Needle Phobia? Calm Your Anxiety with Therapy

Calm Your Anxiety with Therapy

Trypanophobia or needle phobia is extreme fear of medical procedures involving injections or needles. Needle phobia is more common than we suspect, and it can be overcome.

Nataxja Cini speaks with news anchor Annette Goerner on CTV Ottawa Morning Live about how to manage your fear of needles through relaxation techniques.

What is Needle Phobia?

Needle phobia is more common in children than adults but can last a lifetime if not addressed or if you continue to have unpleasant and painful experiences when you need to get an injection. Any phobia or fear can prevent you from doing normal everyday activities. However, you can learn how to manage your anxiety and fears and overcome your phobia. 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. Through EMDR and calm breathing techniques I have overcome my fear of needles and dread of visiting the dentist.

Many people, once they have developed a needle phobia, 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 experience a fear of needles. In fact, there are many people who are afraid of needles, so, if you are one of them, you are not alone. Through professional counselling in Ottawa at Family Therapy, you can calm your fear of needles.

What is Causing or Maintaining Your Fear?

Learning why you have a needle phobia is part of overcoming your fear.

Some common fears are:

-­ 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 exposed to needles

-­ Examine what “bad thing” you think might happen and then consider how likely and unlikely it is that the 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 they may bleed.

Most of these fears are unrealistic but repeated bad experiences because you were so tense 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 are fearful is important to overcoming and learning how to manage your phobia.

Treatments for needle phobia

It may not be common knowledge, but you can overcome your needle phobia. There are quite a few psychological treatments to help individuals who suffer from needle phobia. Keep in mind that if you feel faint, fear fainting, or have fainted in the past, do the Applied Tension Method so your blood pressure does not drop when taking a needle. 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 a needle, get comfortable in the chair. Let the staff know you do tend to get faint when you see or receive an injection.

  • Tense all the muscle in your arms, legs and your body core.
  • Hold your muscles tense for 10-15 secs until you 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.

Systematic Desensitization 

All the following 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.

  • Exposure Therapy
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Relaxation techniques through breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization

Exposure Therapy 

Exposure Therapy is a common way to help you become comfortable with talking about, seeing a needle, working with, and eventually taking an injection. These are all small steps to help you become comfortable around needles.

Exposure therapy 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 to 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. Exposure therapy involves the gradual exposure to needles while you actively learn to manage your emotional reactions.


Hypnotherapy involves listening to a therapist talking to you about overcoming your phobia and learning how to relax your body. Through relaxation techniques and positive reinforcement, 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 mindfulness and meditation.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) teaches you that the safety behaviours and avoidance techniques you are currently demonstrating will increase your fear in the long term. While this may have been helpful when you were younger, these behaviors are now preventing you from doing certain positive activities now. CBT examines your thoughts and beliefs which keep you in a fearful state. It challenges your negative thoughts and beliefs and examines how unlikely it is for these situations to occur.

Relaxation Techniques Through Breathing, Muscle Relaxation, and Visualization

These are my personal favourite techniques and where I always start when treating phobias. All the psychotherapy treatments can or do incorporate them into the treatment of phobias.

Deep slow breathing is a great way to help you relax. There are many different breathing techniques such as 4 -7 – 8, straw breathing or breathing slowly in and a long exhale.

Progressive Muscle relaxation teaches individuals 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.

Visualization 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.

How Can You Prepare Yourself If Your Vaccine Appointment is 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.
  • Practice deep, slow breathing.
  • Engage in progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Distract yourself by talking about something besides the needle or focusing on a spot or another object while getting your needle.

CHEO offers a needle phobia clinic for children. Visit for more information.

Overcoming your fear will take some time and practice. Do not be afraid to seek professional help in overcoming this common fear. If you have any questions or concerns about your fear of needles, reach out to our staff at Family-Therapy to receive anxiety counselling in Ottawa to address your needle phobia.