What to do about Needle Phobia or Fear of Injections

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People with needle phobia hardly ever watch the needle going in. If they haven’t already fainted, they are too busy trying to control their developing panic feelings to calmly watch what is happening. Generally it is not so much the thought of pain that matters to them but rather a the fear of fainting.

6 steps to overcoming a needle phobia

1. Identify exactly what it is you're afraid of

2. Teach your brain a Calm Scene image and practise Dead Weight

3. Break what you fear into simple steps from easiest to hardest - this is creating a hierarchy

4. Start with the easiest step and practise for a short time each day facing it while remaining dead weight and refocusing on your calm scene every time your arousal increases.

5. Move on and do the same with the next step when you can do the previous one without any raised negative arousal (anxiety)

6. Repeat step by step until you have completed all the steps and your phobia is cured.

The above 6 steps may not yet be clear, but read on...

NHS News recently reported a small study which suggested that when having an injection, people said they felt less pain if they actually watched the needle going in instead of looking away.

People who are able to allow themselves to watch the needle going in have no anxiety about this. Most people with a phobia of injections are not afraid of pain. They are usually afraid of fainting because that has happened to them previously.

Being able to watch is a sure sign you are over the fear, but you have to have overcome it gradually so as to retrain your survival instinct in the process.

I don't mind injections but I would mind having to watch. To me there's something unacceptable about piercing skin. This is obviously a very deeply held belief that possibly relates to my childhood blood phobia.

Feeling faint or even fainting at the sight of needles is simply the panic response of the survival instinct which has linked needles with danger and raised arousal. People vary as to which aspects of needles and injections they truly dislike. In order to overcome a needle phobia you first need to ask yourself exactly which aspect of the process you are afraid of. For me it's watching the needle go in. If I look elsewhere and focus my mind on other things it doesn't bother me at all.

Having identified the aspects you dislike, you then gradually expose yourself to it, all the while remaining calm and dead weight. This is known as following a desensitization hierarchy. The idea is to retrain your survival instinct that each step isn;t really dangerous. You do this simply by not joining in with anxiety when the startle warning comes along.

An Example of How I Treated One Needle Phobia

Some years ago I treated a friend for a fear of injections. Like me, she disliked the thought of the needle piercing skin. She was unable to have vaccinations for foreign travel because she'd faint at the sight of the needle. This was especially inconvenient as her boyfriend was a pilot and she could have lots of very cheap flights to interesting places - if only she could get the jabs.

I addressed her problem by first teaching her the techniques of Dead Weight and Calm Scene. I gave her a syringe and for her the first step was to become comfortable with just looking at it, then to holding it. She had to do this for a short time each day whilst remaining totally dead weight and calm. Once she could hold the syringe we moved onto the next step.

an orange
orange peel resembling skin

I considered that the peel of an orange was similar in appearance to human skin. Now that my friend was ok holding the syringe, the next step was for her to inject the orange with it. Again she had to remain dead weight and calm all the time. Once she reached this stage she overcame her fear very quickly and went off on her travels. 

Combining an approach to the feared object whilst remaining calm in body and mind teaches the survival instinct that this is no longer to be feared and it will eventually give up its warnings and the sufferer will no longer get sudden raised negative arousal when coming across it. So there is no longer any fuel for the panic or for feeling faint. 

The approach described here is basically the same for any irrational fear. The important element though is always motivation. Nobody will put themselves through this process if they don't want to overcome their fear enough.

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