Let’s learn about dealing with math anxiety

If working with numbers makes you nervous, you’re not alone — and there is hope

a blonde boy in a grey sweatshirt holds his head in his hands and frowns down at something on his desk

Does working with numbers make you nervous? If so, you’re not alone. Many people find math stressful.

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Do you dread doing math homework? Does the idea of taking a math test make your palms sweat? If so, you’re not alone. Many people find math daunting. For students, that stress doesn’t just get in the way of good grades. It can also be physically painful. But science has uncovered some ways to help soothe math anxiety.

Research shows that writing about your math anxiety can help you work through negative feelings and do better on tests. It’s also important to keep a “growth mindset” about math, researchers find. That is, remember that doing math is like playing an instrument or a sport. Anyone can get better with practice.

Seeking out fun, math-related experiences can also help the subject seem less scary. Try playing some math games online. Or read stories about cool ways to use math in real life — such as debunking urban legends or calculating your dog’s true age.

Most importantly, remember that making mistakes is a key part of learning math. And many mathematicians and other scientists have experienced math anxiety, too. So, if numbers make you nervous now, keep an open mind. Someday, you just might like it.

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Don’t let math stress you out Math makes some people more anxious than others. Here’s why, and how to soothe math anxiety if you suffer from it. (1/5/2017) Readability: 7.3

Math attitude influences math achievement Bad feelings about math beget bad grades — which beget more bad feelings. (2/14/2017) Readability: 7.4

Anxious about math? Your brain may tackle simple problems differently Research suggests people without math anxiety may be better at automating arithmetic. (3/30/2017) Readability: 8.4

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Word find

Play the classic math brain teaser “24” online. Given four numbers, use addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to reach 24. Play against the clock — or not. Some of them are real stumpers!

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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