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Why do people get so anxious about math?

French mathematician Laurent Schwartz was in high school and started to worry that he wasn’t smart enough to solve math problems. What if you also feel the same way? You take a test, and during it, your heart starts beating faster or maybe even sweating because of anxiety. You start feeling sick to your stomach with butterflies, and can’t concentrate at all-this is called math anxiety. Researchers say about 20% of people suffer from this condition but don’t be so hard on yourself- not everyone who suffers from it is bad at math! Laurent Schwartz went on to win the Fields Medal (the highest award in mathematics) which proves that not everyone with such worries will end up failing miserably. It’s often the other way around: those who are anxious about doing well in mathematics might actually do poorly precisely because they’re anxious.

Some psychologists think math anxiety decreases a cognitive resource called working memory. That’s the short-term memory system that helps you organize the information you need to complete a task. When someone has math anxiety, they worry about being able to solve problems or not doing well on tests which eats up their available working memory space and leaves less for solving it themselves. People can suddenly struggle with even basic skills like arithmetic that they’ve otherwise mastered because of academic stress! The truth is researchers are still unsure as to why this would be so, but some studies suggest parents and teachers play an important part in how math is taught at home or school respectively.

When parents talk about math like something challenging and unfamiliar, their children can internalize that mindset. Teachers with math anxiety are also likely to spread it to their students in the way they communicate and interact with them. Pressure to solve problems quickly dials up stress even more- not just for the student but also for themselves! And sometimes being good at math is considered a sign of intelligence in general. When stakes are high, it’s not surprising that many students experience mathematical anxiety or feel discouraged because they don’t have enough confidence or interest in mathematics anymore due to difficulties faced early on.  

So what can you do if you experience this kind of “mathxiety”? Relaxation techniques such as short breathing exercises have helped improve test performance among those who succumb to mathematical anxieties. Writing down your worries can also help you. This strategy may give you a chance to reevaluate a stressful experience, freeing up working memory. And if you have the chance, physical activity helps relieve tension – preventing anxiety from building! You can also use what’s known about the brain to change your mindset-the brain is flexible and math skills are never too late for growth or development. Thinking of yourself as someone who has potential for development will always be helpful in growing and improving – this idea is called a “growth mindset.” 

If you’re either teaching young children or parenting them, try playing around with math problems while focusing on creativity rather than simply solving arithmetic issues correctly; this should teach kids that it’s ok not to get everything perfect right away but instead encourages trying different approaches until success does come eventually (a concept borrowed from Montessori schools).

For children to approach math with confidence, they need to have the numerical skills that will prepare them for it. So one way you can help is by teaching your students math concepts through games and hands-on activities instead of only giving them homework assignments. But this should also happen in an environment where they are able to work out their own answers first before being told the correct answer – even if it means taking more time than usual! And as part of this, make sure teachers give students positive messages about mathematics and have mathematical confidence themselves so that all students learn how math feels empowering rather than daunting. If any myths or misinformation about girls’ inability at maths continues circulating around school staff, don’t let it be accepted without asking questions or doing some fact-checking! It’s important not just to know there’s ‘math anxiety, but understand what can help conquer it too! Remembering others who may feel similarly is helpful too-since everyone has felt anxious at times before yet still managed their problem over time with awareness.

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