Arithmophobia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

The aritmophobia is a condition of pathological fear of numbers, mathematics or arithmetic.

This alteration, also known as numerophobia, constitutes an anxiety disorder in which the person fears abnormally, persistently and unjustifiably any stimulus related to mathematical calculation.

Arithmophobia is included within the disorders known as specific phobias. Thus, this alteration shares many similarities with other pathological fears such as phobia of spiders, heights or blood.

Nowadays it is well documented that this alteration can significantly affect different areas of life that suffers it. Especially the academic and / or work environment is the one that can be harmed the most.

However, daily tasks such as calculating the cost of expenses or managing the family economy can be highly complex situations for a person suffering from arithmophobia.


Currently, there is good documentation about arithmophobia. Likewise, psychological therapies have been postulated that allow the pathology to intervene with very satisfactory results.


Below we will detail what are the characteristics of this disorder, what factors can originate it and what treatments should be done to send it.

Characteristics of arithmophobia

Arithmophobia is an anxiety disorder, specifically, it forms one of the diagnostic categories known as specific phobias.

These alterations are very well documented and are characterized by an excessive and irrational fear of a certain stimulus.

In the case of arithmophobia, the feared stimulus has to do with calculus, numbers, arithmetic or mathematics. In this way, the person who suffers from this alteration fears these elements in a disproportionate way.

This fact translates into a very high anxiety response every time the individual is exposed to elements related to numbers or mathematics. For example, people with arithmophobia will become highly nervous when they have to perform a mathematical problem.

Apart from this, the fear of these elements is so high that the individual with arithmophobia will try to avoid them by all means. For this reason, this disorder can affect and harm the day to day of the person who suffers.

Thus, arithmophobia does not define a situation of certain nervousness when performing mathematical operations, but an extreme and intense fear of any stimulus related to arithmetic.

Unlike other types of phobias, this can be very disabling, since mathematics are elements that appear on a day-to-day basis with some frequency.

Carry out a calculation to know how much the purchase will cost, use mathematics in studies or at work, manage the family economy …

All these aspects are part of the daily life of most people, but an individual with arithmophobia will be totally unable to face them and will avoid them completely.

The fear of numbers

It is well established that not all types of fear can belong to a phobia. In fact, in order to talk about phobia, experimentation with a certain type of fear is required.

This also happens with arithmophobia, so the simple fact of fearing mathematical calculations does not have to imply the presence of the disorder.

To be able to talk about arithmophobia, the fear about stimuli related to numbers, mathematics and arithmetic must be very high. But it must also meet a series of requirements.


Obviously, the fear of numbers and mathematics is disproportionate to the demands of the situation. An arithmetic operation results in a harmless situation in which a response of fear and anxiety is not required.

However, mathematical operations can often be related to more demanding situations. An important math exam that is complicated for us, a complex labor operation, a delicate management of the family economy, etc.

The experimentation of fear or restlessness in these circumstances does not define the presence of arithmophobia. In order to associate fear with disorder, the fear of mathematics must appear in any situation and must always be very high.


The fear of numbers is irrational, because in principle mathematics does not have to be a frightening element. However, in arithmophobia the fear of numbers is irrational even for the individual who suffers it.

He will not be able to justify the reason for his fear or reason what elements of mathematics cause him fear. He will simply experience the sensations of anxiety whenever he is exposed to these stimuli, without being able to explain the reason.


The fear of arithmophobia is irrational but also uncontrollable. For this reason, people who suffer from it can not stop experiencing it despite knowing that they have no reason to do so.

This factor highlights the complexity of the disorder and that arithmophobia can be a serious psychological alteration. The individual who suffers it can not stop fearing the mathematics, so it will require specialized treatment.

Leads to avoidance

People with arithmophobia live their feelings of fear with great anguish. The feelings of anxiety that they experience when exposed to numbers are very high and cause a very high level of discomfort.

Due to the intensity of fear, individuals with arithmophobia completely avoid any situation related to arithmetic. They will avoid performing mathematical calculations with the aim of also avoiding the discomfort that causes them.

This element is the most disabling of the disorder, since it can modify the behavior of the person and affect their day to day. Thus, people with arithmophobia will require psychological treatment so that their fears stop being a problem.

Persists over time

Arithmophobia is not a transient disorder, so the fear of numbers is persistent. People who fear mathematics temporarily or in very specific episodes of their lives do not suffer from arithmophobia.

In contrast, individuals who develop numerophobia do present these fears continuously. In fact, fears of numbers will never subside if they are not treated.

He is maladaptive

Non-pathological fears have a clear adaptive component that helps the person to better adapt to situations that require an anxiety response.

Obviously, this is not the case of arithmophobia since the fear of mathematics does not allow the individual to adapt better. On the contrary, fears will be a major barrier in various areas of your life.

It is not specific to a certain age

During childhood or adolescence different types of fears can flourish more easily. However, arithmophobia is not specific to a certain age.

The individual who fears numbers from a young age will always fear them if they respond to this type of specific phobia.

Symptoms of arithmophobia

Excessive, irrational, uncontrollable, persistent and maladaptive fear of numbers and arithmetic provoke a series of manifestations. In fact, arithmophobia causes alterations in the three planes of a person.

Both the physical, mental and behavioral components are affected by the disorder. The condition is mainly explained by the anxiety response that the individual makes when exposed to his feared elements.

Physical symptoms

When a person with arithmophobia is exposed to situations related to mathematics or arithmetic, he performs an intense anxiety response.

Like all anxiety responses, this implies modifications in the physical functioning of the organism. Specifically, the individual will present those symptoms related to an increase in the activity of the central nervous system.

The symptomatology can be variable in each case, but usually there are usually some of the following manifestations:

  1. Increase in the cardiac rate
  1. Increase in the respiratory rate.
  1. Increased sweating
  1. Pupillary dilation
  1. Increase in muscle tension
  1. Headaches and / or belly
  1. Feeling of unreality

8. Nausea.

Psychological symptoms

Physical symptoms are always accompanied by a series of related thoughts and cognitions. These elements are fed with the physiological manifestations and increase the intensity of the anxiety.

Thoughts about the feared elements can be very variable. However, these are always characterized by negative attributes, fear and disability.

The individual can think how agonizing the mathematical operation is, the danger it poses to him or the personal incapacity he presents to face it.

Likewise, more elaborate distorted thoughts may appear, such as the association between arithmetic and personal harm, ridicule or the showing of weaknesses.

Behavioral symptoms

The physical and psychological anxiety that arithmophobia causes greatly affects the behavior of the individual. The most common behavior is usually avoidance, so the individual tries not to participate in any situation in which arithmetic is present.

Likewise, agitation, impulsivity or flight behavior can appear when the individual can not avoid his feared element and must face it. 


The diagnosis of this anxiety disorder must be made by a mental health professional. The criteria that are followed to determine its presence are:

  1. Presence of fear or intense anxiety for a specific object or situation related to mathematical calculation or arithmetic.
  1. The object or phobic situation almost always causes fear or immediate anxiety.
  1. The object or the phobic situation is actively avoided or resisted with fear or intense anxiety.
  1. The fear or anxiety is disproportionate to the actual danger posed by the specific object or situation and sociocultural context.
  1. Fear, anxiety or avoidance is persistent, and typically lasts six or more months.
  1. Fear, anxiety or avoidance causes clinically significant discomfort or deterioration in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning.
  1. The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder, such as fear, anxiety and avoidance of situations associated with panic symptoms or other disabling symptoms (as in agoraphobia); objects or situations related to obsessions (as in obsessive-compulsive disorder); memory of traumatic events (as in post-traumatic stress disorder); leaving home or separation of attachment figures (as in separation anxiety disorder); or social situations (as in social anxiety disorder).


Currently, it is argued that there is no single cause for arithmophobia, but that different elements can interact in the development of the disorder.

Most studies show a special importance of environmental elements. While the genetic factors seem to be in the background.

In this sense, the experience of traumatic experiences (or lived as traumatic) with respect to numbers, could motivate the appearance of phobia. Likewise, the acquisition of verbal or visual information about negative components of mathematics could also influence.

Finally, it is argued that the avoidance of the feared elements would be the main factor that explains the strengthening of the phobia, as well as its maintenance.


Arithmophobia can greatly damage the life of the person suffering from it and significantly limit its functioning.

For this reason, it is especially important to intervene this type of phobia, since otherwise it can have negative consequences.

The treatment that has proven most effective in treating it is psychotherapy. Except in cases in which the state of anxiety is extremely high, treatment with drugs as the first option is discouraged.

Regarding psychological interventions, cognitive behavioral treatment is the one that has shown the greatest efficacy, presenting very high recovery rates.

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In this treatment, the behavioral component is intervened, exposing the subject to their feared situations, as well as the physiological one through relaxation techniques and the psychological one through cognitive therapy.