For someone is who (relatively) ok around needles, it always surprises me how many people are not. I mean, I don’t like looking at them, and it hurts sometimes, but I don’t feel faint and I don’t avoid them.
A blog post is NEVER a replacement to therapy. If you have a significant needle phobia that causes large amounts of distress or gets in the way of your medical treatment, then seek professional help.
However, if you are a little bit skittish around needles, sometimes a bit of knowledge and a few practical tips can help:
What is needle phobia?
A specific phobia of needles is characterised by the DSM-V (the diagnosis handbook) as excessive fear, immediate anxiety response, avoidance and extreme distress when thinking about or in the presence of needles.
So why do so many people faint around needles?
Fun fact for you – needle phobia is the only phobia in which you can faint. In all other specific phobias, an individual’s blood pressure rises, which physiologically stops them from fainting. However, in needle phobia 75% of sufferers experience a different physiological response, meaning that this initial rise is commonly followed by a significant drop in blood pressure, which in turn leads to fainting (Ayala, Meuret and Ritz, 2009).
Where does it come from?
It usually develops in childhood and has been shown to have a genetic link. Twin studies show that there is a heritability component to fear of needles (Torgersen, 1979) and that approximately 80% of people with a needle phobia report a first-degree relative with a strong phobic response (Hamilton, 1995).
How common is it?
I’d say a large proportion of my friends are fearful of needles, but that is hardly scientific. It is difficult to calculate the incidence of needle phobia as people generally avoid healthcare settings if they are phobic. There are estimations, but these range from 3.5 to 10% (Ayala, 2009).
Why is this an issue?
This avoidance can lead to serious complications if the phobia leads to refusal of medical procedures, such as chemotherapy for cancer or insulin injections for diabetes (Marks, 1998).
How can I make needle-encounters easier for myself?
For anyone skim-reading, this is your MAIN TAKEAWAY POINT:
Applied Tension Technique; the technique of repeatedly tensing and un-tensing your major leg muscles which helps to regulate your blood pressure to combat the physiological effects of needle phobia. This will reduce the chance of fainting. Google it, there is loads online to help you practice it. Squeeze those glutes.
Visualising being in waiting room and calming yourself down. What is your plan? Listen to music, read a book, watch Netflix? Whatever works best for you, but maybe best not to be messaging or talking on social media about how nervous you are – you will just wind yourself up when you need distraction.
Don’t take people with you who are unhelpful. Being around somebody who is anxious is uncomfortable, make sure the person with you can tolerate that and won’t insist you “calm down” or “get over it”. Also people who repeat ‘horror’ stories – they are very unhelpful.
Find some personal evidence – how many blood tests/needle experiences have you had in your life and how many have gone horribly wrong?
Be aware of your body tension, the more tense you are the more it will hurt.
Regulate your breathing. Focus on your stomach, put your spare hand on your stomach and feel it expand with every breath. Try to keep a slow, steady rhythm.Or distract yourself with conversation – tell your nurse/medical person a story. You will naturally regulate your breathing when talking.
Now, let’s be realistic - if your aim is to stop being anxious and look forward to needles, then you’re going to fail. Very few people actually enjoy them, but the aim is to get yourself to a stage where you can manage the anxiety and they don’t disrupt your medical appointments.
To finish, I would tell you a joke about a needle in a haystack, but I don’t think you’d see the point.