Math Anxiety is Real


Math Anxiety is Real

…and this is what you can do about it      

Do you start to sweat at the mere thought of a math test? What if I told you that there are scientific explanations for all of your fears and anxiety? And what if I told you that the statement “I’m not a math person!” simply is not true?

As children, students are often told as that math is their weakness. When a young student initially struggles in math, and their struggles are confirmed by teachers and other adults as an inherent lack of ability, a predisposed fear of the subject can be developed. A student’s own self-perception of their abilities becomes warped by adults around them. This perception follows students into adulthood, developing into a vicious cycle. 

A cycle which shapes the student’s perception of themselves as bad at math.

As this cycle develops, it can induce a crippling fear of actually doing math. During a Women in STEM Presentation, Foothill Professor Katherine Duncan explained that when stress levels increase during a math exam for example, adrenaline is released in the body to activate the flight or fight response, the brain’s survival mechanism. When it comes to fight or flight, our brains do not distinguish the source of stress, they just register stress. This means that fight or flight responses could be triggered by a life-threatening situation, a spider, or, of course, a math quiz. This type of stress makes focusing on complex tasks — like math — very difficult, making performing well in academic settings a tall order.

Many students dreaming of a career in a STEM field might have second thoughts because of the amount of math required, and considering the crippling nature of math anxiety, who can blame them? So, as the hot summer days are leading us into a new exciting quarter, now is the best time to boost your confidence and set you up for success. Here are some tips to get rid of math anxiety once and for all:

  1. Be street smart and prepare
    Professors usually send you the syllabus ahead of time or at least give it to you the first day of class. If not, be proactive and reach out to your future professors and ask how you can best prepare for the class. This gives you an opportunity to get ahead in your reading and get familiar with what will be covered in class. After this, you’ll find that things will make much more sense in the classroom.
  2.  Get help before it’s too late
    Foothill has great resources for those who reach out their hands for help. The Foundations Lab is perfect if you are taking Math 220, 105, 48A or Statistics. The STEM center can help you with all your STEM related classes. And did you know that the STEM center also offers free printing if you are signed up for a STEM class. These places have everything you need, are open on Saturdays, and have free coffee.  Make this your regular hang out spot!
  3. Office hours are vital
    Sometimes it might feel intimidating to ask questions in class. Instead, you can write your questions down and bring them to office hours. Professors want you to come and talk to them, and the opportunity to have your questions answered one on one with your professor is hugely helpful. Office hours are here to help you, so take advantage of them.
  4. Study smart
    Get to know yourself. Start by establishing where and when you get your best studying done. Are you a morning person? Do you need background noise in order to focus? Do you end up watching Netflix and napping if you try to study at home? Plan your schedule around what makes you most efficient to avoid that vicious stress.
  5. Take breaks
    Have you ever wondered why almost all classes at Foothill have a 10 minute break in the middle? It’s because your brain can’t focus for hours in a row. So keeping that in mind, no all nighters! Turn off distractions, set your timer, and go all in. You’ll be surprisingly effective when you know you’ll get a break reasonably soon.
  6. Start a study group
    Despite what you might think, study groups are actually very helpful! Creating a study group with your classmates can be invaluable because you classmates are there with you every day in class so they might understand the things you struggle with, and you might find the things they don’t get easy. That makes the perfect give and take situation where you can learn from each other, and you always learn better while explaining things to others. So don’t underestimate the power of a study group! Pro-tip! The STEM center at Foothill can help you create or join a study group. Then to will have a tutor helping you guys out during the session. (Read more about the STEM Center in our upcoming fall edition!)
  7. Take care of yourself
    This advice never gets old. Realizing the importance of taking care of yourself will take you far. Eating healthy, working out and getting enough sleep have an enormous impact on your energy and your academic performance.
  8. Fake it til you make it
    The sources of math anxiety are related to your confidence so if you don’t have the confidence, fake it! If you have followed these steps, you might even be more prepared than you think you are. Our thoughts immediately affect our feelings and behavior so keep telling yourself that you got this and it will be reflected in your performance.


Photography by: Lane T. Plummer