It’s one of the most common excuses for not giving blood: they have a fear of needles. While almost no one enjoys getting a shot or getting pricked by needles, there are a lot of people who are genuinely afraid of the idea of needles. Known as trypanophobia, a phobia of needles affects nearly 10 percent of people.
Where Does It Come From?
Around 20 percent of the population has some degree of fear towards needles or injections in one way or another. This fear is both an inherited trait and a learned trait. While a small percentage of people inherit a fear of needles, most people develop it around ages 4 to 6 through either experience or learning.
What Is the Difference Between a Fear of Needles and Needle Phobia?
Dr. Don Hafer, Director of Behavioral Health Services for Texas Health Presbyterian Dallas, says a phobia is an unrealistic level of fear and anxiety that keeps you from doing something you want or need to do. A fear of needles, or general needle anxiety, is something that people can still deal with; however, they may just take a moment or two before they are ready to receive a shot at the doctor’s office. “If it doesn’t interfere with your life, then it isn’t a phobia.”
How Does a Phobia Affect Getting a Shot or Giving Blood?
“Anxiety in normal amounts is beneficial and useful,” says Dr. Hafer. “Anxiety can motivate us to keep trying and push ourselves.” However, high anxiety can alter your body physiologically by increasing heart rate, changing blood flow, raising blood pressure, and tensing muscles. This keeps you from doing what you are tasked to do, and that is exactly when it becomes a phobia.
Is There a Way to Treat a Phobia of Needles?
According to Dr. Hafer, the most common and effective way to treat any phobia is through systematic desensitization. This involves going to a professional to learn relaxation methods. From there, people are exposed to imagery of what causes them fear, in this case needles, in a relaxed state to get them more comfortable with the idea of their fear. Then it is time to experiment in real life. “This method is usually very effective,” says Dr. Hafer. “I know from experience with my own phobia of needles that it can help you become comfortable when it is time to give blood.”
How Can People Who Are Scared Find a Way to Give Blood?
“Deep breathing is always a good place to start,” says Dr. Hafer. “When you focus on your breath and comforting thoughts, your body relaxes so it won’t hurt. If you are scared, your body will tense up, which can make the process more painful.” Dr. Hafer suggests being upfront with a phlebotomist about your fears. If you need to take a few moments to prepare yourself beforehand, let them know so they can ensure it is a comfortable experience for you.
Why Do You Think It Is Important for People to Overcome a Fear of Needles?
“If you give blood, you save lives,” says Dr. Hafer. “There are so few people who have not, in some way, been affected by blood donations or transfusions. Whether it is you or a family member, chances are you know someone who needs or has needed blood to survive. It is easy and doesn’t cause significant pain, and it is a simple way to save a life.”
If you have a fear of needles, Texas Health Resources can help. Call their 24/7 Behavioral Health Hotline at 682-236-6023 to set up a free one-hour consultation with a masters-level therapist at any of the over 20 locations throughout the DFW metroplex.