I'm in undergrad engineering, freshman year, in IT. I suffer anxiety when I have to do calculus. Trigonometry is just tortuous. Anyone got any tips for lessening that? I guess hard work is the best, but anything else? Anyone else had any personal experiences of the same sort?

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    $\begingroup$ My best suggestion is to prepare yourself with a formula sheet and do as many exercise as you can put your hands on using that formula sheet. Mathematics at your level is not about sudden insights or the ability to see solution through inference from other areas. Although it is good that you should be able to derive the trigonometric relations, as you will certainly not be allowed to bring an formula sheet to the exam room, when practicing don't get stuck on the minor details and focus on the bigger picture. $\endgroup$
    – Illegal Immigrant
    Dec 13, 2014 at 9:40
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    $\begingroup$ I'd recommend migrating this question to math.stackexchange, since it's about mathematics rather than academia in general. (I think few, if any, other academic fields create the same type or level of anxiety that math does.) $\endgroup$
    – Anonymous Mathematician
    Dec 13, 2014 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ Social science uses maths a lot less. Perhaps anthropology. $\endgroup$
    – Dave Clarke
    Dec 13, 2014 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Take a look at this lovely text about math anxiety in a mathematician! $\endgroup$
    – Ana
    Dec 13, 2014 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ This question has been asked on this site before, albeit from the perspective of teachers. While it doesn't directly address your question, you might find some of the methods listed in the answers as helpful: matheducators.stackexchange.com/q/194/267 $\endgroup$ Dec 15, 2014 at 11:10

4 Answers 4


Maybe you could try doing homework with friends. I used to have pretty bad programming anxiety and it got a lot better when I coded with other people.

The caveat is you don't want to do problem sets with friends who are much better at math than you, because then you will just feel discouraged when they get all the answers before you do.

  • $\begingroup$ Practicing with friends does seem like a pretty good idea, but I can only go for that next semester, since this one ends in a couple of weeks. I might have to make some new friends though, the ones I have right now are pretty much aces at this stage in calculus. $\endgroup$
    – Suraj Zala
    Dec 14, 2014 at 11:17
  • $\begingroup$ @SurajZala: Come to class ten minutes early, then introduce yourself to the person next to you and ask "want to work on homework 1 together?" Works best if s/he isn't already sitting with friends. $\endgroup$
    – Ben Bitdiddle
    Dec 14, 2014 at 11:34
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if that'd work exactly so, but suggestion appreciated and I will try it. Thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Suraj Zala
    Dec 14, 2014 at 11:38

Sometimes our past experiences pile up, and create anxiety from the stories we tell ourselves about how bad we are at something, or how often we mess it up. One way to lessen anxiety is to do a guided visualization, telling ourselves more positive things.

My students often say they blanked on a test, even though they felt like they really knew the material. So I created a guided visualization for relaxing with math study and math tests. Check it out, and see if it helps any. (Though working with others may be more helpful in your situation.)


Based on my own experience, the only way to overcome math anxiety is to realise that it's a beautiful subject that can be applied to an enormous amount of areas and applications, a subject that makes you a more powerful thinker and problem solver. Until you do that, you will always be sort of afraid of it. This is, of course, easier said than done.

I used to be afraid of math at some point in my life, mainly due to the fact that I had bad teachers. When I was in college, however, I had a few really good professors who somehow managed to convince me that math is amazing; I've been excited about the subject ever since.

I would suggest reading a couple of math-related books in your free time, such as "Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions" by Edwin Abbott Abbott, "How to Think Like a Mathematician: A Companion to Undergraduate Mathematics" by Dr Kevin Houston, "One Two Three ... Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science" by George Gamow, and other related books. These will help you create a positive attitude towards math, which in the long run will allow you to look at it from a different perspective, i.e. not as a scary subject that you need to pass, but as an amazing area that is worth exploring.

Once you have this positive attitude, solving problems will become much easier and your hard work will be transformed into more effective work.

Good luck.

  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I do realize how fantastic mathematics is, and I love seeing it in effect outside. I am also about 30+% through with Flatland, coincidentally, and it is quite ( for lack of an apt word at the moment) fun. I almost bought a copy of One Two Three ... Infinity this weekend too. I guess I'll just have to push myself harder. $\endgroup$
    – Suraj Zala
    Dec 14, 2014 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, I forgot to thank you. I apologize. Thank you! $\endgroup$
    – Suraj Zala
    Dec 15, 2014 at 9:03

In my teaching years (34), many times, the anxious students would come up to me and say: "I don't understand anything." My work was not mainly to give them an answer, but of helping them find out exactly what they didn't understand so that they could 1) focus on what they don't understand and 2) use what they did understand to advance their work.

Maybe you could make a list of what you find easy and what you find difficult. You could also add to every subject of this list if you understand the element or not. You may find out that there are subjects you find easy but don't understand; don't worry about that for the moment.

Armed with this list, try to figure out how you could prepare yourself for an exam. You could also build an exam in which you think you'd have a perfect score. Also, try to identify in your list the subjects you think you could better understand by reading your textbook and/or doing more exercises. Then identify the subjects where you think a friend could help you out. And finally identify the subjects for which only your teacher could come to your aid and go see him or her with questions pertaining to those subjects. Prepare your questions in writing; read them over to be sure you'll be asking the questions that are important to you and that the teacher will understand you.


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