Needle phobia also called belonephobia, aichmophobia, or trypanophobia is very common, affecting at least one in 10 people. It may be stopping you from having an important vaccination or a blood test. It is nothing to be ashamed of and simple exercises with practice can help to overcome it quickly.
Watch this short video by Ciara, our CBT Therapist giving a brief overview of needle phobia:
Overcoming your fear of needles
Many people have this fear, but it can be overcome with simple exercises and practice. For some people, it is linked to fainting, or feeling faint. When their fear is triggered (for example, by seeing blood or thinking about an injection), their heart rate and blood pressure increase (as with other kinds of fears), but then rapidly drop. It is this fall in blood pressure that can cause fainting. Many people do not confront their fear because they are worried they may embarrass or hurt themselves through fainting.
Other people do not feel faint or actually faint, but do feel panicky when their fear is triggered.
First of all, do tell the person who is co-ordinating your care, or the person who is giving you your injection or blood test, about your worries. They may be able to answer any specific questions you have. They may also be able to help you cope with the procedure, for example, by chatting to distract you. Also, think about whether there been has anything which has helped you to cope with needles in the past. Can you use something like this to help you again?
Techniques you can practice
Expand the sections below to learn more about the techniques you can practice, including applied tension, breathing for relaxation and using a hierarchy.
If your fear is linked to fainting (or feeling very faint), the next step is to teach yourself applied tension. If you feel panicky (for example, your heart races, your chest feels tight and your stomach churns), but do not feel faint, the next step is to learn breathing for relaxation.
These exercises are safe in pregnancy, and with most medical conditions.
This is how to do it:
- Sit down somewhere you are comfortable
- Tense the muscles in your arms, upper body and legs and hold this tension for about 10-15 seconds, or until you start to feel the warmth rising in your face.
- Release the tension and go back to your normal sitting position
- After about 20-30 seconds go through the tension procedure, again until you feel the warmth in your face.
- Repeat this procedure so that you have practised the tension 5 times
If you can, practise this procedure three times every day for about a week, before moving on to the next step. This will help you to build your confidence in using the procedure and increasing your blood pressure. It will take about five minutes on each occasion.
It may be helpful to think ahead and plan for when you are likely to have a few spare minutes to do it. If you get headaches after doing this exercise, take care not to tense the muscles in your face and head. Also, do go gently when tensing any part of your body where you have any health problems.
Try this technique:
- Sit in a comfortable position, with your back upright but not stiff
- Let your shoulders and jaw relax
- Put one hand low down on your belly
- Take a long, slow, deep, gentle breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Try to breathe right down into your belly, but don’t force it.
- Just let your body breathe as deeply as is comfortable for you.
- Do this for five breaths.
If possible, practise this exercise three times every day for a week, before moving on to the next step. This will help you to build your confidence in doing the exercise and using it to relax. It will take less than five minutes on each occasion. It may be helpful to think ahead and plan for when you are likely to have a few spare minutes to do it.
Once you have mastered applied tension or breathing for relaxation, the next step is to develop a hierarchy' - a list of all of the situations related to needles which you fear, arranged in order of difficulty. This might include thinking about procedures, seeing pictures of them, watching them on video and in real life, and actually having them done.
Rate each situation on a 0-10 scale, where 10 is the most difficult and 0 is not difficult at all.
Write down your own hierarchy
Try to include some situations which are not too difficult. These are the ones you will start with. Think about what makes a difference to how difficult a situation is.
For example, you might find it easier to look at a picture of a small needle than of a large one.
1. Start with the least difficult item on the hierarchy (e.g. thinking about having an injection, in the example above).
2. Plan enough time so that you can stay with the anxiety long enough to watch it peak, stay on a level for a while, then gradually reduce. Staying with it allows you to see that this is what anxiety does.
3. Begin to use applied tension or breathing for relaxation, as you have been practising.
4. Go into the situation, and stay with it until your anxiety has started to drop.
5. Take some time to relax, perhaps using the breathing for relaxation exercise.
6. When you feel confident with one situation, move on to the next one up the hierarchy. You may need to practice with one situation on several occasions before you are ready to move on to the next one.
Watch this short video for tips and tricks on handling a patients fear of needles:
Anxiety UK: Injection phobia and needle phobia
A brief guide which includes information on injection and needle phobias, how they can affect you, what causes them, degrees of injection and needle phobias, what treatments are available and tips for how you can support yourself.
Guys and St Thomas NHS Trust: Overcoming your fear of needles
This leaflet explains more about needle phobia and provides practical advice on how to overcome it.
How NHS staff member overcame his needle phobia - read Neil's story
Neil Martin, Rehabilitation Therapy Services Supervisor at Broadmoor Hospital at West London NHS Trust, talks about his needle phobia and why he changed his mind and had the Covid-19 vaccination.
“From an early age, I’ve always had a massive phobia of needles. My fear has often prevented me from going to the dentist, giving blood and having the flu jab. It has also made parts of my role difficult. I was also apprehensive about having the vaccination because of my doubts about its safety and efficacy, including how quickly it was made available and unknown side effects.
I psyched myself up by simply saying to myself that I needed to have the jab to help keep my dad safe and well looked after. With some added encouragement from my wife and my peers, I had the vaccination and it was over in seconds."