Overcoming the Fear of Needles

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Disclaimer: the content of this article has the sole purpose of disclosing the author’s opinion alone. Nothing in this article is intended to be a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


I’ve always been terrified of injections, and still am, up to a point.

With vaccines as the only weapon out of a pandemic, I guess I am a bit out of tune.

I’m a fit tall man, and I’m over 50. You can imagine what they think (and often say) when I tell them that they’d better lay me down for a simple vaccine.

But I got the two vaccine shots without fainting and over-worrying, and that’s a huge victory for me.

In a few weeks, I had Covid vaccines, dentist, and blood tests. And tetanus vaccine is waiting for me in a few days too. A good period to unwillingly challenge myself.

I know that most people easily succeed in managing this fear, or they’re not afraid at all.

But for me, that’s beyond my will, as it was for my father and his sisters, even at old age. It’s kind of genetic. We see a needle, and we begin to sweat and turn pale. Ironically, trypanophobia (fear of needles) is in our blood.

So, this is not about not being afraid. It’s about winning, or at least reducing, a fear that grasps your guts beyond will. It’s about not wasting days in anxiety. It’s about teaching your instincts that they are exaggerating. It’s about making the experience not traumatic.

This not from someone who’s never been afraid of needles. That’s my journey in overcoming my fear.

You’re different and that’s normal

Since my first experience with needles, my mother kept telling me that shots don’t hurt. That was patently false to me. I never got a shot without feeling it, feeling it too much. The reality was different from what I was told. Something was wrong, with that pain, and I probably started overthinking about it.

My mother still insists that shots don’t hurt nowadays. She can’t understand that’s different for me. She has a much higher pain threshold than mine. Or she and I are just different, in body and mind. We all are different.

Moreover, I have a huge imagination. Imagining a needle penetrating my flesh is a violation of my body that makes me shiver. As soon as I approach the medical center, anything I see triggers demons in me.

Bad experiences, a mother that didn’t acknowledge your feelings, the tendency to overthink, high proprioception, low pain threshold, anything contributes to the fear of needles. And not just needles. Aichmophobia is, more in general, for example, the phobia of all sharp objects. And I have that too.

Believe it or not, most of those that you see in the queue at the blood draw don’t love it. And a good part is afraid of it. They just manage it.

But for you, most of what happens in your mind and your body seems out of control. The fear triggers a vasovagal syncope. Priorities in your nervous system change, blood vessels dilate, blood pressure goes down, less blood to your brain, and you faint. It seems that you can do nothing to avoid it. On the contrary, anything you do just seems to speed up the process. Others may think that you’re exaggerating. But it’s actually beyond your will.

Your phobia is a natural reflex. But it’s out of control. Until you dismantle the fear castle.

Signals and feelings

Without bothering neuroscientists and contenting ourselves with simplifying, any information that we get from outside our mind starts with a signal from a receptor to our brain.

Hearing, touching, tasting… they’re all signals. Electrical, chemical, it doesn’t matter for us.

In some cases, those signals, in our mind, become a bit more than just information. They become sensations. Subjective feelings.

You feel pleasure and discomfort. And you also may feel pain.

You can’t do much for that. Or, well, you can do something by therapy, hypnosis, or drugs but we’re not into that in this article. We’re into awareness and self-repairing.

But there’s something else that you can do.

You can’t remove those sensations, but you can choose a perspective that amplifies or reduces them. Till now you chose perspectives that magnified discomfort and pain. I’m not saying that that’s only in your mind. I’m telling you that your mind can decide perspectives and priorities. And the body does its best to follow.

You may already have noticed that you can give different attention to different sensations. Even to the same feeling at different times.

A spring breeze can amplify a state of joy. Or go totally unnoticed if you’ve just been fired.

For a good part of your sensations, you can embrace them or just let them go. You can take the pleasant and let the unpleasant go.

You can’t make the pain go unnoticed. But you can take it for what it is, or you can focus your entire mind on it, struggling with something that you can’t win.

Pain comes from signals. Signals intended to warn you.

Well, you’ve been warned. But it’s a false alarm, actually. It’s not a threat. No dangerous animal or plant is there. It doesn’t require action.

The first step into your journey to win the fear of pain is to distinguish signals from sensations. Pain is the feeling that “colors” the signals in a way to warn you. Pain is intended to get your attention.

But once you feel pain, it’s your choice to let it completely win your mind or just let it be and bear it.

My dentist even went through a knee operation voluntarily without anesthesia (since it always involves a risk, even if minimal). In front of my astonishment, he replied: “It’s just pain.”

I’ll never be like my dentist, but he shows the way.

If you need that shot, you know that those unpleasant signals are for your good. The damage to your body will quickly recover, automatically. Some cells of your body have been damaged and will repair. Not a big deal, actually. It’s not a violation. It’s small temporary damage for a greater benefit. The pain is a momentary discomfort. But it’s a byproduct of a signal that is not a threat.

On the contrary, taking care of your health and not putting it at risk because of fear is obviously a positive behavior.

You can just accept that momentary discomfort and let it be. Of all the hours that the Covid vaccine has taken from my mind, only a few seconds of negative signals were there. A few seconds. And it couldn’t even be considered real pain, actually. Just unpleasant. That’s the reality. All what’s around is added by you.

Impressions

Imagining the needle penetrating my flesh has been a huge part of all that’s around my fear of needles.

My mother never cared about that. She gets the shot and says goodbye.

I can’t understand how she can ignore that awful image as much as she can’t understand my making a big deal of it.

Pain is not made up by your mind. But impressions are.

Awareness becomes an obstacle, here. It’s over-awareness, actually. You can and should ignore what’s happening because that’s not in your control.

The doctors decided that a puncture is okay and that’s their job, not yours. Your job is to be patient, not imagining what you can’t control. Once a puncture has been decided for your good, your job is to take it.

Everything else is imagination. Pure imagination.

We feed our anxiety with images, details, abstraction, all that reminds us how “bad” is the experience of the shot. But we have control over that.

Then, the nurse’s dress, the smells… All remind something. But you can detach that from the few seconds of discomfort. You can just go through it without caring too much, if you want. A few seconds of acceptance and you’re in the future, when the thing is done.

It’s not overnight

I’m 52.

And three weeks ago, it was the first time that I’ve been able to receive anesthesia from the dentist without fainting. The night before, I slept well. A few years ago, it would have been a nightmare for weeks.

At the first shot of the Covid vaccine, I warned the personnel out of prudence, but I didn’t faint.

Today, I went there, with no one accompanying me, and I behaved like a “normal” person. After the shot, I sweated for two minutes but I just let that go, breathing deeply and naturally, and not caring. Accepting a few seconds of a treatment done by someone who knew what they were doing.

At 52, I took my first shot without worrying too much, nobody accompanying me, and going in and out always on my legs. Consider it silly, but each has their own challenges in life.

However, those victories don’t happen overnight.

You work on it, and experiment. It doesn’t work, in the beginning. But at some point, it starts to work, sometimes, and you realize that you can make it, that you have control.

I’m still working on blood draws, but it’s starting to work on that too. I need to lie down but I don’t have much anxiety the days before it and I don’t faint. It’s a lot for me. And now I know that I’m on my way.

The shot is a little damage to your body that you can bear and can’t avoid. Anxiety and fear are yours. And are not necessary. With time, if you’re aware of that, your instinct begins to understand.

The way out is not fighting fear. It’s just not fighting. It’s just letting the fear go, and get used to it. When the shot happens, just let it be. Look away. If it hurts, it hurts. It’s okay. You’ll survive. All my decades of fear and overthinking shots, building a cognitive and behavioral system to overcome fear just brought me where most already are. Where my mother is. “It’s just a shot.”


Disclaimer: the content of this article has the sole purpose of disclosing the author’s opinion alone. Nothing in this article is intended to be a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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