What is Math Anxiety?

How much confidence do you have in your math skills and abilities? Do you feel helpless and intimidated when asked to calculate numbers in your head? For example, when friends appoint you to split the check and add the tip after a meal do you panic? 


If you answered, “Yes,” you’re not alone. Many adults struggle with math-related skills but does their lack of math proficiency bother them? Math illiteracy is accepted and practically expected in our society. You don’t agree? Imagine again you’re dining with friends, and one of your friends says, “Can you tell me what’s on the menu, I’m illiterate.” What would you think? How would you feel? Would you respond, ” I can’t read either, no one can read in my family; it’s genetic”! But, what if your friend said, ” I can’t do the math, what’s 20% of $27.50″? An acceptable, and sad to say, a typical response might be, “I know, I never understood percent’s, I hated math”!


The negative view of math held by many Americans has muddied its character. We’ve come to believe that math is complicated, confusing and only “certain types of people” can excel in the subject. We’ve even belittled this population by labeling them, “Nerds” and “Geeks”. Ostracized by peers or worse, victims of bullying in school, students who excel in math are treated by peers and teachers as, “not quite like the rest of us”.  

 Education World: Get Real: Math in Everyday Life


http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/curr148.shtmlHow many times have your students asked “When are we ever going to use this in real life?” You’ll find the answer here!  
Through the years, and probably through the centuries, teachers have struggled to make math meaningful by providing students with problems and examples demonstrating its applications in everyday life. Now, however, technology makes it possible for students to experience the value of math in daily life, instead of just reading about it. This week, Education World tells you about eight great math sites (plus a few bonus sites) that demonstrate relevance while teaching relevant skills. h/t educationworld.com

Everyday Math

You might believe that most math skills aren’t applicable to everyday life. But research would disagree. 

 In the research report, Chance Favors the Prepared Mind, Dr, Gary Phillips and his research team found that 58% of American adults don’t have the knowledge to determine a tip for their waiter when they eat out. Also, 71 % can’t calculate miles per gallon, and 78% can’t work out the interest paid on a loan. Many students and adults feel they’re not cut out for solving problems and dread the thought of taking a math class. My college roommate’s fear of math was so intense she changed her career track. She loved psychology and children. She dreamed of becoming a child psychologist. But, the psychology program required a “B” average in all psychology classes, including statistics. Her doubts and anxiety about passing statistics stopped her from pursuing her dream. 


Math Anxiety And Performance

Math Anxiety is related to Stage Fright, performance anxiety. Stage fright is the intense, at times paralyzing fear of appearing ridiculous and idiotic. It’s a form of social phobia called a “discrete” social phobia because it happens in a particular situation, performing on stage. Similarly, If you have a fear of math, your main concern is giving an incorrect response, it’s the fear of humiliation; You feel that you’re not capable of learning math. While the symptoms of  stage fright and math anxiety are similar; nervous, panicky, going blank and feeling helpless there’s an essential difference between the two. A strong foundation in math serves as an entry to almost all forms of higher education, and professional careers. 


Math Anxiety: The Misconceptions And The Causes

Most of us think we fear math because we’re bad with numbers. It’s true that if you fear math, you’ll  avoid math-related classes, which decreases your math proficiency. However, even people who excel in math suffer from math anxiety. Researchers examining the consequences of math anxiety on engineering students found a significant decline in the students performance scores with increasing math anxiety. 

” No one in my family is good at math; it’s genetic.”

stage fright

We’re all born with two fears, the fear of falling, and the fear of loud noises; All other types of fears are learned from external influences, home, school and peers. Math anxiety is linked to a negative math experience from your past. Parents may unintentionally contribute to a child’s anxiety about math. For example, If your child is frustrated or upset because of difficult math assignment, you want to comfort them Your response may be, “Don’t worry. I never got algebra, and you’ll never really need it”. You may offer a genetic pre-disposition for your child’s math difficulties, by suggesting that “no one in our family ever did well in math.”Perhaps you were punished by a teacher for failing to master a mathematical concept or felt embarrassed in front peers when giving a wrong answer in class. Timed tests and the risk of public embarrassment are two additional contributing factors of math anxiety. Since the outcome of tests usually affects a student’s overall math grade, the negative results of math anxiety reinforce their feeling of inadequacy, thus creating a cycle of anxiety and failure.

Recognizing the tremendous influences our behavior, words and actions have on others are the first steps in managing the anxiety over our math skills. Whether in the home or classroom the fears, anxieties and perceived limitations that we’ve placed on ourselves, shouldn’t be placed on anyone else.

Have a banner day!



Related Links:

Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra)

All the Math You’ll Ever Need: A Self-Teaching Guide

By | 2017-07-06T11:29:30+00:00 |Categories: Anxiety and Stress Tips|Tags: |
  • NeverBeGameOver

    The basic’s of Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication and Division are the only things i focused on in school. Everything else is where google came in handy i barely remember multiplication or division these days and im almost 19yrs old. Exactly why i use a calculator.

    • I’m wondering if a 19 year old can actually use the expression, “Barely remember”? I think you have to at least 30 to qualify a memory with the word “barely”. : )

      • NeverBeGameOver

        Not when my ass carries a calculator. Or uses my phone app.

        • Hmmmm…Ok. How remarkable to have an ass that can carry a calculator and use a phone app.

          • NeverBeGameOver

            My butt cheeks are very versatile.

  • HomeJobsbyMOM

    My is by far my least favorite subject. I’ve always been terrible at it especially algebra. Even basic math I would rather use a calculator or my fingers. Luckily my son is a math wiz because mommy can’t help!

    • I hear you… When my kids reached third or fourth grade, I had major math “homework” anxiety. The math curriculum has changed SO much since I was a child; more math in less time.

  • Glad you enjoyed the Hitchcock pic! Great idea about Hollywood. You know there was a TV show a few years ago, I think it was called “Numbers”. I seem to remember math had something to do with solving the cases; I’m not sure. But have you noticed whenever someone is mathematically inclined Hollywood’s portrays them as misfits who lack basic social skills? Maybe we’re better off if Hollywood sticks to vampires and walking dead people.

  • Savvy WorkingGal

    I can do math – I work as an accountant and spend a lot of time calculating gross margin. I had a huge math phobia since taking Algebra H.S. I took the least amount of math in college to still graduate. It wasn’t until I started working and could apply math to my job that I accepted it and understood it. I still wouldn’t say I liked it. Just this week my college intern asked me if I was good at Math in college. My answer- it wasn’t my favorite which is odd because accounting is based on algebra and I loved accounting. Then I got that intern stare. If you know what I mean.

    • I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of that , “stare”!

  • Susan P. Cooper

    I used to teach elementary school. It is so important, especially when kids are first learning math and they are struggling not to crush their spirit, desire to learn, or embarrass them if they get it wrong. However as a teacher you can do all that, but other kids can be quite mean and embarrass a child if they are up at the chalkboard and get a math problem wrong. It only takes one kid to mumble “dummy” and a class full of snickers and the child is doomed for life with math anxiety.

  • This is an interesting post. I never really thought of it before but we do clearly accept math incompetency. If we meet a person who can’t string a sentence together we notice it and take it as a reflection of their overall intelligence. But We seem to just shrug it off if someone chokes on numbers.

  • I don’t have math anxiety, although my husband calculates a tip much, much faster than I do, so when he is not around I have to think hard. I love the images you have for this post. Creative! I discovered in my twenties I really did like math (I was considering going to school for engineering for a short time – it didn’t happen, though I did take several computer science classes). I think maybe if you take the test out of the math equation and play games instead, that would help youngsters overcome some math anxiety.

  • Jacqueline Gum

    I hadn’t named it, but I sure have it. Oddly though, as an adult I have really exerted so much energy into honing my math skills. I simply didn’t want it to get the best of me!!

  • One misconception I didn’t address in this post was students math expectations. We tend to feel that if we don’t get the math” right away, we can’t do it. The feeling of, “I know I can’t do it so I’m not going to try”. Math, like any other skill, takes practice, practice practice. You made an excellent point Donna, math isn’t for everyone, we all have preferences and personal strengths and weaknesses. Our fears and anxieties about any field of study, shouldn’t be the deciding factor.

  • Mathematics was one of my strongest subjects and my studies at university were math-based, so I don’t have math anxiety. But I agree that it is perceived limitations that gives many math anxiety. The culture promotes math as difficult and people just accept that. While complex mathematical equations are not for everyone, math is a part of everyday life, from tipping at a restaurant to doubling a recipe to balancing a budget.


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