Arithmophobia is a fear of numbers or math. It is a very common phobia. Gentle exposure therapy can help you change your relationship with numbers.
Phobias are a type of mental health condition. Depending on their severity, these fears can prevent people from functioning and navigating through daily life. Phobias such as the fear of spiders (arachnophobia), the fear of public places (agoraphobia), or the fear of small spaces (claustrophobia) tend to be better known.
Yet the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-Five) lists over five hundred diagnosed phobias, sorting them into five major categories.
With so many phobias, it’s understandable that few people may have heard of a fear of numbers, referred to as arithmophobia or numerophobia. It can be a fear of specific numbers, such as those deemed unlucky, or all numbers in general.
While not formally recognized by the DSM-Five, arithmophobia is considered a
Arithmophobia can still be treated as an anxiety disorder because it can greatly affect a person’s academic performance and daily life. Anxiety during math class is one example of arithmophobia. Fear of specific numbers, like the number thirteen, can cause people to avoid events, buildings, and other scenarios because they’re viewed as unlucky or dangerous.
Experts suggest that similar to other phobias, arithmophobia might be caused by previous traumatic events. For example, someone who had difficulties in math class as a child may have developed this response. Likewise, a person who has traumatic memories associated with studying math (such as a parent who harshly punished their child for getting low scores in math classes) may be more likely to experience arithmophobia.
How rare is arithmophobia?
While it might sound like a new phobia, a fear of numbers or math is very common. One survey of one thousand one hundred and nineteen people with children ages six to sixteen years in the United Kingdom reported that eighty-four percent felt that math was a critical subject, essential to overall success.
However, of that group, roughly a third felt like they couldn’t help their children with math homework. Additionally, nineteen percent of the respondents were unwilling to take courses to improve their math competency, and fifty-two percent were likely to make errors when helping children with their math homework.
It’s important to note that not much data is available on this topic, and more research is needed. This particular study was conducted by the research center of a for-profit organization. While we know it’s common to have anxiety around math and numbers ― the exact figure is unknown.
As with most phobias, arithmophobia is characterized by anxiety and fear surrounding interactions with numbers. People with arithmophobia may avoid situations where they are likely to encounter numbers or need to do math. This can cause difficulty in school, at work, or during daily tasks like paying bills.
It can also lead to panic attacks, which can include other symptoms, such as:
- tightness or pain in the chest
- racing heartbeat
- feeling dizzy or faint
- dry mouth
- sudden urge to go to the bathroom
- increased blood pressure
Additional psychological symptoms can include
If you or a loved one experiences the above symptoms repeatedly for six months or more when faced with numbers or situations involving math, arithmophobia may be the cause. A mental health professional can make an official diagnosis and work with you to create a treatment plan if needed.
Unlike some phobias, avoiding the source of anxiety isn’t always realistic when you have arithmophobia. Considering that numbers are a part of daily life and essential for everything from reading street signs to going to the grocery store, learning how to manage arithmophobia is critical.
A mental health professional may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy as treatment options. They allow you to slowly increase your interactions with numbers while also relearning how to approach them.
Some people may also benefit from hypnotherapy. This may help you better pinpoint the root cause of your anxiety, as well as build new pathways for managing your symptoms.
In some cases, healthcare professionals may prescribe medications, especially if you are experiencing anxiety or depression that’s greatly affecting your quality of life. These medications may not treat arithmophobia directly but instead may address the symptoms to help you feel ready to start a practice like exposure therapy.
Math is an essential subject, but it can create stress and anxiety for many people. In some people, these symptoms may be severe enough to be considered a specific phobia called arithmophobia.
For some people, arithmophobia might be directly linked to stressful memories from math class or childhood trauma. For others, it may be a more general fear of numbers or situations when specific numbers occur. This may be tied to superstitions, like around the number thirteen, or other experiences.
Avoiding numbers or math is a difficult task, so seeking professional help is important to managing arithmophobia. Exposure therapy, CBT, hypnotherapy, and sometimes medications can all help someone with arithmophobia learn to cope and navigate a world where numbers are almost everywhere.