How to tackle a fear of needles in preparation for the Covid-19 vaccine
If you’re feeling nervous about getting the Covid-19 vaccine, you’re not the only one.
While some have fears due to concerns about how the pandemic has been handled and others have bought into misinformation online, there’s another group of people who are worried about the physical ins and outs of actually getting the vaccine.
Not because of the vaccine itself, but because they’re scared of injections.
Having a fear of needles – trypanophobia – is extremely common, and can have a real effect on your health.
The immense anxiety associated with injections may mean someone delays medical treatment, and in the case of the coronavirus vaccine, this phobia might put people off getting it entirely, putting their physical health at risk.
Then there’s the shame of admitting that something that seems so tiny – getting an injection – is absolutely terrifying. It’s hard enough to talk about a phobia, let alone when expressing any concern about the injection can be seen as a sign you’re an anti-vaxxer.
After all, we’re all meant to be getting the vaccine to get things back to normal and save lives – there’s immense pressure to not be one of the people who delays that.
The good news is that a needle phobia can absolutely be reduced and even overcome. And yes, that can be in time for the Covid-19 vaccine.
Let’s talk you through it.
Why do people have needle phobias?
‘There are a number of different reasons why someone might have a needle phobia,’ Dr Becky Spelman tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It can be a learned fear from somebody else, so picking up on someone else’s comments, feelings, or experience, or it can be due to an experience you have had – perhaps you’ve had an injection that was particularly painful, or done badly, and you remember how upsetting and painful it was.’
Counselling Directory Joanne Greaves adds: ‘These experiences are logged in the brain as scary and facts when really, they are just thoughts which are distorted and made even more scary.
‘This makes the person avoid anything to do with injections such as medical settings, having blood tests and even watch anything on tv to do with injections. These actions strengthen the fear and make the person avoid more situations.’
Eventually, one bad experience can build up so much anxiety that even thinking about a needle can be a deeply uncomfortable experience.
What can you do to tackle a needle phobia long-term?
Becky says that using exposure therapy can help to overcome a phobia in a matter of hours.
She advises starting by drawing up a hierarchy of situations, in order from what’s the least scary situation to what’s most scary – so at the bottom might be looking at a picture of needles, the second one might be watching videos, the third could be pricking your finger with a needle, all the way up to getting an injection.
In the ‘graded’ method, you expose yourself to the least scary thing first and work your way up, only moving to the next level when you feel less anxiety or feel that you can handle that anxiety. Eventually you’ll reach the hardest level and tackle the anxiety in these gentle stages.
The faster, but more difficult, approach to exposure therapy is called ‘flooding’, which is when you ‘just put yourself in your worst fear situation, experience that really high level of anxiety, get it over with, and you’re done’.
Either approach you take can be very stressful, so it’s best not to do it alone or in a rush. Talk to a therapist or a friend for support during this process.
‘By putting themselves in the most feared situation, a person’s beliefs about the phobia start to be challenged,’ Becky explains ‘Their worst fears don’t come true, and they realise that they can actually cope with the situation and the anxiety brought about by it.’
How to reduce anxiety around an injection in the moment
Let’s say you’re just going to go for it and get vaccinated, despite being scared. What can you do to make the experience less unpleasant?
Natasha Crowe, a Hypnotherapy Directory member, recommends self-soothing and grounding techniques.
‘Something as simple as listening to music, watching videos, playing on a mobile app or game, or fiddling with a fidget spinner may help redirect focus,’ she explains. ‘Individuals can harness the power of their minds and use relaxation exercises to overcome stress.
‘Grounding techniques as well as hypnosis techniques can all really help with reducing tension within the body and emotional stress. Relaxation is key to stress reduction.’
You can also try this self-hypnosis tool:
Self-hypnosis technique to use while getting an injection or sitting in the waiting room
Joanne adds: ‘It’s helpful for the scared person to practice visualising the event of having the injection while listening to relaxing meditation music or guided relations where muscle relaxation and breathing exercises are practiced at the same time.
‘If this is practiced enough times the brain will think the situation is okay and the fear may not be as intense.
‘Breathing exercises where the breath in is for two seconds, held for four and breath out for six, can be really helpful before going in to have the injection.’
What should we be doing to help people with a phobia get the Covid-19 vaccine?
To help tackle people’s fears, Natasha says the Government and the media should make an effort to use positive language and messaging when it comes to discussion of the vaccine.
She also notes that it’s important that we keep people informed and reassure those who are fearful that they have support and care available.
‘Knowledge and information is key when it comes to seeing the long term benefits of any vaccine, if people understand the reasons behind it, they are likely to feel less anxious if they know the positive gain they will receive,’ Natasha adds.
To talk about mental health in an open, judgement-free space, join our Facebook group, Mentally Yours.
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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