Arithmophobia (Fear of Numbers)

Overview

What is arithmophobia?

Arithmophobia is an extreme fear of numbers. People may feel afraid of all numbers or only specific numbers. Another name for arithmophobia is numerophobia.

Arithmophobia is not a diagnosis listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). But some people still consider it a specific phobia. As with other specific phobias, people who fear numbers often know the fear is irrational. Still, people may struggle to control or manage arithmophobia symptoms.

Why might someone fear specific numbers?

Sometimes, being afraid of a specific number is linked to a religious belief or superstition. For example, people may fear the numbers:

  • Four: The number four is considered an unlucky number in Japan, China and Vietnam. It's a homophone (words that sound the same but have different meanings) for “death.” In some Asian countries, the number four is missing in elevators, hotel room numbers and even product serial numbers.
  • 13: A superstition about the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia) can be linked to Christianity or other cultures. For example, in the Christian tradition, Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, was the 13th guest at the Last Supper. The Norse god of mischief, Loki, is the 13th pantheon god. People may specifically fear Friday the 13th as an unlucky day (paraskevidekatriaphobia).
  • 666: Fear of 666 (hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia) is also widespread in Western cultures. The book of Revelation in the Bible lists 666 as the “number of the beast.” Many horror or doomsday films incorporate the number into plotlines as a mark of evil or the end of the world.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes arithmophobia?

Often, there is not a clear cause of arithmophobia. Factors that may contribute to the development of arithmophobia include:

  • Genetics, with risk increasing if you have a parent or other family member who has an anxiety disorder.
  • Other mental health diagnoses, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
  • Past negative experiences or trauma related to numbers, such as being scolded or bullied for not doing well in math class.

What are the symptoms of arithmophobia?

The main symptom of arithmophobia is extreme anxiety when encountering numbers. People may experience anxiety when thinking about any number, or the fear could be linked to only specific numbers.

Any extreme anxiety or specific phobia can cause distressing physical symptoms. You may experience:

Diagnosis and Tests

How is arithmophobia diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may ask you questions to determine if you have a phobia of numbers. Sometimes, physical symptoms may relate to a different mental health condition.

Your provider may ask if you experience:

  • Anxiety or fear that lasts six months or longer.
  • Extreme avoidance of thinking about or looking at numbers.
  • Immediate dread or distress at the thought of a task that involves numbers.
  • Panic that is extreme compared to the actual threat of numbers.
  • Symptoms that disrupt your daily routine or functioning.

Management and Treatment

How is arithmophobia treated?

Arithmophobia treatment may include a variety of approaches. You may try:

  • Exposure therapy is often the first treatment. Most people who practice exposure therapy as directed notice their symptoms decrease. Exposure therapy involves gradually interacting with a specific fear. You may imagine doing tasks that involve numbers, eventually working your way up to doing the tasks in real life.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) involves speaking with a therapist. You learn to identify which of your thoughts are unhelpful or untrue. CBT teaches you to retrain your brain to think rational thoughts.
  • Hypnotherapy involves focused concentration and guided relaxation. A provider guides your mind to a state of such intense concentration that you are temporarily unaware of your surroundings. While in this state, you may respond better to suggestions or treatments. Hypnotherapy may increase the success of phobia treatment.
  • Medications may be useful if you have an anxiety disorder. A variety of anti-anxiety or antidepressant medications can lessen the symptoms of anxiety or depression if they interfere with your life. But medications are not a cure for arithmophobia.

Prevention

How can I prevent arithmophobia?

There isn’t a single strategy to prevent arithmophobia. Living a healthy lifestyle may lessen how often you experience arithmophobia symptoms. You may:

  • Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydration.
  • Eat a nutrient-dense diet.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Manage stress with healthy coping techniques.
  • Sleep at least seven to eight hours each night.

Outlook / Prognosis

How do I get over arithmophobia?

For some people, a combination of therapy and medication helps them overcome arithmophobia. Others manage symptoms long term.

To lessen the frequency and intensity of anxiety symptoms, you may:

  • Exercise consistently.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises.
  • Learn mindfulness techniques or meditate to reduce stress.
  • Talk to trusted loved ones or a therapist.

What is the outlook for people with arithmophobia?

With treatment, many people with arithmophobia live a high quality of life. Some people find that, after treatment, symptoms no longer interfere with their daily life.

Untreated arithmophobia can interfere with a person’s ability to do math. Someone who is afraid of all numbers may have limited professional opportunities. They may also have trouble paying bills or managing a budget.

Living With

What should I ask my doctor?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What is the most likely cause of arithmophobia?
  • What are the treatment options for specific phobias?
  • What can I do to manage anxiety symptoms?
  • Will I get over the fear of numbers?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Arithmophobia is the extreme fear of numbers. It's not a formal diagnosis, but many people treat it like a specific phobia. People with arithmophobia may fear all numbers, or they may fear specific numbers only. Sometimes, arithmophobia is rooted in superstitions about numbers. You may be more likely to develop arithmophobia if you’ve had negative experiences with numbers, such as being bullied for doing poorly in math. Arithmophobia can cause anxiety symptoms, so it’s important to talk with a healthcare provider about treatment options.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/22/2022.

References

  • Merck Manual (Consumer Version). Specific Phobic Disorders. (https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/mental-health-disorders/anxiety-and-stress-related-disorders/specific-phobic-disorders) Accessed 3/22/2022.
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Specific Phobia. (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/specific-phobia) Accessed 3/22/2022.

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