Trypanophobia: Fear of needles

Do you have a fear of needles? If so, you are not alone. Many adults and children have phobias about needles.


What is trypanophobia and where does it come from?

In Greek, the word 'trypano' means a device used to drill a hole, and a phobia is an extreme fear (read more about phobias in general below). A painful injection as a child or being around someone who has the fear can establish the phobia in the first place. Thoughts or memories of the stressor can appear exaggerated and vivid. This common anxiety disorder affects millions of people across the globe, especially children. Even though the process is unenjoyable, needles can save lives. If a phobia is triggered, it can be really frightening to experience the symptoms, such as:

  • a feeling of dread or panic
  • heart pounding
  • breathing difficulties
  • sweating, shaking or nausea
  • a strong urge to run away
  • feeling faint or actually fainting

Fear of needles can make it almost impossible to get medical attention like having an injection, blood test, vaccination, intravenous fluids, acupuncture, or going to the dentist. Many people with the phobia will avoid going to their doctor just in case a blood test or anything involving a needle is suggested. Sufferers may even experience symptoms when watching someone else have an injection or even thinking about it. 

How can we overcome phobias?

  1. The first step is to understand what’s going on in the brain when a phobia is triggered.
  2. The second step lies in the power of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change and reorganise the neural pathways as a result of new or updated information.
  3. The third step is believing that change is possible. 

In my experience, most people can overcome a phobia - either by themselves or with the help of a trained professional.

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational response to a trigger that activates the ancient survival system of fight, flight, or freeze causing extreme fear to mobilise the body to fight the attacker, run away to safety, or freeze and do nothing. 

The brain's alarm system

Once the alarm for danger has been switched on, the primitive emotional part of the brain hijacks the rational analytical part of the brain, making it hard to think clearly and logically. Stress hormones flood the body as we react to the threat of danger in less than a third of a second. Whether it’s a real danger, like being chased by a lion, or a perceived danger, like imagining being chased by a lion, it’s automatic. We don’t have to waste time thinking about whether to fight the lion or run away – the body reacts automatically to any real or perceived threat. When the survival system kicks, logical thought is bypassed in an instant.

Pattern matching

Automatic reactions are part of the brain’s amazing ability to pattern match. We learn to recognise what is safe and what isn’t safe at an early age, and once a pattern is established, it becomes reinforced over time.  

A phobia is a faulty pattern match

A traumatic experience leaves an imprint on a part of the brain called the amygdala, located in the limbic system, storing the details of the trauma. The amygdala acts like a fire alarm going off to warn us of danger if there is anything in our environment that could possibly be a threat. Sometimes it makes a mistake and flags up a detail that is no longer relevant or completely unconnected. This is the basis of a phobia, a faulty pattern match, a mistake made by the brain, reinforced over time. 

Cognitive distortions

Although we may logically justify a phobia, for example being afraid to go swimming in deep water after seeing the film Jaws, it’s illogical to believe all deep water is full of hungry sharks. This would be a cognitive distortion, meaning the brain is filtering information in a way that isn’t helpful by overgeneralising, looking at things in black or white, and catastrophising. (There are other cognitive distortions too).

How can we get rid of a phobia?

There are a number of ways to do this, including: 
Exposure therapy – real life exposure to the stimulus. This type of treatment is often feared by the phobic person, but it can recondition the brain, over time.  

Systematic desensitisation - a relaxation process that works with a hierarchy of feared situations. Subjective units of distress (SUDs) measure the intensity of distress when facing the stimulus and work from the least fearful memory to the most fearful until all the fear has gone.
Hypnotherapy – uses hypnosis and desensitisation, combining relaxation, calmness and suggestion to unhook the emotional response from the stimulus, and create new associations in the brain. It links physical relaxation and mental calmness with the stressor. Physical relaxation and mental calmness cannot live in the body at the same time as anxiety, as the stronger one outweighs the weaker one, so the brain learns how to feel more relaxed, calm and confident in relation to the stimulus.
BrainWorking recursive therapy (BWRT) – neutralises the trigger that causes the emotional activation and creates a new neural pathway for a preferred response. For example, a person can choose to feel relaxed and confident instead of afraid, or calm and aware instead of anxious, when exposed to a stimulus. This is reinforced as a new pattern in the brain through the process of BWRT.

Successful Outcomes

One of my clients who overcame the fear of needles went on to have a tattoo on her arm. Another of my clients recently messaged me saying she had been to the hospital for tests, including blood tests, and the experience was stress-free. 
If you would like some more information on how hypnotherapy can help you to overcome trypanophobia or any other phobia, feel free to contact me or another qualified hypnotherapy professional. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK17 0NA
Written by Mary Bowmer, HypDip; HPD; MIBWRT; NLP Dip; Reiki Master;
Milton Keynes, Bucks, MK17 0NA

Mary is an experienced Clinical Hypnotherapist, BWRT Practitioner and qualified Life Coach based in Milton Keynes and working online. Married with grown up children she devotes herself to helping others to overcome emotional blockages and excel. Her other interests include cooking, walking, travel and metaphysics.

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