Conquering Math Anxiety

Cynthia Arem, Ph.D.
Pima Community College

So you are anxious about math. Math anxiety is often a complex, long-standing problem. What follows is a brief overview on how to deal with your anxiety but it is by no means exhaustive. It is meant only as an introduction to this topic. If you are experienceing math anxiety please consider taking the Pima Community College course STU 105, Math Success Skills.

1. Many people who believe they are math anxious, are in reality, test anxious or poor math test-takers, and once they deal with these problems, they can be very successful in math. To determine if this is your problem, ask yourself:

If your answer to A or B is Yes, you need help with test anxiety. For assistance with math test anxiety or go to my Web Pages: Math Test-Taking Skills and Overcoming Test Anxiety.

2. It is important to learn how to manage, but not necessarily eliminate, the anxiety you feel with math. Some anxiety keeps you on our toes, makes you be more alert and helps you to function at your best. I encourage you to learn breathing techniques that physiologically calm you by changing rapid, shallow upper lung breathing to a deep, gentle and slow lower lung breathing.

3. One of the sure-fire secrets to success in math is maintaining a positive attitude toward math and your ability to do math. By using positive math affirmations and eliminating all negative math self-talk and disempowering math beliefs, you can develop a positive attitude and increased enthusiasm for math. Tell yourself at every possible moment that you can and will succeed in reaching your math goal. Other positive math affirmations include: I am learning more math each day. Math helps me to get to where I want to go. I allow myself to relax while doing math. I am relaxed, calm, alert and confident in math.

4. Learn to do Programmed Positive Visualization. It is the deliberate use of the power of your imagination to consciously change or reprogram negative math thinking. This technique is practiced while in a deep state of relaxation. Once in this deep state, you visualize a gradual progression through a sequence of positive steps leading to your math success goal. You may rehearse an upcoming math test, imagine yourself relaxed in math class or see yourself able to solve math problems. You must practice this each day until your math goal is achieved.

5. Learn the conditions under which you learn math best and you will enhance your math achievement.  Determine for yourself how time of day, sound, lighting, temperature, food intake, social environment and clothing affect your learning.

6. Learn effective math study skills. Here are a few suggestions. Get involved in the learning process and don't be passive. Carefully select your math class and your teacher. Go to class regularly and sit near the front of class, taking full class notes. Stay current and don't fall behind. Be sure and take the initiative in asking questions. Always review your material immediately after class and eight hours later. Study at least 2 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week. Work out lots and lots of new problems and some review problems during each study session. For an in-depth look at effective math study skills read and my Web Pages: Math Study Skills and Reading a Math Textbook.

7. Do not allow math test anxiety to handicap your achievement. To overcome this anxiety you must maintain good nutritional habits, adequate sleep, relaxation, a physical exercise routine and effective test preparation and test-taking strategies. In addition, you must reverse any negative self-talk, learn calming breath techniques and utilize Programmed Positive Visualization to see your success and help it become a reality. My Web Pages: Math Test-Taking Skills and Overcoming Test Anxiety will help you conquer math test anxiety.

8. Even if math has given you problems for years, act as if you have control over your present level of success; act as if you really enjoy learning math; act as if it is coming to your more easily each day. Soon your habit of pretending and the resulting success you'll achieve will make your feelings match your behavior.

9. Each day visualize yourself calm, relaxed and confident with math. Say to yourself, "I am becoming more calm, relaxed and confident while doing math."

Each day see yourself understanding more math and having the concepts come easily and readily to you. Say to yourself, " I can understand math if I give myself a chance."

Each day visualize yourself working out difficult, new math problems and say to yourself, "Working out math problems is fun."


The math anxiety reduction suggestions on this page were taken from "Conquering Math Anxiety, a Self Help Workbook" (Brooks/Cole 2010) by Cynthia Arem


To return to Frequently Asked Questions go to my Web site: Effective Math and Sciences Study Skills

         For information on dealing with stress click here: Stress Reduction Websites

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