This is part 1 of a two-part series on injection phobia. This blogpost covers what you can do in advance of the injection to make it easier for you to get the vaccinations etc. which you need.
Part 2 (covering tips and tricks that you can use at the time of the injection) will follow next week.
We are coming into flu season here in Australia. According to the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), there have been more than 26,000 confirmed influenza cases since the start of 2019, which is significantly higher than previous years (1).
(Incidentally, I would urge everyone to talk to their GP or pharmacist about getting a flu shot. A few years ago, I was in the middle of a holiday in USA, and caught the flu. I can confirm that the flu was horrible, and I could hardly move. I felt completely lethargic for several weeks afterwards, and it wiped out some of the holiday.)
Unfortunately, for most of us, injections are largely unavoidable. We may need them for vaccinations to help us avoid various diseases. We may also need to have blood tests, anaesthetics (e.g. surgery including dental surgery), or we may have diabetes.
Up to almost one quarter of adults suffer from fear of injections or needles (2). Fear of needles fits into a broader set of phobias known as blood-injection-injury type phobia. People with this phobia can have an excessive fear of the sight of blood, or the prospect of a medical procedure, or a needle — sometimes all three (3). Fear of needles is called aichmophobia, whereas fear of injections is called tryanophobia (4).
Is this needle phobia taken seriously by the medical profession?
It is taken seriously by most, as this fear or phobia is one of the few which can lead to serious illness, as people who have this condition can sometimes avoid medical treatment (involving needles) until their condition gets really serious.
Fear of needles, known in medical literature as needle phobia, is the extreme fear of medical procedures involving injections or hypodermic needles. It was officially recognized in 1994 in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition as a specific phobia of blood/injection/injury type (5).
Some anaesthetists are also using hypnosis and guided relaxation to help those with needle phobia (6).
The cause of this phobia could be a past bad experience, e.g., a painful injection, or an adverse reaction to the injection (e.g. fainting) during childhood. Thus, the fear of fainting can be added to the fear of the injection.
Fainting doesn’t happen with other phobias (usually). Fear makes our hearts beat faster and our blood pressure rises which would generally stop fainting. However, if someone faints during injections, it can be caused by their blood pressure dropping. This seems contradictory, and may be a reaction due to hypersensitivity to blood loss and injury.
How to help yourself overcome needle phobia before the injection
Confront your fear.
- Research injections: their uses, their history, their purpose, even their dangers.
- Look at pictures of needles and injections online to desensitize yourself.
- This might be difficult to start with, but it could help you overcome your fear.
- The more exposure you have to needles the more ordinary they will seem.
Consider the source of your fear.
- Think back, and see if you can remember an event which could have caused the fear. You may need to speak to older family members or friends to see if they can remember. Understanding the roots of your fear can help you to confront it.
- Some people cannot remember the event that initiated their fear (the initial sensitising event or ISE). There may remember an event e.g. when they were seven years old, but the actual ISE could have happened when they were four years old, and they can’t remember it. In this case, hypnotherapy can help in uncovering the ISE and thus resolving the fear by considering the event from an adult perspective.
Rationalise your fear.
- Rather than concentrating on your fear of injections, focus instead on how the injection is going to help you.
- Remind yourself that the injection helps you avoid or deal with something which is much worse than the injection (e.g. diseases that you are being vaccinated against, or having blood tests to diagnose).
- For blood donations, think about all of the people you’re helping by overcoming your fear.
- List your fears and concerns (“Injections are painful!”), and then counter those fears with positive, rational ideas (“Injections keep me healthy!”).
- If you have a child who’s scared of needles, it is recommended to be honest with them. Don’t tell them that it will necessarily be painless, but also tell them of the importance of injections. Reassure them that the medical staff do not want to hurt them, and are helping them stay healthy.
If you think that you might faint, practice applied tension.
This can combat fear and also a drop in blood pressure that can lead to fainting. This can regulate your blood pressure and keep you from fainting again. You will need to practice this beforehand, i.e., before you go for the injection.
To practice applied tension, follow these steps:
- Sit comfortably.
- Tense the muscles in your arms, legs, and upper body and maintain that tension for about 10 to 15 seconds, or until your face begins to feel flush.
- Relax your muscles.
- After 30 seconds, tense your muscles again.
- Repeat until you’ve done this five times.
- When you are having the injection, do not tense the area which is being injected (e.g. arm), but tense all the other areas which you practiced.
Draw up a fear hierarchy.
- A fear hierarchy is a way to document the different degrees of fear you experience related to needles and injections. It gives you a clear progression, and allows you to move at your own pace and make your own records of what how find most fearful.
- Write down different aspects of needles and injections which scare you and rank them by the amount of distress they cause you, on a scale of 1-10.
- Once you have drawn up your hierarchy you will have already begun thinking about your fears, an important step in countering them. When you are ready, start at the bottom of your hierarchy and put yourself in the situation which gives you the lowest amount of distress. When you begin to feel distressed, practice applied tension or breathing for relaxation to bring your blood pressure back down and control your fear.
- Stay in this stressful situation until your anxiety has started to noticeably drop. As you come out of this situation, looking away from the video of an injection, or putting down the needle, take time to breathe deeply and relax.
- Congratulate yourself on your progress and courage before moving up your hierarchy.
- Now you can steadily work your way up your hierarchy and keep track of your success.
- Only move on when you feel really confident with the previous situations, and don’t worry if you need to re-do one situation a number of times before you feel comfortable. It’s worth persisting.
- Overcoming your fear will take time, practice, commitment and courage. But, it will certainly make your life freer from anxiety and stress in the long-run.
Consider therapy or counselling.
- An acute fear of needles can be a serious problem if it stops you getting the injections you need to stay healthy, or to diagnose and treat disease.
- Fear of needles is a recognized condition and behavioural therapy may help you to deal with your fear.
- Hypnotherapy can help with uncovering any events in your past which have contributed to a needle phobia.
- Hypnotherapy can also help you rehearse the events in your fear ladder while in a relaxed state. This makes them easier and more pleasant to ‘experience’, and can make recovery quicker than simply working through the fear ladder on your own.
If you currently have needle phobia, fear of injections, etc. and would like to find out more about how hypnotherapy can help, please call me (Lisa) on 0403 932311. We can chat about how I can assist you, and there is no obligation to proceed if you do not wish to do so.