Overcoming Math Anxiety

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Studying Ahead

Khan Academy has a very helpful video which explains different strategies you can use as you try to learn and understand new material

Khan Academy: Learn six powerful encoding strategies

Help overcome your anxiety by being well prepared! When you study as well as you can, you have nothing to fear or regret. While you are studying, pay particular attention to these techniques:

If you aren't sure where to start, try printing out this quiz review checklist. It looks like a lot of work, but it can be very managable if you take it one step at a time.

Making Stress work for You

Did you know that some stress is good for you? Our body's physical response to fear can make us run faster, jump higher, and fight harder. Did you know that changing how you think about stress make your stress be more useful!

From about minute 5 of the talk, some rough paraphrases:

An article from McGonigal in the Wall Street Journal, titled Use Stress to Your Advantage, goes into more details about some of the ways that you can make your stress can do more for you. The following quotes from the article are particularly interesting:
"Students who viewed their anxiety as helpful, not harmful, reported less emotional exhaustion. They also did better on their exams and earned higher grades at the end of the term. Critically, the effects of mind-set were strongest when anxiety levels were high. A positive mind-set protected the most anxious students from emotional exhaustion and helped them to succeed in their goals." (Wall Street Journal)
and, from another place,
"... the participants who had told themselves "I am excited" felt better able to handle the pressure and were more confident of their ability to give a good talk. Not only that, but observers who rated the talks found the excited speakers more persuasive, confident and competent than the participants who had tried to calm down. With this one change in mind-set, the speakers had transformed their anxiety into energy that helped them to perform under pressure." (Wall Street Journal)

Of course, we shouldn't try to seek out more stress. But this helps us see that when you need it, our body is there and trying to help us out.

Practice Relaxation

Stretching can help you relax.

Doing the right stretches can help you relax, and get into the right mindset for doing mathematics.

The Mayo Clinic lists eight good "office stretches". These are good to know, because you can do them in the library, at home, or even during an exam.

Make sure you use both the neck and chest stretches.

Keep Things in Perspective

Having the right perspective can help you perform your best. The following suggestions are taken from pages 174-176 of the book Choke: what the secrets of the brain reveal about getting it right when you have to.
  1. Reaffirm your self worth
  2. Map out your complexities
  3. Write about your worries
  4. Meditate away the worries
  5. Think differently
  6. Reinterpret your reactions
  7. Pause your choke
  8. Educate the worries
  9. Find a successful role model you can identify with
  10. Practice under pressure
  11. Outsource your cognitive load
  12. Organize what you know
The book is very good. I highly recommend reading pages 174-176 and 127-133.

Additional Resources

If things seem too overwhelming, you might also benefit from talking to the university counseling center.

The UConn CMHS also has helpful interactive guides on anxiety and depression.

Talking to the right people can help you be at the top of your game!

Am I "Smart" enough?

Mathematics requires intelligence, but what is intelligence?

In the past, some people thought that your "intelligence" was fixed: you either have it or you don't. Now, science suggests that you can grow your intelligence by learning and working hard. One very good article about "intelligence", titled The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, is written to parents and teachers. The whole article is worth reading, but the tag line sums it up well:

More than three decades of research shows that a focus on "process" -- not on intelligence or ability -- is key to success in school and in life (Scientific American)

The following quotes from the Khan Academy website are also very helpful.

Scientists have shown that, when people study hard and learn new ways to study, their brains change and grow. This is true for babies, kids, and even adults. So no one is ever stuck being "dumb." Everyone can improve their abilities a lot, as long as they practice a lot and use good strategies. (Khan Academy)
The truth is that building a stronger brain takes time, effort, and the right kind of practice. To get better at something you have to practice the right way, and that usually means the hard way. In fact, scientists have found that the brain grows more when you use new and different strategies. It grows less when you stick to things you already know. So it's not just about how much you study but about whether you push yourself to learn something new and difficult. (Khan Academy)

In class, we will discuss solving the particular types of problems that occur in mathematics. But there is much more to say! The following video from the Khan Academy talks about Problem Solving from a more general perspective.

Khan Academy: learn about Problem solving from a general perspective.