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Fear of needles must be overcome for Covid-19 vaccine to work

However, getting one is still a test for Walker, who has a phobic needle. “I’m going to start getting really sticky, and then I’m going to get cold,” she said, describing her reaction to routine injections. “Then I pass out.”

Walker has lived with a fear of injections for years. She remembers being horrified at the age of 12 or 13 when she got the flu in the doctor’s office.

Fortunately, experts say that treating needle phobia can be very effective. However, leaving the condition untreated can lead to fear, which intensifies over time.

What is a phobia?

“Phobia is the fear and anxiety of a specific stimulus,”

; explained Dr. Jeffrey Geller, president of the American Psychiatric Association and professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

About 30% of people will experience anxiety disorder throughout their lives, Geller said. Of these, between 7% and 9% of people have a specific phobia.

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However, anxiety about needles does not have to meet the official definition of phobia in order to create problems. About a quarter of adults are afraid of needles, and about 7 percent of adults avoid immunizations because of that fear, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, fear of needles had a serious impact. Regular vaccinations reduce the risk of death, disability and disease, writes the World Health Organization in a study of global immunization programs that reduce the risk of deadly diseases, including measles and diphtheria.

Moreover, the fear of needles goes beyond vaccinations. People with severe phobias may avoid medical care altogether, even if it means deteriorating health.

Can you deal with fear on your own?

For acupuncturists who receive injections despite their fears – such as Walker – the experience can be unpleasant. Common symptoms include dizziness, fainting, insomnia, sweating, muscle tension and increased alertness.

People with a relatively mild fear of needles may be able to deal with their anxiety by practicing relaxation techniques on their own, Geller explained.

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“There are many meditation techniques that one can learn,” he said, citing meditation and yoga as useful practices.

Self-distraction can also work. Counting things around you, drawing, numbering your breathing, and presenting a safe, comforting place can shift your focus from the scary event.

Or you can invite a trusted friend or family member to join you, Geller said, even if they can’t accompany you all the way to the treatment room. “Come to the injection with a support person,” he said, adding that practicing relaxation techniques with your assistant can help strengthen this coping mechanism.

Anxiety medications are another option. While most are only available with a prescription, an over-the-counter option is diphenhydramine, an antihistamine often referred to by the brand as Benadryl.

Although the drug is commonly used for allergies, it can have a sedative effect that can help reduce anxiety. (Even for over-the-counter medications, it’s essential to consult a primary care provider before use, Geller said.)

When to seek help for needle phobia

While the above techniques can make a big difference when it comes to calming the nerves behind the needles, complete phobias require professional help.

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Among the most popular approaches is cognitive behavioral therapy, a collaborative process in which people work with providers to change their thoughts and behaviors.

Of all the methods he uses to treat phobias and anxiety in his practice in South Pasadena, California, psychologist Jeff Prater said CBT is the most common. During a series of sessions, Prater taught patients to use relaxation techniques, gradually confronting their fears.

“The general approach is to create a hierarchy, starting with something that doesn’t bother them, and then building that hierarchy all the way to the scariest situation they can possibly imagine, related to their needle phobia.” said the Prater.

In the beginning, he said, it could mean practicing relaxation in a room where the needle is locked in a drawer.

“As soon as they can think about it without any worries, I will open the drawer,” he said. “Then I’ll put it on the desk. They’ll see it. And then we gradually get closer to the point where they actually pick it up.”

Why it’s important to deal with your phobic needle now

Between four and 10 sessions are enough to effectively treat needle phobia for most people, Prater said. Once Covid-19 vaccinations become available in the coming months, this means that it is important to seek help for a phobic needle as soon as possible.

If you ignore the problem, you may face more years of anxiety. Leaving your phobia untreated can mean symptoms that get worse over time. While many children lose their fear of needles as they grow into adulthood, full-fledged phobias usually become more severe with age, Prater said.

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This is a kind of feedback. “What drives anxiety is avoidance,” Prater said. “When you avoid this situation, your anxiety subsides temporarily. But then, when you face this situation again, your anxiety recovers. And it doesn’t just bounce to the same level – it actually increases.”

Only by coming to terms with worries can one stop the development of this feedback chain, Prater said.

That’s what Walker, the fourth medical student, did. When she gets the flu every year, she will certainly inform the person doing the shots that she may then faint. But she has always experienced it and has found that deep breathing techniques can help.

“Every time I say ‘OK, I’m fine, I know what to expect, I know how it works.’ It has improved, “she said.

As part of his education, Walker also does regular injections and said he thinks of work as a form of exposure therapy. The insertion of intravenous needles triggers her needle phobia, but it is constant. Because Walker’s education requires her to constantly face her phobia, it is in some ways similar to the therapy that Prater offers to his patients.

Walker plans to become a pediatrician and has already worked with many young patients who are afraid to receive their annual vaccinations. Her own experience with a phobic needle, she said, is a source of empathy she can use to better connect with them.

“I usually tell them, ‘It’s all right, I’m getting nervous too. But I will still be a doctor. If I can be a doctor, you can get an injection, “she said.” It’s OK to be afraid. “

Links to mental health services in your area are available – in Spanish and English – from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Hotline (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP.

Jen Rose Smith is a Vermont-based writer. Find her job at jenrosesmith.comor follow me on Twitter @jenrosesmithvt.

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