Living with a fear of needles - an inside look
Updated: Aug 24
Each and every one of us is scared of something. Whether it’s the dark, spiders, heights or clowns – each fear is unique to us and effects the person to varying degrees. One such phobia that can affect a number of people is Trypanophobia, or a fear of needles. Kate Maxwell shares an insight into what experiencing and living with a fear of needles can be like, and offers tips for people in similar positions.
How did you discover your phobia?
I first discovered my phobia in somewhat of a funny way. I was 7 years old and desperately wanted my ears pierced. My mum offered to do them for me since she worked in a pharmacy and I was beyond excited! I sat down in the chair and had the first one put in, then proceeded to faint off the chair and hit the floor. Needless to say when I woke up I was confused and a little hysterical, insisting mum take the earring out and refusing to get them done again. Blood test and injections then became an absolute nightmare, with my fear of needles really kicking in.
How do you feel it came about?
I think fainting from that first experience really didn’t help, but talking to mum about it when older, she thinks it could even come from earlier than that. I was born one month premature and was quite ill for those first few months. Mum said that they had to keep taking me away to give me injections and do their tests – and that maybe this could have deep-routed the fear inside me to be brought up at a later date.
How does it affect you on a day to day basis?
Day to day it isn’t so bad. Thankfully it’s not a fear I have to constantly face in my normal routine, only really coming around if I’m unwell or need the likes of a vaccination. When I am put in these situations I definitely transition straight to a stress response of freeze. From previous experiences I now know that I need to let the doctor or nurse know in the very beginning that I have a fear of needles, I will hold my breath and I do also faint so will need to lie down for the procedure. It’s like my body just shuts down and can’t handle it anymore! I do find that I also struggle listening to conversations, reading articles or watching shows/ movies that feature needles in them too. If it goes into too much depth I find I experience the same response, often feeling faint and needing to lie down.
Have you developed avoidance behaviours?
Unfortunately due to previously having low iron as a kid, and then becoming quite ill while at university, I have been subjected to quite a few blood tests and injections over the years. I came to realise pretty quickly that if I didn’t go and get it done immediately after my doctor’s appointment then I would without giving it too much thought, hide the form somewhere I was bound to forget about – thus needing to repeat the process again from the beginning. This fear has also hugely affected my career choice in life, as I would have loved to have been a sports doctor, but couldn’t handle the level of depth surrounding procedures and treatments that the study required – instead studying exercise sport science and exercise prescription and health.
What made you decide to do something about it?
About a year ago I had a couple of experiences close together that made me realise just how badly this phobia was now affecting me. I had a running accident which left my knees fairly torn up from gravel, to the point where I was referred to a plastic surgeon. Shortly after this I required a small surgery in which I needed to be put under. In both cases I struggled immensely to listen to how the procedure was going to be run – especially when it came to talk of putting an IV line in. I passed out on both doctors, twice, in the short space of our appointments. After this I was planning to travel, so needed a few vaccinations and full blood counts beforehand to make sure I was good to go. I decided enough was enough and actually started trying hypnotherapy. While I do think this helped somewhat, it was also just the tip of the iceberg and I know I still have a long way to go.
Do you have any tips for people in a similar position?
Any phobia, no matter how big or small can be hard to deal with. For me, I found some comfort in meditation and breathing exercises. Whilst I still held my breath during the actual blood test or injection, I found that having something simple and controllable to focus on beforehand definitely helped to keep my stress levels somewhat more under control when leading up to it (as the alternative has definitely always been to pass out, burst into tears or run from the room!). If you can, I strongly encourage you to seek help too. Even though my stint with hypnotherapy was brief, I did notice a visible difference and it has helped me to feel more confident going into future appointments.
Interested to read more? Check out our other blog posts, including '5 things I learnt from having blood taken.'
oVRcome are continuing to develop their programme which utilises exposure therapy using virtual reality technology to support individuals with phobias, such as trypanophobia. Why not take their Fear of Needles test and receive a free customised report with some actionable tips for your severity level?