Three Ways to Take the Stress Out of Math

It’s not always easy to learn math. In fact, many students may find themselves anxious before a math lesson…

What if they can’t focus on the material?

What if it doesn’t make sense?

How can they use it, anyway?

Here are three tips for taking the stress out of math:

1. Relax.

Math is stressful for many people; there’s no doubt about it. It can be an intimidating subject for students to approach. Here’s the thing, though: people can’t learn under stress. When you’re in a stressful situation, your brain automatically kicks in to fight-or-flight mode, and you’re running on your most basic instincts. Math, however, is a higher-level activity; you need to access all of your brain functions to learn it, not just those instincts that tell you when to run or when to battle it out.

The only way to engage the higher-level parts of your brain is to relax. When you’re not experiencing fear, you’ll find that you can concentrate on the material and work with it.

stress out of math

One tried-and-true way to relax is by deep breathing. Students can breathe deeply and calmly in almost any situation without disturbing others in the classroom. While breathing, they should visualize a place that holds good or calming memories for them. They should picture themselves succeeding at the math lesson at hand.

It’s also a good idea to get into a “relaxation routine” before a math lesson begins. This doesn’t mean doing yoga in the hallway—that could be dangerous—but it does mean that, before the class begins, students should spend a few moments going through the process of getting calm and focused—deep breathing, visualization, etc. When the brain is ready, the learning will come.

2. Figure out those real-world applications.

Half the reason math can be so boring is that students often struggle to find a real-world application for the skills that are being taught. However, teachers don’t always have time to come up with a real-world use for the math they’re teaching that day; they’re under pressure, too.

So students should try to find real-world applications for math on their own. Learning about percentages? Try out those new skills when the bill comes at a restaurant—you have to know some basic math to figure out the tip. Interested in cars? All kinds of math is involved in the way cars operate and move—you can even ask a mechanic. Like shopping? Go to the store and figure out how much you can save on different items using math.

Math is not just for the classroom, so go out into the world and find new places to use it. You’d be surprised!

3. Ask questions!

This is so simple, but it’s a strategy that many students who are learning math overlook because they’re nervous. Always ask questions. Many people struggle to learn new information in a setting where the information is on a one-way track from teacher to student. Asking questions makes it a two-way track; now, you’re both engaged in the lesson.

Don’t be afraid to ask about something you don’t understand. Many times, the act of asking the question can clarify the material in your mind, and you’ll find that by the time you’ve spoken the question aloud, you’ve given yourself the answer.

Math isn’t a silent subject. Keep talking about it until you find a way that makes sense for you!

Math can be a difficult subject to learn, but there are many more ways students can help themselves engage. Math doesn’t have to be stressful; it doesn’t have to be an agonizing experience. Use some of these techniques to make it easier and more relevant. Students can even come up with their own techniques. It’s a great big world out there, and there are lots of opportunities to learn and use math—don’t pass them up.

Paul Stephen is from the highly respected Nipissing University, a liberal arts university dedicated to offering world class applied professional programs in the following fields: computer science, nursing and criminal justice. Further your tailored knowledge by applying to the School of Graduate Studies.

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