When I think of getting a shot, having blood drawn, or even going to the dentist, my heart begins to race. My palms sweat. I start to think of excuses not to go to the appointment and bargain with myself about how to avoid it. Eventually, some shots are unavoidable and I have to proceed. As the day of the procedure gets closer, I may lose sleep worrying about the needle.
Yup, I have needle phobia and I’m a “passer-outer”, so I also get worried I might faint. Ironically, I’m also an acupuncturist and needle people all day long.
I Feel You
I am right there with you worrying about getting a shot. For me, right now, I am scared of the covid vaccine. And it’s not the vaccine itself that I’m afraid of. I believe and trust in the evidence-based science backing it up, and have personally experienced the consequences of a family member’s death from covid. I want the covid vaccine. I am afraid of the shot. The needle.
You’re Not Alone With Needle Phobia
Needle phobia, or trypanophobia, is the fear of needles. It is defined as, “the extreme fear of medical procedures involving injections or hypodermic needles. It is a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders recognized phobia affecting approximately 50 million Americans, making it a top-ten American fear.”
That’s why when needle phobes like me are brave enough to try acupuncture, I get it. I pride myself on becoming a self-proclaimed expert at helping other people get over their fear of needles in order to receive the benefits of acupuncture.
Here are my best tips for getting over needle phobia:
This really works. Come prepared to chit-chat about something you love with the person providing your vaccine. Talk about something that makes you feel confident. Try bringing up your kids, your work, your new car, or the last book you read. It matters less about the content and more about the distraction. Getting your mind off the injection and onto something you love will trick your brain- in a good way- until you hear “all done”.
If you’ve ever had acupuncture, you may have noticed lots of acupuncturists use guided insertion tubes. These plastic tubes surround the needle to allow the sterile needle to go in straight. They also serve to stimulate sensory receptors in the skin. It’s like the body is busy processing “what’s on my skin” that the little pinch of the needle is hardly noticeable. Try this during your vaccination by rubbing your thigh with your fingernail, pulling on your earlobe, or even tapping your teeth together during the shot.
This technique is most useful if you practice it before your appointment. Take some time before your vaccination to practice imagining your favorite place. Fill in as many details as possible about the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings at your place. Breathe deeply. The more details you provide, the easier it will be to access this calming space right before your shot. When your time comes, close your eyes and go to your happy place.
There’s a reason kids get a lollipop at the doctor’s, it’s the reward system in the brain. The brain floods with happy chemicals like dopamine when it feels rewarded. Dopamine can be a powerful motivator. Create a little reward for yourself, in addition to the reward of receiving a life-saving vaccine, that you’ll receive after the shot. A sweet treat? A new download of music? Favorite author’s new book? Whatever it is, psych yourself up beforehand for your reward and then receive it when the shot is done.
You are not the only person with needle phobia. The professionals handling the administration of the Covid vaccine are prepared to help you. And they want to help you! They’d rather know ahead of time that you may need help than have to pick you up off the floor from fainting. At regular blood draw sites, they usually take me to the “passer outers” room- a special room where I recline to have blood draws and reduce my chance of passing out. Don’t feel bad, we’re all in this together! Ask for help if you’re nervous, it will ease your anxiety to know people are looking out for you.
Do you have other tips to help the needle phobes among us? We would love to hear them!