Needle phobia is more common than we expect. Some of of fear have needles because of a previous distressing experience. While others of us may have a physical reaction to seeing or hearing about needles. Either way, needle phobia does prevent people from seeking required medical or dental attention which may cause you poor health outcomes.
What is needle phobia
Trypanophobia is extreme fear of medical procedures involving injections or hypodermic needles.
It’s more common in children but can last a life time if not addressed or if you continue to have unpleasant and painful experiences when you need to get an injection. For myself I dreaded going to the dentist if I had to get a filling because I found getting frozen was the most painful part of the visit.
For many people, they avoid situations such as visiting the dentist, going to the doctor or even having a tetanus booster or another vaccine because of their fear of having to face being given a “shot in the arm with a needle”. Even people who want to work in the medical field can also experience a fear of needles. Quite a few people are afraid of needles so don’t worry that you are the only person.
Any phobia or fear can prevent you from doing normal everyday activities and you can learn how to manage your anxiety and fears.
What is Causing or Maintaining your fear?
Learn why you have a needle phobia is part of overcoming your fear
-‐ Afraid that something bad will happen
-‐ Previous unpleasant experience
-‐ Experiencing a negative reaction such as a panic attack, feeling flushed, racing heart
rate, sweating or even fainting when exposure to needles
-‐ Examine what “bad thing” you think might happen and examine how likely and unlikely
that event could occur
-‐ Many people are afraid of the pain, fear of fainting, the needle might get stuck, they
might get sick from the needle, or that there may be blood. Most of these fears are
unrealistic but repeated bad experiences because you were so tenses and fearful just
reinforce that getting a needle is very unpleasant.
-‐ When we are tense, our muscles seize up and this does make it more difficult to have a
more pain free experience
-‐ Learning why you have a phobia is important to overcoming an learning how to manage
Treatment for needle phobia
You can overcome your needle phobia and there are quite a few psychological treatments for needle phobia.
But if you feel faint, fear fainting, or have fainted in the past, do the Applied Tension Method so your blood pressure does not drop. This involves tensing some muscles to keep your blood pressure up while keeping the arm where you receive the injection relaxed.
Applied Tension Method
-‐ When you go for your needle, get comfortable in the chair
-‐ Tense all the muscle in your arms, legs and your body core
-‐ Hold your muscles tense for 10 – 15 secs until your feel a warm sensation in your body
-‐ Relax your muscles for 20 – 30 seconds
-‐ Repeat tensing your muscles and relaxing your muscles for at least 5 rounds
-‐ You want to relax just so you are feeling normal and not overly relaxed like jelly
-‐ You want to be not overly tense and not overly relaxed
All of these techniques involve Systematic desensitization which involves small steps to getting you to become comfortable around needles and eventually confident to having an injection. Your therapist will emotionally encourage you and support you through these steps. You can learn how to manage your needle phobia within a day or over a few weeks depending upon the severity of your phobia and how willing you are to challenge your fears.
Very briefly psychotherapy treatments for needle phobia are
Exposure Therapy and EMDR
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Relaxation techniques through breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization
Exposure therapy is a common way to help you become comfortable with talking about, seeinga needle, working with and eventually having an injection. These are all small steps to getting you to have an injection and become comfortable around needles.
Exposure therapy is involves gradually exposing you to needles in a controlled, safe setting. The therapist will first start by asking you about your past experiences and when you first noticed your phobia. Then the therapist will teach you calming techniques and breathing exercises so you learn you can manage your anxiety, fears and slow down your breathing and your heart rate. You and the therapist will verbally discuss needles. The aim here is to get you comfortable with seeing a syringe with a needle and eventually be able to get an injection while managing your emotional reaction. Every time your anxiety starts to peak, you with the guidance of your
therapist will start doing the relaxation techniques so you slow down your breathing and learn you can manage your emotional reaction.
Exposure therapy involves the gradually exposure to needles and you actively learning to manage your emotional reactions.
Hypnotherapy is involves listening to a therapist talking to you about overcoming your phobia and learning how to relax your body. This involves relaxation techniques and positive reinforcement that you will always feel relaxed, safe, and calm when you are having an injection. Hypnotherapy involves suggestions that you can release the tension from your body allowing yourself to move into a state of relaxation prior to receiving an injection. I find Hypnotherapy similar to being mindful and mediation.
Cognitive behavioural Therapy
Teaches you that the safety behaviours and avoidance techniques you are currently doing increases your fear in the long term. While this may have been helpful when you were younger, these behaviors are now preventing you for doing certain behaviours or activities now. CBT examines your thoughts and beliefs which keep you being in a fearful state. It challenges your negative thoughts and beliefs and examines how unlikely these fears are to occur.
Anxieties can be managed through breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization. Breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques are starting point when treating phobias to help the person manage their anxieties.
Psychotherapy treatments can or do incorporate breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques into the treatment of phobias. It is important for you find your own way to manage your anxiety. Your therapist can make suggestions but you know what is best for you.
Deep slow breathing
There are many different breathing techniques such as 4-‐7-‐8, straw breathing, or breathing slowly in and a long exhale through your mouth. You can find many breathing techniques videos on youtube.
Progressive Muscle relaxation
Teaches clients to tense and relax their muscles and their body. You cannot be tense and relaxed at the same time. You can combine slow deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation together.
Involves creating a safe calm place for yourself in your mind where you feel safe and calm. Visualization can also involve working you through the steps of visualizing you
booking your appointment, getting to your appointment and receiving your injection while remaining calm and relaxed.
What can you do to prepare yourself if your vaccine is happening today or tomorrow?
Let the nurse know you have a needle phobia
Ask your doctor or nurse for a numbing cream prior to your vaccination appointment
Listen to what you consider calming music prior to getting your needle
Deep slowly Breathing
Progressive Muscle relaxation
Distraction – talking about something besides the needle or focusing on a spot of
another object while having your needle
CHEO offers a needle phobia clinic for children. Visit https://www.cheo.on.ca/en/resources-and-support/needles.aspx for more information.