Your heart races, palms sweat and blood pressure skyrockets. You lose sleep fretting. Just thinking about it makes you dizzy and ill-feeling. You worry you might actually faint if you go.
At least two in 10 of us feels this way about needles.
A third of young adults and at least half of children also suffer with trypanophobia, a fear of needles. Children usually have a parent to help them through their fears, but adults who fear needles avoid needed medical tests, dental work, vaccinations, and medical procedures (and may avoid them for their children too!)
This article offers ways to ease your fear (and your child’s) and communicate clearly with your health care providers, so they can help too.
Breaking the Stigma of Needle Phobias
Many children outgrow trypanophobia or aichmophobia, a fear of sharp or pointed objects, yet it’s estimated that 25% of adults have one of the two phobias.
A fear of needles is expected with children, so pediatricians and children’s dentists have tricks to help ease that fear and distract the patient. Although these strategies also work with adults, we don’t always get the same empathy or help.
Ideally, providers will notice body language indicating nervousness or fear and talk to you about it. But the only way to ensure they understand what you’re feeling and help you is to be upfront, says Leann Lyford Calvi, nurse and health coach. Calvi has dealt with trypanophobia and aichmophobia as a pediatric nurse in various hospital units and as a day surgery nurse.
In her private practice, Nurse you to Health, Calvi helps people with diagnoses like cancer, diabetes, and celiac disease. She serves as a liaison between patients and their doctors, helping with everything from understanding to meal planning. A new diagnosis combined with a fear or needles is especially hard for people, she says.
Plus, we all need bloodwork, shots, IVs for procedures, a dental procedure, or a vaccination at some point. So, Calvi says it’s essential that we learn how to self-advocate.
“Being honest is hard for people, especially men,” Calvi says. “It’s hard for them to say something and not appear weak. There’s a stigma. And our society is kind of like ‘adults need to just buck up.’”
That stigma needs to be broken. A fear of needles may stem from a bad experience as a child or witnessing a parent’s fear. It’s also hereditary. When you’re honest about your fear, providers can do many things to help, Calvi says. She suggests these tips to help you communicate with providers and ease your fears.
12 Ways to Ease Your Fear of Needles
- Tell your providers that you have a needle phobia. When you explain that you don’t just dislike needles, but you’re terrified, they can help!
- Ask for the most experienced person. A new person might not be as good at drawing blood or placing an IV. It’s okay to ask for someone else.
- Show them the place on your body that works best for you for a shot or blood draw. Calvi says we often have an arm or vein that is less sensitive or works better. If you’re not sure, ask the for the easiest place.
- Ask for a numbing agent! Health care workers have a variety of numbing agents. Often, just knowing you have a numbing agent will calm you.
- Ask for the smallest needle. We’re not nurses, so we may not realize needles come in different sizes.
- Use deep breathing and visualization. Breathing deeply calms your nervous system. Visualizing your favorite fishing spot or a fond memory shifts your focus.
- Listen to music, watch a movie, or use a meditation video. The distractions that work at children’s providers will work for you too! Maybe no one will blow bubbles for you, but a five-minute comedy clip could do the trick.
- Talk about a hobby, work, family, or anything that takes your mind off the needle. Talking about your life will distract you and make the procedure easier.
- Don’t look at the needle! Watching the needle will likely increase anxiety, even if you don’t have a phobia. Find something else in the room to focus on. You can also ask the provider to prep the needle out of sight!
- Work with a health coach. A health coach can help you find ways to ease your anxiety and talk openly with providers.
- Talk to a mental health provider. Trypanophobia and aichmophobia can cause crippling fear. It’s possible you need professional help to work through it.
- Ask your doctor or mental health provider about medication. A sedative or anti-anxiety medication may be necessary, and that’s okay.
In addition to those tips, we can help children prepare for shots by:
- Being honest. If they ask, tell them there’s a chance they’ll need a shot.
- Not telling them about needed shots days in advance, that builds anxiety.
- Showing them what will happen on a doll or stuffy and having them role play as the doctor or nurse giving the shot.
- Validate their feelings. Yes, shots can be scary.