5 ways to beat your needle phobia

Between COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, most of us are facing more jabs than usual this year. Here’s what to do if the thought of a needle fills you with dread.

While most people don’t enjoy getting jabbed, an estimated 10 per cent of people have needle phobia – some so fearful that they avoid any medical treatment that might involve an injection.

University of Western Australia psychological science professor Andrew Page says there are several key reasons people may be scared of needles.

“They worry that the needle might hurt, or they worry whether a vaccine is safe or if they will have an adverse reaction,” he says.

People with trypanophobia, a phobia of needles, may experience shortness of breath, dizziness, sweaty palms, shakiness and rapid heartbeat when faced with the prospect of an injection.

Some people faint as their blood pressure rises with the fear and suddenly drops.

With the COVID-19 vaccine rollout under way and flu season approaching, we may require more needles than usual this year. So how can you manage your fear of needles?

Exposure-based therapy

A GP or psychologist may suggest exposure-based therapy for overcoming anxiety around needles.

“You will gradually expose yourself to needles with a series of non-threatening steps,” explains RACGP Victorian chair Dr Anita Munoz.

“You might look at an image of a syringe and then actually pick up that picture.

“When you are comfortable, you can hold a syringe and then talk through the vaccination process.

“Then you might progress to sitting in a waiting room where vaccinations are being done, and having your arm swabbed – all working towards having a needle yourself.”

Focus on relaxing your muscles

Progressive muscle relaxation, which involves scanning each of your muscles and relaxing them, is another technique that is often recommended.

“While you are having a vaccine or a blood test, focus on tensing muscles in different parts of your body – but not the arm where the needle is,” says Dr Munoz.

“Focusing on muscles in other parts of your body distracts your mind and your brain pays less attention to the vaccine or blood test that is being done.”

Distract your brain

Dr Munoz suggests using the power of mindfulness to link having a needle with a more pleasant sensation.

“Think of sucking on a lolly so you associate the process of having a needle with something nice, rather than something fearful,” she says.

“When the time comes to have a needle, focus on that pleasant sensation to distract your brain.”

Or suck on a real lolly and focus on the taste and texture of that lolly in your mouth.

Admit your fears

Tell the person giving you the needle that you are afraid.

“Don’t be embarrassed, they see plenty of people who are anxious,” says Prof Page.

“They can talk to you and distract you while the procedure is happening.

“Research shows conversation is a good distraction so have something to talk about when you arrive – ask the person doing the vaccine or blood test if they’ve seen any good movies lately or what they did at the weekend.”

Written by Sarah Marinos.