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How to overcome your fear of needles

Illustration of woman with plaster on her arm after having a vaccine
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Updated 19th July 2021 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the Government website for more up to date information.

Most of us will be getting our two COVID-19 vaccinations this year. The NHS states the vaccine is safe and effective and it gives you the best protection against coronavirus. However, for at least 1 in 10 people, having an injection is a scary thought but it doesn’t have to be.

We’ve put together our guide on how to overcome your fear of needles, so you can get your  COVID-19 vaccine and/or flu jab this year.

For many a fear of needles, or needle phobia, comes from having had a lot of procedures with needles at a young age. For others it is caused by the thought of a needle entering your skin or the discomfort or pain associated with the procedure.

Signs of fear of needles include:

  • Feeling faint (light-headed or dizzy)
  • Fainting
  • A dry mouth
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Over-breathing
  • Nausea

It is nothing to be ashamed of and there are some simple things that you can do to help overcome it.

How to overcome a fear of needles

Firstly, remember that vaccines are good for you and have proven long-term health benefits:

  • They can save lives: vaccines protect against dangerous, potentially life-threatening infectious diseases
  • They are very safe and effective: each vaccine is rigorously tested before being made available. They continue to be tested after they’ve been introduced to identify any side effects.
  • They protect others you care about: vaccines stop you from becoming ill, which prevents you from passing diseases onto those around you (especially those that may be more susceptible to complications, like young children, the elderly, or those that are already ill).

There are a number of techniques you can try to help overcome your fear.

Before your appointment

Try not to worry before your appointment. Keep yourself busy to prevent anxiety building.

If you are worried about fainting, then practice an applied tension technique which helps your blood pressure get back to normal. Try and do this 3 times a day for up to a week before your appointment:

  • Choose somewhere comfortable to sit.
  • Tense the muscles in your arms, upper body and legs for 15 seconds.
  • Release the tension and sit comfortably again.
  • After 20-30 seconds tense your muscles again.
  • Repeat this 5 times.

If you are worried about feeling panicky (heart rate increases, breathing speeds up, sweating), then try practicing a calming breathing technique. Try and do this 3 times a day for up to a week before your appointment:

  • Sit up straight in a comfortable position and let your shoulders and jaw relax. Put one hand low on your stomach.
  • Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe as deeply as feels comfortable.
  • Do this for five breaths.

You could use a numbing cream like Emla to ease the pain from the needle.  This type of cream with temporarily numb the skin and stop pain. Typically, you need to apply 60 minutes before the vaccine as it takes around one hour for Emla to numb the skin.

During your appointment

  • Chat: let the person who is giving you the jab know if you have concerns – there is nothing to be embarrassed about. They can help you to relax and distract you with conversation.
  • Relax: this will release tension in your muscles. Tense muscles may make injections more painful.
  • Breathe: deep, steady breathing can help you relax and give you something to focus on.
  • Distract: don’t look at the needle if it scares you. Bring a book or a magazine or look at favourite photos/videos on your phone.
  • Count: count slowly – this will help to distract you and, chances are, by the time you reach 10 the jab will be over.

After your appointment

  • Reward: give yourself a treat after your jab, why not try a relaxing bath or watching your favourite film?

Remember having a vaccination can help protect you against serious diseases, so it is important to get vaccinated. Having needle phobia is nothing to be ashamed of. Follow the steps above to help you overcome it.

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