Overcoming your fear of needles

The coronavirus vaccine is in the process of being rolled out across Australia. But what if, when your turn comes, you’re overcome with fear – not about the vaccine, but about the injection itself?

“We’re actually [thought to] only [be] born with two phobias, fear of loud noises and fear of falling – everything else is learned,” says Harley Street therapist Karl Rollison, explaining that trypanophobia, the extreme fear of needles, usually originates in childhood when infants experience inoculations or dental procedures. “It all starts with a needle. They can associate all this pain, discomfort and blood with something that actually isn’t that painful.”

While some people get used to jabs, for others the fear continues into adulthood. So, what can you do if the thought of needles brings you out in a cold sweat?

1. Put anger to good use

“[One of] the most powerful things for overcoming any phobia is indignation,” argues Mr Rollison, recommending that in order to get to the point where you overcome your fear, you need to feel a certain contempt for the phobia itself and the negative impact it’s having on you.

“You’ve got to actually point that at the object, which is a needle, and think, ‘How dare you affect my life this way?’ Rather than being in a victim mindset about the injection, get angry about it.”

2. Employ visualisation
The next step, Mr Rollison advises, is to use ‘associated visualisation’ before the appointment. “Visualise yourself going to have the injection, but rather than seeing yourself being injected, you’re looking through your own eyes,” he says. “Looking down at the needle, or looking away, whichever is more comfortable, but you’re feeling indifferent.”

That way you’re “creating a memory that hasn’t happened yet, and that [can] carry forward”.

3. Breathe slowly

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“Anxiety levels are connected to your breathing patterns,” says therapist Sam Nabil. “So, if you can become conscious about your breathing and do it deliberately with big inhales and big exhales, that is the most basic, effective way of managing anxiety about anything.”

Mr Rollison recommends breathing in for a count of four and breathing out slowly for a count of 12. It might help to imagine you’re trying to blow out a candle on the other side of the room.

4. Use distraction

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At the time of the injection, a variety of distraction techniques can be used to take your mind off the needle.

“If something like looking at the needle or if being super aware of what is going on makes you more anxious than you feel comfortable with, then start small, don’t look at the needle,” Mr Nabil says.

Mr Rollison says: “What I tell people is to grimace or to pull a really angry face or scrunch your face up or bite your lip – something to distract from what’s happening. Or visualise yourself being somewhere nice and relaxed – anything goes.”

5. Try to avoid going alone
Depending on restrictions, you may not be able to have someone accompany you for the injection itself, but a friend or family member can take you to the vaccination centre.

Go with someone who will hold your hand and act as a distraction, if possible.

If you have any concerns about a phobia that is impacting your life, always speak to your GP.

How do you feel about the upcoming vaccine? Do you have a needle phobia? Do you have a fear of any medical procedures?

– With PA

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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