Do you struggle with maths? Do you feel stupid when you come across it, or panic when you have to do a calculation? Do you experience sweaty palms, nausea, heart palpitations or paralysis of thought (Krantz, 1999)? Or maybe your opinion has changed; maybe you used to enjoy maths, but it’s suddenly become more difficult?
It’s very common to feel this way; famous people that struggled with maths include eminent scientists like Charles Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison and Michael Faraday, as well as celebrities like Robbie Williams and Cher. It’s estimated that 59% of people experience maths anxiety (OECD, 2013) and this affects learners at all levels (Foley, 2017).
Succeeding with maths isn’t magic, it’s not something you are good or bad at, maths can’t always be done instantly, it is something you will get wrong time and time again, but that doesn’t matter, what matters is trying and persevering and getting there in the end. There are many ways to achieve at maths, and so if one method doesn’t work for you, search the internet, ask friends and tutors for other ways to try things. Succeeding in maths is a mountain climb, it can be hard, there will be many different routes to the top, but with perseverance and the right equipment you can succeed and it will be worth it.
People may think of maths like Marmite – they either love it or hate it, and if they hate it, they avoid it. However, unlike Marmite, maths isn’t avoidable – for some careers or degrees, you have to ‘make friends with maths’.
The good news is, it’s perfectly possible to ‘make friends with maths’. Sometimes, like with any good friends, you may disagree from time to time. But you can respect each other.
If you are feeling anxious, this resource might help to rationalise and understand the anxiety and give some techniques that will help you overcome and give you the confidence to try and try again until you succeed.
“Maths anxiety is very common and is debilitating in lots of ways. However, it is fixable, as long as you know how.”
Dr Janet Baker, Arden University
The Growth Zone Model has three zones. The centre (green) zone of the three is the comfort zone. If you are feeling bored, or that the maths you are doing is easy and unchallenging, you are in the comfort zone. You should give yourself more of a challenge, perhaps by thinking of alternative problems to solve.
The next (yellow) zone is the growth zone. This is the best place to be, as here you feel that the challenge is manageable and interesting.
The outside (red) zone is the anxiety zone. Here you might feel worried or panicky, or that you cannot think, or even feel sick. Maths is impossible in the anxiety zone, so it is important to regain your composure before doing any more maths.
If you find that you are in the anxiety zone, you need to stop and recover. Remove yourself from the maths, close the book or walk away from the computer. Take a few minutes to look out of a window, make yourself a cup of tea or go for a walk. Try to calm yourself by breathing slowly, or scan through your body to find and relax tense muscles. You can also take a break digitally; for example, research has shown that watching videos of cute animals like quokkas can lower stress and anxiety.
When you feel ready to return, ease yourself back in by going back a step or two, making sure you are back in the growth zone. You might even need to spend some time in the comfort zone to make up with maths before moving on.