Arithmophobia is a strange psychological syndrome characterized by an intense, persistent, and irrational fear of numbers. The patient may be afraid of all numbers or only be afraid of some numbers that have a “unlucky” meaning such.
What is fear of numbers?
Arithmophobia/ Numerophobia is an extremely rare condition characterized by an extreme, excessive and irrational fear of numbers. Numbers and language are vehicles used in communication and in many different fields. Because of this, an excessive fear of numbers can cause a lot of trouble if left untreated.
The fear of numbers is divided into two types:
- Fear of all numbers: In this form, the patient is afraid of all numbers, regardless of whether they are natural numbers, prime numbers, negative numbers or positive numbers, etc. Fear of numbers makes the patient encounter many problems. nuisance in life, especially in the process of studying and shopping, spending.
- Fear of specific numbers: Some people are just overly afraid of specific numbers like the number “13”. In many cultures and religions, the number 13 is considered an unlucky number. Mystical, spiritual stories about this number are the cause of excessive fear of the number 13. Today, many apartments and buildings use the symbol 12+1 or 12A, 12B instead of the number 13.
Arithmophobia is a type of anxiety disorder known as specific phobia. In fact, there are many people who develop irrational fears about harmless situations/objects such as fear of social situations, fear of flying, fear of empty spaces, fear of crowds and fear of numbers.
Unreasonable fear of these factors will cause many troubles in life. The person with the fear of numbers himself is aware of the abnormality of his or her own fear but cannot overcome it. Therefore, all people with this syndrome must be treated.
Currently, Arithmophobia is not recognized in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Association). However, doctors will still receive the diagnosis and treatment. Therefore, patients do not need to worry too much when encountering this condition.
Causes of fear of numbers
We are exposed to numbers from the earliest years of life. However, the fear of numbers only develops later, not from the first exposure. Although the exact cause has not been determined, several factors have been identified to be associated with Arithmophobia syndrome.
Factors that cause irrational fear of numbers:
- Heredity: All psychological problems are hereditary, including the fear of numbers. In addition, the risk is also increased when the family has generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Although a clear mechanism has not been found, through studies, experts have found a clear role of genetic factors.
- Negative experiences: Like other specific phobias, number phobia can develop after negative experiences such as being scolded or severely punished for poor math. Many families force their children to learn math from an early age so that they can be better than their peers. However, this inadvertently causes children to be overly afraid of numbers.
- Anxiety Disorders: People with anxiety disorders are at increased risk of developing irrational fears due to pessimistic and anxious personalities. Experts have found that most people with fear of numbers have generalized anxiety disorder.
- Due to the influence of religion and belief: In cultures, numbers have many meanings, not merely used for calculation. In Christianity, the number 13 is considered unlucky. In Japanese culture, the number 4 is considered an unlucky number because of its homonym for the word “death”. In Vietnam, the numbers 49 and 53 are considered numbers that should be avoided because they can cause disasters and bad luck. The influence of religion and belief may cause some people to become overly fearful of these numbers.
Recognizing the fear of numbers
The common feature of specific phobias is an irrational and excessive fear of non-dangerous objects such as numbers, airplanes, clowns, chickens, birds, etc. Unreasonable fear often dominates strong emotions and leads to avoidant behaviors.
Signs of fear of numbers:
- Having a fear of numbers (including seeing numbers or hearing numbers in conversations)
- Try to avoid numbers by not mentioning, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, not calculating and managing expenses, etc.
- The persistent fear of numbers leads to many problems in life such as fear of learning math, discomfort when shopping for things, limited going out for fear of seeing numbers, etc.
- Those who fear specific numbers are less likely to be affected. However, fear of numbers such as 4, 13 can cause the sick person to lock himself in the house on the 4th and 13th because of excessive fear.
When a patient sees numbers or hears conversation involving numbers, patients can experience extreme fear that is accompanied by a range of physical symptoms such as:
- Extreme fear
- Sweat a lot
- Heart beat fast
- Chest pain
- Hot flashes
- Epigastric pain
Although rare, someone fainted on Friday the 13th because of fear of disaster.
Effects of Arithmophobia syndrome
Compared with other common phobias, Arithmophobia has a more severe impact on quality of life. It can be said that the introduction of writing and numbers marked the remarkable development of human beings. Thanks to that, people can easily develop many different fields such as mathematics, astronomy, economics – finance, etc.
Unreasonable and excessive fear of numbers needs to be treated to normalize life. If left to last, the patient will face serious consequences as follows:
- Having problems in the learning process
- Limit the scope of profession
- Causes a lot of problems with spending management
- Increase in other psychological problems such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.
- Increased rates of alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse
- Insomnia, memory loss, headache, stress, body weakness, etc.
- The fear of numbers can also lead to self-isolation and social isolation. Because the sick person may be scared about seeing house numbers and numbers when going out.
Diagnosis of fear of numbers (Arithmophobia)
The fear of numbers has not been recognized, so in the DSM-5 there are no diagnostic criteria for this syndrome. Currently, doctors all use diagnostic criteria for phobic anxiety disorder to identify unrecognized phobias.
Through a thorough examination of your symptoms, personal and family history, your doctor can diagnose Arithmophobia. In addition, in some cases, imaging and laboratory tests will be required to rule out other possibilities.
How to overcome fear of numbers
The fear of numbers can be improved with treatment. After making a diagnosis, your doctor will consider some of the following methods:
1. Systemic desensitization therapy
Systemic desensitization therapy is also known as exposure therapy and exposure therapy. This therapy is effective for most specific phobias, including the fear of numbers.
Systemic desensitization therapy was developed on the principle that the body/brain can adapt to fear with regular exposure. So in this syndrome, the specialist will expose the patient to numbers in increasing degrees (first through thought, then through speech, and finally the patient can write). numbers, calculations, notes, etc.).
When exposed to the number, the patient will become panic and afraid. Therefore, this process can only be carried out with the help of experts. Relatives should not arbitrarily do it at home because it can increase fear.
The specialist will teach the patient skills to deal with the fear, learn how to manage panic attacks and the negative emotions that arise from exposure to fear. In addition, the therapist will also help the patient record negative thoughts that arise during the panic attack. Through the patient’s thinking, the specialist will have an appropriate intervention to help the patient reduce the irrational fear of numbers.
2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy is done in the form of conversation. The specialist will talk to the patient to understand the negative thoughts about the numbers. CBT aims to regulate behavior and emotions by changing negative thoughts with more appropriate thinking.
Currently, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is considered the most complete and effective psychological method. In addition to the fear of numbers, this therapy is also applied in the treatment of psychological and psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, behavioral disorders, etc.
In addition to changing inappropriate thoughts, CBT also involves equipping patients with effective relaxation and stress relief techniques. This therapy helps a lot in getting rid of irrational fears. In addition, through CBT, patients will learn how to deal with negative emotions and stay mentally stable.
Hypnotherapy is performed by bringing the patient into a state of intense concentration. Through this state, the expert will find out the source of the fear of numbers is due to a negative experience in the past or the influence of beliefs, religion, etc. Besides, the expert will also help the patient takes in the right thoughts and changes the negative thoughts about the numbers.
Although effective, hypnotherapy is rarely used. Because this therapy is only done with the consent of the patient and in fact, many patients have a “prejudice” with the term hypnosis, so they do not accept therapy with this method.
4. Taking medicine
Medications may be used if the patient has panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression. In addition, patients with excessive panic and panic during therapy are also considered for drug use.
Psychotropic drugs have many potential risks and risks besides the benefits. Therefore, the doctor will carefully evaluate before prescribing. As with other specific phobias, patients with agoraphobia will be considered for sedatives, antidepressants, and beta-blockers.
5. Self-improvement measures
Patients with agoraphobia cannot control their own fear. However, some supportive measures can reduce accompanying symptoms such as stress, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, body aches, etc.
Self-improvement measures for patients with number phobia:
- Make sure to get enough sleep (7-8 hours/day), avoid sleep deprivation and stay up late.
- Exercise regularly, especially subjects that have a good effect of reducing stress and anxiety such as walking, cycling, yoga, etc.
- Limit the use of alcohol, do not smoke, addictive substances and reduce the amount of caffeine consumed each day.
- Reduce stress and anxiety with healthy relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, aromatherapy, journaling, painting, acupressure massage, warm water immersion, etc.
- Build a balanced diet and should increase stress-reducing foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, yogurt, etc. Limit the use of too much fat, spices and canned goods.
- Stress at work can increase the severity of the fear of numbers. Therefore, patients should only work a maximum of 8 hours/day and must learn to manage stress. If necessary, it is possible to apply for leave during the treatment period.
The fear of numbers is a very rare psychological problem. However, if you experience this syndrome, you will face serious effects – especially in terms of academic and occupational aspects. Proactive examination and treatment is the only way to overcome your irrational fear. Therefore, patients should not hesitate to go to the hospital if they suspect they have this syndrome.