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How to overcome a fear of needles

How to overcome a fear of needles

Getting vaccinated or giving a blood sample is the stuff of nightmares to many people. The very thought of a needle or sight of blood has been known to make some faint on the spot. What helps?

How to overcome a fear of needles

Getting a shot is a fearful task for many people, whether it’s the sight of blood or the injection itself that makes their stomach tie into knots. But with the pandemic only likely to end with widespread vaccinations, getting a shot is also a necessary task.

Psychotherapist Enno Maass explains that people who fear seeing blood and injuries will “often quickly fall into unconscious”, while those who have an isolated fear of getting a shot show typical anxiety symptoms such as tension, shaking and negative thoughts beforehand.

To know how to overcome these fears, it’s important to first understand what’s behind them.

People who pass out often experience a strong increase in blood pressure and heart rate right before the needle is inserted, then suddenly the muscles relax and blood pressure rapidly falls. This leaves the brain without enough blood, and the person passes out.

For this phobia, the attacks of unconsciousness often lead to a fear of being embarrassed or ashamed by the situation, says Maass. It can help to talk confidentially with a doctor about these fears before.

Also, it might help to know that even people who don’t have any particular nervousness when donating blood will sometimes fall into unconsciousness – it’s really no reason to feel a sense of shame.

A more practical solution is to use applied tension before, during and after getting a shot. It involves rhythmically pumping the muscles of the arm that’s not being injected and the legs, says Maass. This prevents blood pressure from falling too rapidly.

People who fear the injection itself often feel a diffuse sense of uneasiness. Behind it could be fears of being injured by the jab, for example on the bones, or air being injected by mistake. “This often shows up during discussions to get to the bottom of the feeling of anxiety,” says Maass. Again, talking to the doctor can help here.

The doctor can also explain to the patient how the injection works and what doctors look for, and let him or her inspect the needle.

Health workers in general play a crucial role in administering shots.

They should be gentle with people who have such fears and gently explain how things go. It can also be helpful when they make it clear that they have a lot of experience and composure. “One should pick up the patient and take their fears seriously,” according to Maass.

Even more so for older people in care facilities who may no longer be able to grasp the situation as well: “The stronger the basis of trust, and the more caring the preliminary talks, the more willing someone is to trust in the situation and overcome fears,” says Maass.

Distraction helps only in certain cases. For children who perhaps don’t have any rational fears except for possible pain, it can sometimes work, says Maass. Adults aren’t as easy to distract.

Anyone who refuses outright to get a shot and aren’t helped by discussions with their doctor should consider going to a psychotherapist. It’s a serious issue, as fears of getting a shot can lead to real consequences when someone doesn’t go to a preventative check-up, let’s their blood be drawn or avoids the dentist.

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