Conquering needle phobia for the COVID-19 vaccine

March 18, 2021 | by Jacqueline Sierzega, PsyD
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

We all have things we’re afraid of: spiders, heights, flying, confined spaces, something else. One common phobia has taken on new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts are worried that people with a fear of needles, also known as trypanophobia, may avoid getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Most of us aren’t too fond of getting shots, but we deal with it because we understand the benefits. For someone with a true needle phobia, the fear takes over and causes severe feelings of dread and anxiety. It even stops people from getting medical care they need, including important vaccinations like the one for COVID-19.

Even hearing or thinking about vaccinations may be enough to elicit a reaction in a person with trypanophobia. Symptoms of needle phobia can include anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, fainting, insomnia, high blood pressure, elevated heart rate, or feeling emotionally or physically aggressive.

The causes of trypanophobia aren’t known, but genetics, changes in brain chemistry and past traumatic experiences may play a role.

An analysis by researchers at the University of Michigan showed that 20-30 percent of adults studied cited concern about needles, ranging from mild anxiety to a phobia strong enough to keep some from seeking medical care. 

It’s not just the COVID-19 vaccine that people may avoid because of a needle phobia. A fear of needles can deter people from having other vaccinations, blood tests, contraceptive injections, surgical procedures and other necessary medical interventions.

Whether needle phobia is keeping you from getting the COVID-19 vaccine or causing distress about it, here are some ways to overcome your fear:

  1. Seek professional help. A professional therapist has knowledge and experience in helping people with phobias, such as fear of needles. A therapist can help explore the roots of your fear and offer coping skills and techniques, such as cognitive behavior therapy or exposure therapy.
  2. Ask your doctor about medication to help manage anxiety. Some patients benefit from a topical anesthetic to numb their arm before the shot.
  3. Look at positive posts and photos of people holding their COVID-19 vaccination cards. This may help you associate the vaccine with positive feelings.
  4. Practice deep breathing exercises (this can help you cope during your vaccine appointment, too).
  5. Focus on the benefits of the vaccine. The COVID-19 vaccine is a safe and effective tool to protect yourself and your family against a virus that has wreaked havoc in our lives for more than a year.

Once you have scheduled your vaccination appointment, you’ll likely still feel anxious about the upcoming shot if you have needle phobia. Here are some ways to stay calm during your appointment:

  1. Bring someone trusted with you for support. Some vaccination centers may not allow it, but you can ask ahead of time for a special exception.
  2. Tell the nurse about your fears before getting the shot. The nurse may be able to explain the steps, count down, etc. to give you a sense of control.
  3. If you feel faint, tense your muscles or make a fist. You may even ask the nurse if you can get the shot lying down or stay for a few minutes after it, to prevent fainting.
  4. Don’t look. There’s no need to look at the needle, it will only increase your anxiety.
  5. Distract yourself. Even though it will be over in seconds, distraction can help. Listen to a song or play a video on your phone, practice deep breathing, wiggle your toes, or tune into your senses.  

It’s OK to be nervous, but after your vaccination, try to talk about the experience in a positive way. This will affect how you feel about it, which is especially important if you need to come back for a second dose (if you get the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine).

There is no way to know how COVID-19 will affect you, and not getting the vaccine puts you at increased risk for getting seriously sick if you become infected. Remember the benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine. It can help protect you and your loved ones and help us all get back to normal.

Are you wondering whether to get the vaccine? Read our blog to learn more.

If your fear of needles is overwhelming, consider seeking professional support through a counselor or therapist. Get help from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

For the latest updates on the COVID-19 vaccine, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus/vaccine.

The information in this article may change at any time due to the changing landscape of this pandemic. Read the latest on COVID-19.

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