In Australia we’ve hit Covid-19 ‘new normal’. We’re incredibly lucky we can mostly just live our day-to-day lives without worrying too much about contracting the virus. But if we want to return to ‘old normal’ – where we could travel overseas and we could welcome overseas travellers – Covid vaccinations are on the cards.
But what about those members of the population who are fearful – often to the point of debilitation – of needles?
What is needle phobia?
Needle phobia is a relatively common medical phobia. Up to 10% of people experience moderate to extreme fear at the thought of needles. Also known as trypanophobia, needle phobia can affect some individuals so much that they routinely avoid any treatment that could involve a jab – whether medical or dental. This is often to the detriment of their health.
What does needle phobia feel like?
Beyond causing feelings of apprehension and anxiety, needle phobia can present a range of physical sensations associated with the fear response. These range from hot and cold flushes and trembling to breathlessness and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Closely related to a fear of blood (hemophobia) and/or a fear of medical procedures (tomophobia), needle phobia may also result in a person fainting when their blood pressure rises and then suddenly drops.
So what can a needle-phobic do?
For individuals suffering from needle phobia, even thinking about getting a vaccination or having some dental work done can trigger the fear response. This can mean even seeking help may be difficult. But: there are evidence-based techniques for reducing and overcoming needle fears, and having your shots could be life-saving – not only for you but for those around you and for the greater population.
This is something you can work on yourself with a fully sympathetic family member or friend or in consultation with a therapist. Using a technique known as ‘systematic desensitisation’, you’ll gradually step through exposure to needles. First perhaps just looking at a picture of a needle for a short period of time. From then working up to seeing a syringe without a needle. After that, a syringe with a needle, handling a needle (cap on!) yourself, and eventually – the ultimate goal – being injected.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Known as ‘CBT’, this treatment has been demonstrated as effective in the management of a range of problems, including needle phobia. A psychologist will work in collaboration with their client to identify problematic thought patterns. From there to taking on new adaptive ways of thinking about the challenging situation (such as receiving a jab or giving blood). This highly targeted process of changing thoughts and behaviours can help people dampen and even extinguish the anxiety response.
CBT can also be used in conjunction with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This teaches mindfulness skills with the aim of embracing thoughts and feelings in order to develop resilience, psychological flexibility and stronger coping mechanisms.
This form of therapy involves a trained clinical hypnotherapist taking you into a trance-like state of concentration and focus. The trance-like state is similar to being completely absorbed by a task, book, movie or meditation – or like driving somewhere so well known that when you get there you don’t even remember the mechanics of the journey. While in that state, the therapist will help you detach from the emotion of fear in the situation where it is not necessary – in this case, having a jab.
In the case of Covid-19, needle phobia is a public health risk, but your situation can be improved. Our compassionate team at Happy Minds Psychology are here to help you step beyond your fears. With experienced psychologists and clinical hypnotherapists, we can discuss the best therapeutic model to meet your unique situation and help you get results.
Reach out to the Happy Minds Psychology team today on 0431 666 050 or email us via [email protected]. We’re located in Ocean Grove on the Bellarine Peninsula. We can meet you face-to-face in our office or via Telehealth Australia-wide.