Are you in a Twist about Maths??

Anne Okafor
6 min readMay 16, 2022

“Many children and adults experience feelings of anxiety, apprehension, tension or discomfort when confronted by a maths problem.”

~University of Cambridge

According to National Numeracy, over 49% of UK adults struggle with their Numeracy skills. I always thought I was silly for not understanding, what I felt everybody else had no trouble with.

As it turns out, my struggle is actually quite common and has a name — Maths Anxiety. I had never heard the term maths anxiety until becoming a STEM Ambassador, last year. It was only then when trying to understand how I could incorporate maths into my talks when I was so terrified at the prospect of doing so, that I learned about it and to the extent it is prevalent in the UK today.

I don’t use the term terrified lightly either but terrified, was exactly how I felt.

I undertook some training around why we need to talk about maths and why it’s important that we talk about maths positively. The reason for this is because for many people with maths anxiety, the problem starts in their younger years.

My story was not different and started in secondary school when a teacher had said, on the day of the exam, that if I was having a bad day (with my maths) to not come at all as I would probably do better. This message stuck with me and hindered my progress for a long time, I always felt since that moment, that I was bad at maths and this was a story I continually told myself until very recently.

When I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in construction, I nearly stopped at the road block that was my maths ability or at least perceived ability. I told myself that story — that I am bad at maths, a very negative story, which isn’t actually the real truth because I’m not bad at maths and I never really have been.

The truth of the matter is that I have had to work hard to challenge my maths ability and only recently learned that it was likely that maths anxiety was actually the cause of my struggles.

Whenever I was presented with maths in college or at university I froze. Like many others that suffer from maths anxiety, this is one of the recognisable reactions that can present and there are many other reactions too and will likely be different for each person.

I was very fortunate and on pursuing my construction career I have came across some understanding and patient lecturing staff both at college and university. The lecturer’s took time to help me understand maths as I would need for my job and why it was important for me to know the maths they were teaching in order to be successful at my job. It was this understanding of the application of the maths that really helped me to challenge the story that I told myself — the one where I was bad at math.

Like many others who suffer from maths anxiety; we often do well in situations of examination, marks wise, after we confront our fears about taking the exam, we are smart people and we can do maths, however, our stress response from maths anxiety can hinder this and convince us that maybe we are bad at maths.

I have learned that for me the best way to confront this is to expose myself to situations where I can learn about maths in different ways. I did this in university by choosing elective subjects where there were math elements; now the easy thing, would have been to avoid these subjects but for me, another opportunity to learn and to progress was worth getting out of my comfort zone for.

As it turns out, that strategy has paid off and while I still do struggle, I have found ways of coping that has helped me in my everyday life. I have come to understand that my fear of failure with maths has no place in everyday life because every time that I try, I cannot fail. I may not always get the right answers but I’m always learning and always progressing towards having less anxiety and becoming more confident in my maths and numeracy abilities.

When I became a STEM Ambassador, I reflected upon my journey through education and I came to realise that having the courage to challenge my maths anxiety and returning to education as a mature student in my late 20s really was the gateway for being able to have a successful career in a construction occupation which I absolutely love. Without the challenge I doubt this would have been possible. I have also realised that my job is mostly maths based, something which I hadn’t really realised until trying to explain it to children. Now that was a realisation!!

The next stage of my challenge came as a STEM Ambassador, when talking to children or others and when maths became part of the subject, I reverted back to my old avoidance tactics — let’s not talk about it.

However I quickly understood that this was not the right way again and that I had to once again step out of my comfort zone and challenge it again.

The STEM Ambassador hub put in place maths training sessions for Ambassadors, as part of maths week in Scotland last year and so, I decided to challenge my maths anxiety by attending every session I could. I knew this would help me to understand the problem better and learn how I could help others when I didn’t feel so confident myself.

What I have learned is that I don’t have to have all the answers, I don’t need to be a mathematician and the work I have already done, on my own journey of challenging maths anxiety, is helpful for others who are looking to challenge their maths anxiety.

I have learned that we must talk positively about maths, that we all use everyday maths and numeracy, whether we know it or indeed whether we like it. Oftentimes, we don’t recognise that we are using maths in our everyday lives and it can be simple everyday explanations that I can use to relate maths to others.

I have now signed up as a numeracy champion with National Numeracy so that I can share my story of how I overcame my maths anxiety with others and support others who may be looking to challenge their own maths anxiety

While we may find ourselves in this situation, one thing is for certain, we can all do something to make progress towards feeling more confident about maths.

National Numeracy has some excellent resources on their website that helps individuals to work towards improvements in their numeracy abilities and also in their confidence; so that when maths presents itself in our everyday that we can find ways to understand the maths that we need and how to apply it.

You will be able to access resources, helpful articles and read my case study on the national numeracy website which is

For more support, you can reach out to your STEM Ambassador Hubs who also provide resources and events around Maths as part of the STEM families — The great thing about this is you can hear from Ambassadors from lots of different job roles about the maths they use and try examples from different industries, to support children who may be looking to pursue similar careers — This will help to relate the maths and why it is important to that job role — this was a key part in my journey.

Maths Anxiety Determinators can also share your stories with me at



Anne Okafor

Igniting the passion for a world beyond the classroom as a Construction & STEM careers Cheerleader. | Maths Anxiety Crusader | An Everyday Determinator!