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Scared of Needles? 5 Tips to Overcome the Fear

Let’s face it: No one loves getting a shot or having their blood drawn, but some people are downright fearful that it sometimes prevents them from getting necessary care. This phobia is called trypanophobia.

Here’s what we know about this phobia and how to overcome it.

How common is trypanophobia?

The data can vary, but it’s estimated that 10% of Americans suffer from a fear of needles, and this includes those who experience vasovagal syncope, a condition that leads to fainting.

Why are we so scared of needles?

The fear is pretty common, but one of the main causes may be simply the fear of the unknown. “When you don’t know about something, it’s not unreasonable to be a bit fearful,” said Kelly Pintarich, a child life specialist at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. “I’ve noticed that with patients who have had multiple exposures to needles (such as those with diabetes), they tend to be OK and less fearful because they know what to expect.”

Another common reason to fear needles is due to a misconception about needles themselves. “Some patients, young and old alike, believe that the needle stays in your arm,” Pintarich said. “We remind patients all the time that when we place an IV, draw blood or give a shot, the needle part comes out—it won’t remain in your body.”

And, if you’ve had a negative experience involving needles or medical procedures, you probably aren’t fond of needles either. This can be from witnessing a loved one’s fear of needles or unpleasant memories of your own.

Now that we understand the causes, Pintarich shared some useful strategies to help you overcome your fear.

Techniques to help you overcome your fear (or a loved one’s) of needles

  1. Take deep breaths. When we are anxious or scared, our body tenses and our breath becomes faster and shallower. Take long, slow, deep breaths in through the nose and slowly out through your mouth.
  2. Coach yourself. When irrational fears and negative thoughts enter your brain, remind yourself that any pain associated with shots or blood draws are over pretty quickly. Coach yourself with positive thoughts, like “This isn’t going to be bad. It’ll be over before I know it.”
  3. Distract yourself. Find something that will help keep your mind off what is happening. You can listen to calming music, watch something on your phone, squeeze a stress ball or chat up the person who’s giving you the shot or taking blood.
  4. Simply look away. There’s no reason to watch what’s happening. The person handling the needle will be done quicker than you think.
  5. Let your health care provider know about your fear. When you go to get a shot or blood draw, let the staff know upfront about your fear. This way the staff knows to take extra time ensuring you are comfortable and ready.

Additional tips for parents with children who are fearful of needles:

  • Bring your child’s favorite toy or stuffed animal to hold.
  • Bring an iPad or tablet with their favorite movie or TV show to distract them.
  • Play soft calming music.
  • Use comfort positioning—secure hugging holds that help your child feel safe and secure during a medical procedure.
  • You know your child best, so let the staff know if there are special circumstances where it’s best your child doesn’t know what is about to happen.

What if you just can’t overcome your fear?

Is your fear of needles interfering with your daily life and holding you back from necessary medical care? While the tips above can help, they may not be effective for those with a true phobia. Talk to your health care provider or a behavioral health specialist about treatment options, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure therapy or medications.

“CBT can help you reframe your thinking and build appropriate coping skills,” Pintarich said. “With exposure therapy, your health care provider will gradually increase your exposure to needles, which can lessen the panic they cause. Both are highly effective treatment options.”

To find a behavioral health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com or call the Banner Appointment Line at 800-254-4357.

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