Jul 25, 2015 0

Maths Anxiety: Causes and Coping with It

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Does the very sight of numbers make you sweat? Does the thought of doing maths send a cold shiver down your spine? Does sitting for a maths exam reduce you into a blubbering mess? Well, congratulations. You probably have Maths Anxiety.

What is Maths Anxiety?

Maths Anxiety is a debilitating fear of doing maths. In some cases, the very act of opening a math textbook can cause stress and high anxiety. This fear can manifest in anybody- from young kids in kindergarten to adults with a Masters degree in Mathematics! So, if you Maths Anxiety, you are not alone.

Some people believe that Maths Anxiety is not real; that it’s just a child avoiding doing homework or studying. And it’s more than just a dislike for the subject. It is a very real phobia manifesting in people of all ages all over the world, with a lot of in-depth research done on the condition. In fact, some researchers believe that some amount of Maths Anxiety is present in all of us.

What Causes Maths Anxiety?

Mathematics sums usually involve arriving at one particular correct answer. The fear of not arriving at that correct solution can cause great tension in students. Particularly in the Indian education system, where Maths is considered to be an all important subject, the fear of potentially not being good at Maths can lead to fear of failure and fear of public humiliation. Saying ‘I’m not good at Maths’ is likely to elicit more horrified gasps than saying ‘I’m not good in Social Studies.’ However would the child get into IIT with Maths Anxiety!?

The reason behind this fear probably has a lot to do with the teacher’s teaching methods in class. A teacher who ridicules students for not being able to do a sum is more likely to have students with Maths Anxiety than one who is more gentle and practical in his teaching.

Maths Anxiety, like any other phobia, can be caused by a bad experience with Maths during childhood. For instance, a very frightening tuition teacher punishing you for doing badly in a Maths test, or a Fail grade in your Maths paper can lead to anxiety as well.

Maths and Girls

A widely popular belief is that girls will simply be no good at Maths. Almost anybody you ask would say that Maths is a ‘boy subject.’ It’s one of those wonderful stereotypes passed down the ages, and is quoted by parents and even teachers in class- including female Maths teachers! Thank you, ancestors.

This conditions girls to believe that they really would not do well in Maths- no matter how hard they study. This obviously leads to a higher fear of doing Maths in girls. After all, how can one ace a subject if pretty much everyone says you wouldn’t be good at it?

However, research has proven that girls are no better or worse at Maths than boys. It is just a social construct designed to keep girls away from supposedly ‘hard’ subjects and pushing them towards ‘softer’ subjects like languages.

Getting Over Maths Anxiety

As mentioned before, a certain amount of Maths Anxiety exists in us all. Even in Maths teachers. The degree of this fear varies. Some might balk at even the simplest of additions, and some might fear doing Maths sums in front of other people.

These people tend to ‘avoid’ Maths as much as possible- including not studying it for exams. This leads to low grades in the exam, which in turn fuels the anxiety even more. It’s a vicious cycle, really.

So how does one get over Maths Anxiety? The first thing to do is acknowledging that one has Maths Anxiety. This may seem like an obvious thing to do, but you’ll b surprised how many people live in denial of their fears and frustrations.

The second thing to do is pinpoint exactly what caused your Maths Anxiety. Is it a bad Maths experience from your childhood? Is it fear of exams? Or is it solving a problem in class amongst your peers? Or is it your lack of concentration in class that’s giving you the Maths heebie-jeebies? Identify it, write it down and think of ways to get over it. Look up coping strategies online. Ask your teacher to explain concepts again, slowly, if you didn’t get it the first time. Look for online video tutorials, if that’s a no-go.

And lastly, take a deep breathe and relax. It’s just Maths. It’s not the end of the world to get a sum wrong. Practice as much and as well as you can in your own time at home. Try not to rush through your homework. Do it slowly, take your time with it, understand the questions and apply the relevant concepts.

It might take time to get over your anxiety. But, stick with whatever coping strategy you come up with, and you just might get that 98/100 in your next Maths exam!

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