Numerophobia or Arithmophobia is the exaggerated, constant and often irrational fear of numbers. The words Arithmophobia and Numerophobia both have Latin/Greek origins where the root word stands for numbers, and phobos is Greek for “deep aversion or fear”.
Many people from all over the world fear numbers. Some might specifically fear numbers such as 13 (Triskaidekaphobia), 666 (Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia), or 8 (Octophobia) which are typically associated with Bad Luck, evil spirits etc. Such phobias usually have cultural or religious roots that are often aggravated by media and folklore.
However, an Arithmophobic (or Numerophobic) individual might fear all kinds of numbers, especially complex mathematical computations. Just the thought of solving a difficult arithmetic equation in school or doing calculations in day-to-day life could cause intense panic in the sufferer. Needles to say, the fear of numbers can place many restrictions on the phobic’s life and may even affect his standard of living. S/he often feels embarrassed to admit the problem causing one to become socially withdrawn.
Causes of fear of numbers phobia
Many experts believe that the fear of numbers might have its roots in Universal beginnings when man first started keeping time, maintaining calendars and using numerical systems. The early Egyptians, for example were the first to measure time using the solar calendar. Still other cultures marked seasons and days based upon the lunar calendars. The concept of zero was given by Hindu scholar Aryabhatta. This further gave rise to the fact that numbers are infinite and never ending. Gradually, with sophisticated learning systems, man started keeping time not just on observations of heavenly phenomenon but on numerical calculations and chronology. This emphasized the fact that numbers and time were complex, unknown, varying and often difficult to grasp.
Just like other phobias have their origin in traumatic events, the root cause of Arithmophobia might also lie in a negative experience in one’s past. Failing or doing poorly in Math at school could lead to a permanent fear of numbers. Having been the subject of ridicule, being spanked, scolded, bullied for not having done well in math exam could also trigger Numerophobia. Parents might unknowingly instill the fear of numbers in children. Statements like: “Math is hard, you will fail if you do not study” can also cause a child to fear numbers.
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Hereditary, genetic factors and brain chemistry can sometimes lead to this phobia.
Also, as stated before, specific number phobias like the fear of number 13 or 666 etc could be fuelled by cultural or religious beliefs or even TV shows and movies about them.
Symptoms of Numerophobia
Typical symptoms of Numerophobia include:
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- Avoidance behavior– A child with Numerophobia might cry or scream at the thought of going to school (Didaskaleinophobia). S/he is often unable to express these fears leading to wrongful diagnosis of cause of this anxiety. Adults having Arithmophobia might also try finding ways of avoiding numbers. This might affect them in their career or personal lives. Often they might be embarrassed about their problem. They might lie or cover up their inability to deal with the issue, leading to strained relationships.
- Some tend to fear numbers so much that it leads to a full blown anxiety attack– sweating profusely, feeling like running away or hiding, having elevated heart beat, breathing rapidly are some signs. The phobic also feels detached from reality- s/he might experience a dry mouth, feel numbness or confusion, or may be unable to express one’s thoughts clearly.
- Often the phobic might be able to work with numbers, but might experience deep anxiety while doing so.
Arithmophobia often causes the phobic to obsess over numbers. Encountering numbers on the calendar or telephone (or in notes having written dates) can overwhelm the phobic. Shopping in grocery stores where one has to add up the prices of items, or tipping in restaurants might be a difficult job for the phobic.
There are many therapies available today to help you overcome the fear of numbers. These are fast and reliable methods which include a combination of drugs and psychotherapy. Naturally, drugs are the last line of treatment as not only are they habit forming but also full of side effects. However, in case of extreme anxiety that is affecting school life or work, mild anti-depressants can help. Naturally, the aim of such treatment should be to slowly reduce the dependence on the medication and reach a stage where one can avoid a panic response at the sight or thought of numbers.
Many treatment options, particularly Neuro Linguistic programming therapy can be utilized for overcoming this phobia. This therapy helps reprogram the brain’s response to numbers and increase one’s confidence while working with them.
Gradual exposure therapy with help of a trained practitioner can also help one overcome Arithmophobia. This includes looking at numbers, thinking about them and then progressing to solving simple to complex numerical computations.
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Counseling, talk therapy and hypnotherapy are some other proven remedies for overcoming Numerophobia.