Pins and needles – managing needle phobia

Do you have Smallpox, Polio, Diptheria, Tetanus, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Human Papilloma Virus, Hepatitis A or B, Pneumococcus or Haemophilus?

No…? Me Neither… thanks to a tiny slender needle…


Injections are a routine part of modern medicine. Not many people like having injections, and to be fair, that’s understandable because being stuck by something sharp goes again’t our most basic survival instincts.

Around 10% of people have a needle phobia (trypanophobia) and, with the biggest vaccination programme in history coming our way, lots of needle phobics are probably wondering what it’s going to be like. Some, will be genuinely too scared to have the injection, even though their life might depend on it.

Even if people understand the necessity of having an injection, just the thought of it will put a lot of people off having it. Symptoms of needle phobia include dizziness, dry mouth, palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea and in extreme cases, fainting.

The symptoms occur at the same moment the ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in, sending chemical messengers around the body because humans are ‘hardwired’ to be wary of needles — the fear of sharp objects would have helped protect our ancestors from potentially fatal wounds from, for example, thorns and weapons such as knives and arrows.
A study carried out in the Netherlands revealed stress in more than 370 men and women when they donated blood. Almost every one of them, including those who didn’t think of themselves as afraid of needles, experienced a surge in blood pressure or other physiological changes associated with stress. [Reported in the journal Vox Sanguinis, 2018.]

No one knows what triggers an inbuilt wariness of needles into a debilitating phobia, but one possibility could be an upsetting experience with needles in childhood. More likely, the phobia is learned from others. Studies show as many as 80% of adults with a needle phobia had a close relative with the same fear. This is a common pattern with most other phobias. Children ‘inherit’ their mother’s fear of spiders or the father’s fear of ferocious wild animals. Not only that, but children’s behaviour in such circumstances is modelled on that of their parents.

But needle phobia can be treated, especially if the patient is motivated to overcome it.

Exposure therapy and hypnotherapy, amongst other ‘talking therapies’ can help people manage their phobias by recognising how their thoughts affect their feelings and behaviour.

Getting the patient to first of all imagine driving past the hospital where the injection is to be administered is a first step. The the patient can go into the hospital and talk to the receptionist or even sit in the waiting area for a few minutes. Next, a chat to the nurse who will administer the injection, and finally, the injection itself – all imagined but helping to familiarise the patient with the procedure and the actual event. Most GPs will be happy to arrange for patients to visit a vaccination centre ahead of their appointment.

My particular approach includes getting a needle phobic client to look away while pinching themselves at the likely spot of the injection, because that is exactly how it will feel!

There is also another technique which can be used to prepare a client for an injection. It’s based on Jacobsen’s Progressive Relaxation and involves tensing the muscles in your hands, feet, arms, legs, face, shoulders, torso, and finally your whole body, for just five seconds each. I often use this as a precursor to hypnosis because it results in extreme physical relaxation almost immediately.

The exercise can be repeated four or five times. Where fear has made blood pressure rise and then rapidly fall, leading to fainting, the exercise brings blood pressure levels back to normal, making fainting less likely.

A study published in the journal Emotion in December 2020 found that participants who smiled as they were given an injection found it half as painful as those who kept a neutral expression, even if the smile was forced.

Researchers at the University of California say smiling may trick the brain into perceiving less pain because smiling is something usually associated with happiness. This makes a lot of sense because we know that posture can affect mood.
Needle phobia should be taken seriously and not just dismissed as somebody making a fuss. Once the causes are understood, the client can be helped to move forward, and hypnosis can be an effective short cut.

Copyright Andrew Newton 2020. All rights reserved.

About Andrew Newton

andrew newton hypnotist

Andrew Newton has an international reputation as a leading authority on hypnosis. 

Scroll to Top