not Cut Out for Math"

Sound familiar? Actually, there is no such thing as a brain type that makes one person better than another at math. Yes, studies show that there are different brain types, but those types just concern your approach at problem solving. Your approach can be different from another students, but it can still be just as effective.

One factor that affects math performance more than any other is confidence. Sometimes a stereotype can make us believe that we are naturally less capable than others. Studies have shown that math stereotypes are not true!

Interestingly, studies do show that positive thinking can improve math performance. Basically, there are two things that you can do to really and truly improve your math performance:

• Don't accept stereotypes about math

• Think positive thoughts.

If you are smart at any skill at all, then you can be smart at math. If you are good at writing or foreign language, for instance, that proves you can be smart at math.

Building Blocks are Missing

This is a legitimate cause for anxiety. If you avoided math in lower grades or you just didn't pay enough attention in middle school, you may be feeling stressed out because you know your background is weak.

There is good news. You can overcome this problem easily by skimming through a textbook that was written for a level slightly lower than your current class. First, you'll be surprised at how much you do know. Secondly, you'll find there are only a few skills you need to practice before you're completely caught up. And those skills will come easily!

Want proof? Think about this: There are many, many adult students who start college after being out of class for ten and twenty years. They survive college algebra by brushing up quickly on forgotten (or never acquired) basic skills using old text books or a refresher course.

You're not as far behind as you think you are! It's never too late to catch up.

It's Just So Boring!

This is a false accusation. Many students who like the drama of literature or social studies may accuse math of being un-interesting.

There are many mysteries in math and science! Mathematicians enjoy debating approaches to long-unsolved problems. From time to time, somebody will discover the solution to a problem that others have sought for years. Math poses challenges that can be amazingly gratifying to conquer.

Additionally, there is a perfection to math that can't be found in many places on this earth. If you like mystery and drama, you can find it in the complexity of math. Think of math as a great mystery to solve.

It Takes Too Much Time

It is true that many people suffer real anxiety when it comes to setting aside a certain span of time and committing to it. This is one of the factors that often leads to procrastination, and it manifests in people of all ages.

For example, many adults put off tasks when they know they will have to devote themselves completely for an hour or two. Perhaps, deep down, we're afraid we'll miss out on something. There is just a certain amount of anxiety or fear that comes with "stepping out" of our life for an hour or two and focusing on one specific thing. This explains why some adults put off paying bills or doing odd jobs around the house.

This is one of those fears that we can overcome, just by acknowledging it.

Realize that it's normal to resist devoting an hour of your thoughts to your math homework. Then simply think your way through your fear. Think about the other things in your life that you'll need to set aside. You'll soon realize that can do without them all for an hour or two.

It's Too Complex to Understand

It is true that math involves some very complex formulas. Remember the process for overcoming any fear? Isolate it, examine it, and break it down into little parts. That's exactly what you have to do in math. Every formula is made of "little parts" or skills and steps that you've learned in the past. It's a matter of building blocks.

When you come across a formula or process that seems too complex, just break it down. If you find that you're a little weak on some of the concepts or steps that make up one element of the formula, then just go back and work on your building blocks.

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