Do You Have Trypanophobia (Fear of Needles)? 7 Tips to Help You Conquer It

Cringing at the thought of doing a finger prick or injection isn't good, especially when you have diabetes. Experts suggest how to conquer that fear once and for all.

shirtless man on knees screamingHaving a fear of needles can be a real problem for people who inject insulin to stay alive. Experts say up to 30% of adults have trypanophobia. (Photo: Unsplash, Mwangi)

If you need to check your blood sugar or inject insulin, a fear of needles is going to compromise your care.

You aren't alone in your fear of needles. Experts who have studied the fear have found that most children have some needle fear; up to half of teens do, and up to 30% of young adults. With age, fear does tend to decrease, but not disappear.1

Where Does it Come From?

How it starts is anyone's guess. "I think it's a mystery how these fears develop," says Michael D. McGee, MD, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at The Haven at Pismo, a California addiction treatment center.

Often, he finds that early childhood experiences with injections may have been the trigger.

A person drawing blood may have been rushed or scared you as a child, and not bothered to explain what was being done.  An adult may have modelled the fearful behavior, or told stories about how the needles or injections hurt. 2

"There could be a neurobiological component, with some people's brains wired to be more vulnerable to fear," says Dr. McGee, a member of the editorial board for PsyCom.net, a sister site of OnTrack Diabetes and author of The Joy of Recovery: The New 12-Step Guide to Recover from Addiction.

From Mild to Awful

The anxiety can be great in some people, experts know. Some may feel dizzy or light-headed, have a dry mouth or even palpitations. They can tremble, sweat, feel sick or be breathing quickly.2

No matter where it comes from, this fear—which experts call aichmophobia or trypanophobia—can be calmed.

Here, the best tips from Dr. McGee and Elisabeth Almekinder, RN, CDE, a diabetes educator at Manos Unidas of the North Carolina Farmworker Health Program.

#1. Consider the validity of the fear

Ask yourself, 'What is the worst that can happen,''' Dr. McGee says. The worst, he suggests, is that ''it will hurt for an instant as the needle goes in. It will mean you have a brief moment of distress."

#2. Get a preview

Almekinder calls it the tell-show-do approach. This is especially good to help kids through their fear of needles, she finds. Before she shows them how she will do an injection the first time, she tells them what she will do, shows them, perhaps by injecting a needle into an orange, and then lets them play with the orange.

#3. Make peace with the fear

This involves ''making peace with the fact that distress is an inevitable part of life and sometimes distress is actually necessary for a greater good," Dr. McGee says.  He also suggests reframing the fear—"It's just my brain working to try to keep me safe."

#4. Desensitize yourself

Look at the needle. Hold the insulin syringe or pen in your hand until your anxiety declines. Go through the motions without actually injecting or pricking your finger.Steel yourself a little.  "You can put ice on the area, give it a little numbing effect," Almekinder says.

#5. Relax, breath, calm yourself

Before facing the needle, calm yourself down by using music, Dr. McGee suggests. You can also use smart phone apps that promote mindfulness and relaxation, Almekinder says. She recommends Calm and finds those with needle phobia who use a relaxation app or exercise about a half hour before injections occur do very well.

#6. Keep perspective

Needles used for insulin injections aren't that thick or big, Dr. McGee points out. Almekinder agrees. "Sometimes I hold it out [to a patient who is beginning to inject insulin] and say, 'You are a grown man, look at how tiny this needle is,' she says. However, she uses this approach only on patients who she knows can take her ribbing. Then she usually closes with, ''What would your mother say?"

#7. You can be mindful but distracted

You can imagine yourself at the beach or really anywhere pleasant even while you are injecting or pricking your finger.

Updated on: April 3, 2019
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