Math Anxiety: What math feels like to me 👇🏼
Miniature cockroaches crack.
Crackle and crinkle my brain cells.
Cracking at the semblance of my crock brain.
That, I know.
Yet, like ants you multiply in fields.
Thanks to your almighty queen.
At the crack of my skull, you transform-
Bee, you sting me.
But you do not die.
A hybrid bee that persists.
Presumably, you are everywhere.
Your nestling voice scares me.
Seducing me with seemingly short passages.
Then, you strike me.
You strike me with poison many can survive.
But it seems I don’t have the antidote.
To count you.
You penetrate into every aspect of my life.
At night, your wings fly.
Your measly body caresses my ear.
trying to penetrate.
Trying to penetrate me.
That, I know
But, not much more.
Where my phobia started…
For as long as I remember, I hated math. It just never clicked for me. The first time I remember distinctly struggling was in 5th grade. Letters and angles starting creeping in. My brain could not compute.
I don’t know if I should admit this, but I charmed my way out of math. Or cheated the system. At the tender age of 10, I realized math causes stress.
I never tried it again. Until I reached university and was forced to take a statistics class.
I remember other students complaining that they hated or sucked at math. In Lebanon, however, when people say they suck, they actually still know a lot.
The course to them was like kids-play. To me, it was gibberish.
The system in Lebanon is more catered towards STEM. They are fields ahead of my cohorts that followed an American school system.
Is the system to blame? Are some cultures better at Math?
Are they just better at math? Maybe they are. Arabs translated (and altered) numbers after all. They are called Arab numerals for a reason. It could be that they have so many math courses it feels natural.
Sure, I believe the Lebanese system focuses more on math. They are arguably better.
This not just a me thing, or a USA thing. Math anxiety is a worldwide trend. Where, anxiety is linked to poor performance.
However, people who choose to pursue AP Math could probably compete or do better than some people in Lebanon. The American system gives a chance to people who are not great at math. To gain confidence and focus on other areas.
So, I do not blame the system. I tried out many different systems both international schools and American schools. It is a me thing. Maybe, it was the first time I felt uncomfortable or found something hard.
A math failure: Let people fail
The real problem is I wasn’t used to failing. We should just let people fail more. Let us sit and wallow in our failure a bit. Maybe, it would be easier that way.
A 2015 study in the United States, revealed there weren’t enough STEM graduates. More specifically, pointing to math anxiety as a factor. Or negative emotions and fear when doing math.
While I did not study in the United States, I followed an American system- and do seem to have these fears also.
Perhaps, if we failed more, we would not have anxiety about failing.
Ouch, Math is hurting some students (physically), one scientist suggests
More studies reveal that other people also fear math. I am not alone.
Intriguingly, this 2012 study looked to see if people who have math anxiety also experienced physical pain.
Neurologically, some people’s pain receptors are acting up, when thinking of math. More technically, some thingy-majiggy called the dorsal-posterior insula (INSp) is linked to pain perception. Basically, the anticipation of doing math made this area light up for people.
When we stimulate INSp (or pain thingy)- our body responds with a pain response. In other words, when it is poked, we feel pain. Still, the researchers acknowledge that this activation could have resulted from something else.
This resonates with me. Sometimes, the anticipation of math feels worse than actually doing it. Like a task you want to postpone, so you find a million and one reasons not to do it.
Notably, this study reveals neural evidence of math anxiety. So, this shows that just the anticipation of doing math led to more likelihood of pain popping up.
In short, researchers can predict anxiety neurologically.
So what? How does this help us hate math less?
If we spot differences or neurological changes in people with math anxiety, we can see how different brains perceive a subject.
Maybe, by rewiring or reversing this process, we can help people tolerate math more. So, that no more poems like mine exist.
If Math related anxiety is linked to poor math performance, maybe the focus should be on de-mystifying Math.
Unfortunately, the panic I feel when I hear the word “multiply” is like when there is only one last toilet paper roll. I don’t want to feel that way anymore.
How to make math more tolerable (my very subjective suggestions)
- Use more computer games with mathematical exercises.
- Don’t necessarily call a math exercise a math exercise. Use more real-life examples like short answer questions. Do so, with relatable subjects like the probability of Instagram likes or TikTok algorithms. Something, that resonates with students. Just from experience as soon as I hear the word math, I automatically assume I cannot do it.
- Allow people to reach the answer in the way they want to. Don’t force a certain method. If they reach the answer one way, what is the point of forcing another method? It takes some people an eternity just to succeed in that one.
- Integrate math topics into other subjects.
Learning numbers in a different setting
It’s funny, I came across probability and statistics in university even though, I did my best to avoid it like the plague. To my surprise, I was able to succeed. Ok, succeed is pushing it. But I passed. Maybe, it was because it was linked to a topic I liked.
Something, I was interested in seeing . I wanted to know if people were experiencing burnout. So, I handed out a survey. The only way to appease my curiosity was to add up my Likert Scale survey and do a reliability test, and much more weird tasks, you don’t need or likely (want ) to hear about. All you need to know is numbers were involved.
Let’s incorporate math into other activities like playing the piano or strumming a guitar.
In conclusion, the solution might be to re-teach the basics in a more fun and interactive way. At times, we need to go back to the basics. *Cue Christina Aguilera song*. Restart from the beginning to learn from the ground up. The same thing applies to writing too. Check out my previous article on writing by hand.
It is not cute when you can’t add the bill when the delivery reaches your door. I am forcing myself to engage with numbers more. Maybe, repeated exposure will work. We eventually love things we see often , right? Well, I hope so.
Does your heart race when you hear about math too?