Pandemic panic over needle phobia
Needle phobias are surprisingly common, with one in 10 of us in the UK suffering from them, referred to as trypanophobia. Due to the COVID-19 vaccination programme now is a great time to overcome your phobia.
To be honest, most people don’t like having injections particularly, but a phobia is an overwhelming and uncontrollable reaction to needles eliciting the flight, flight, flee, or flop response.
There are different types of needle phobias, with different therapeutic ways of overcoming them. Our bodies are designed to respond to any breaks in the surface of the skin, and when this happens our minds and bodies can’t help but respond. Even people who are absolutely fine with having injections, blood tests, etc., will experience a change in their physiology to some extent, usually an increase in heart rate or blood pressure, even if it is only slight.
The vasovagal response is common amongst needle phobias, which causes a drop in blood pressure and heart rate when punctured with a needle, which in turn causes a fall in blood supply to the brain. So, what does the body do to overcome this? It forces us to re-address the balance by getting our heads to the floor by fainting.
This can be managed by us as individuals by ensuring that the medical professional using the needle is aware of this and that we can start by perhaps laying on a couch, or finding ways that are safe for us to have this momentary lapse in consciousness.
Usually, this is completely harmless and the only thing that is a problem is if we fall and hit ourselves on something on the way down, which is easily avoided. Most people with this response will have other family members who react in this way. This can then lead to an associative response whereby a needle phobia is created in the mind. Some phobics can’t even talk about or see needles as this response is so strong, even watching someone getting an injection on TV can cause a heightened state of arousal.
Many people however can feel faint, but don’t actually faint. Time to allow the body to return to a state of homeostasis is needed here, so sitting for a while after the procedure is extremely helpful, rather than jumping up and scooting out of the door.
Other types of needle phobias are acquired through your experiences. As babies we don’t come into the world with a fear of needles, it is believed that only the startle response (fear of loud noises) and the fear of falling are the ones we are born with.
Many needle phobias are learned. This can be through previous traumatic experiences. Up to 20% of needle phobias are resistive responses, which means that the individual has a previous experience of being restrained in some way to have a procedure, for example, if a child is held down to get a vaccination. The anxiety that this causes (even if it was well-intentioned) can result in a phobia being formed.
We can even pick up a phobia vicariously, so just by seeing someone have a negative reaction to a needle can establish a phobia. The most obvious cause of a needle phobia is if we ourselves have had a negative experience which then goes on to create a negative association in minds with needles (associated response).
The great news is that hypnotherapy is a great support to individuals whatever the type of phobia. Once the therapist has conducted a consultation with you, and fully understands the possible cause of the phobia, or phobic response, a therapy plan can be put into place.
With many phobias a rewind technique can be used, which helps the mind to reprocess the traumatic events of the past. This can then be replaced with a reframe of how you would like to be able to respond in the future, giving your mind a positive template to work from in the future. Different therapists will work in different ways to achieve your desired goal of being able to attend your appointment in a calm and confident way, and it’s always useful to check with your therapist which methods they use to help you to achieve this.
The great news is that therapy for needle phobias can be conducted online as well as in person, so if you are shielding, or have concerns about face-to-face meetings, video calls can be arranged for your peace of mind.