Tips: Overcome fear of needle

© Johanna Goodyear
© Johanna Goodyear

Injections and blood tests are unpleasant and yet they are inevitable parts of our lives. Babies and toddlers have to go through their vaccinations at tender age and this process is often traumatic not only for the child but for the parents or caregiver as well.


The fear of needle is fairly common, affecting both children and adults. If I ask for a show of hands of those who has this fear, I am certain to see more than a couple. This fear can intensify to an extent where it prevents the afflicted person from seeking medical attention and this is dangerous.


Medical procedure and intervention often begins with a series of blood test. In addition, patients may also require the insertion of a plug to facilitate the administration  of medicine through intravenous therapy. All this involves needle for sure.


While undergoing my treatment, I had plenty of practice in dealing with needle and other medical procedures. I have had 16 tubes of blood taken from me at a time and because I was on Warfarin, frequent blood tests were to be expected. As such I would like to share a few tips that have worked for me.


1. Keep breathing and relax

Understandably when you are afraid you are not going to be relaxed. Hence it is even more important that you turn breathing into a conscious exercise.


Breathing has a calming effect when you do it slowly and deliberately. I've also noticed that when we are afraid it is more likely that we hold our breath. This is not helpful. Thus it is crucial that you remind yourself to breathe. Bear in mind that when your muscles are tensed, pain intensifies. Consequently, you want to let go of tension in your body as much as possible by breathing deeply.


This technique is also helpful for children and the elderly. Breathe together with them. Say, "Breathe in and breathe out" as you synchronize the breathing. Do this the whole time when the blood is being taken or during the injection. Some time ago, I tried this technique with my elderly mother who is terrified of needle and it worked. Keep breathing is effective and can be easily done by anyone. It's probably the most underrated tool.


2.Distract yourself

A good nurse or healthcare practitioner is likely to engage in conversation in order to distract you. You can also look away and tell yourself a happy story, count or state fact/mantra to yourself. Some useful mantras include 'It will be over soon', 'do not resist', 'breathe and relax', 'the sting is momentary'.


Work with your child to come up with a mantra that he/she is comfortable using. It works better when you have conviction in the mantra. Doing something when you feel powerless provides some semblance of control and that is helpful.


3. Look at the needle

For this to work effectively you must feel comfortable with the notion in the first place. In fact, many advise against looking at the needle as it may intensify fear.


Here is the rationale for this tip. When you look at the needle, you know exactly when a puncture is made hence this reduces the anticipatory anxiety that is predominant when you look away.


In addition, you can also bring forward the scientist in you and imagine what happens when the needle enters the skin. Be curious about it. Feel and describe it as a scientist would. It's hard to be curious and afraid at the same time.


4. Use the power of thought.

Our mind and thought is more powerful than we imagine. It is possible to use rational thought while managing fear of needle especially for those who are more cognitively inclined. Excessive fear of needle often happens when our rational thought goes out of window. It pays to remember this quote by Sri Chinmoy, "Whatever you fear most has no power; it is your fear that has the power."


An example of this is to think about how the injection or blood test is going to help you ultimately. Many medical procedures are intimidating and I find it extremely helpful to simply remind myself that no matter how nasty, the procedures will be beneficial as they provide the doctors with important data. I am helping myself by being compliant instead of resisting.


This brings to mind a patient who shared the same ward and she refused to have a catheter fixed on her and consequently the doctors could not examine the problems and she continued to suffer in pain.


Rational thought needs to be cultivated especially during high emotional situation where its intensity tends to cloud judgment. Doctors and nurses also need to provide more information and explanation as to why certain procedure is necessary especially when patients are fearful and display resistance.


5. Appreciate pain

Huh? Appreciate pain? That seems counterintuitive as so many people go through extreme measure in order to avoid physical pain. In fact the core reason why people are fearful of needle is because they are afraid of pain.  


Yet pain is important. I learned this when I read a story about a girl who doesn't experience pain many years ago. Congenital insensitivity to pain is a rare disease where the connection between the nerves that sense pain and the brain's recognition of pain is missing. Contrary to what many might believe, this is not a blessing as the parent of the child exclaimed,  "You do not even know how lucky you are that you can feel pain."


Since learning about this rare disease, whenever I feel pain I express my gratitude. Pain is good. It means that my nerves are working and it protects me from dangerous situations. I learn from my pain. It is not an enemy but an ally.


Modifying my thought and attitude about pain enables me to be more patient and tolerant when I experience pain. Self-compassion is very important in moment like this as well because being in pain no matter how brief a moment of suffering.


Word of caution: If you are suffering from Belonephobia, please seek medical attention. Learn of its symptoms.


To those who experience high anxiety in the face of needle, I hope this post helps. You need to be willing to let go of the fear (when you are ready) and experiment with the tips given and find one that works for you. My heart goes out to you in your moment of suffering.


Know of someone who has this fear? Feel free to pass this on.


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