Getting stuck isn't exactly enjoyable, but having a fear of needles is relatively common. But that doesn't mean it should stop you from getting vaccines that are important for your health and the health of your community.
For some adults, a fear of needles is a frequent reason to avoid getting a vaccine. In a January 2019 meta-analysis of 35 articles in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, 16 percent of adults said they avoided getting the flu vaccine because of needle fear.
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The study cited previous research that had found 19 and 20 percent of adults, respectively, didn't get the pneumococcal or tetanus vaccines because of this anxiety.
If the anticipation of getting an injection is a source of anxiety for you, there are steps you can take to feel calmer in the face of a needle.
"There are a number of different things we can do to help people who are struggling," Joe McNamara, PhD, director of the UFHealth Florida Exposure and Anxiety Research (FEAR) Lab in Gainesville, Florida, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Here are McNamara's tips:
1. Face the Fear
This is perhaps the scariest part of tackling a fear or phobia, but it's essential.
"An unhealthy anxiety — in this case, a fear of injection — is maintained by avoidance and accommodation," McNamara says.
In other words, if you don't do the thing you're afraid of, you'll continue to be afraid of it.
You can take steps to get closer and closer to the goal that most aligns with what you want to do: Get a vaccine. This is done through small exposures that build upon one another. Allowing yourself to sit through each step until the fear eases will ultimately break the connection with the fear.
For example, McNamara might have a patient:
- Draw a picture of a needle.
- Look at that picture.
- Look up a picture of a needle online and talk to someone about what needles do.
- Physically look at an actual needle.
- Touch a real needle safely.
- Discuss the injection process.
2. Make an Appointment
Now, it's time to schedule your shot. If you feel dread about going and then are relieved it's over as you triumphantly walk out, that's totally understandable.
"This is a healthy and typical response to most medical procedures," McNamara says. "The goal isn't to get to the point where going to the hospital is fun. That's not realistic. It's getting to a place where you can do what you need to do." In this case, you want to get to a place where you can carry out the steps that align with your health goals.
If you've completed the above exposure steps at a pace that feels safe for you, and you still don't feel like you can go through with the shot, then reach out to a professional for help, McNamara says.
3. Use Relaxation Techniques to Get Through It
When you're at your vaccine appointment, there are some ways to prompt your body's relaxation response to help you get through the injection, McNamara says. And this is especially important if you have a vasovagal response (aka you have a history of fainting in response to needles).
One option is consciously slowing down your breathing by taking diaphragmatic "belly" breaths. This elicits your body's parasympathetic nervous system, which delivers a calming response. Slowing your breath slows down your heart rate, which then tells your brain everything is OK.
When doing this, make sure you're breathing in to expand your stomach and then out to pull it back in. Need more guidance? Try one of these six types of breathing exercises to reduce stress.
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