Needle phobia also called belonephobia, aichmophobia, or trypanophobia is very common, affecting at least one in 10 people.

It may be stopping you from having an important vaccination or a blood test. It is nothing to be ashamed of and simple exercises with practice can help to overcome it quickly.

Overcoming your fear of needles

Many people have this fear, but it can be overcome with simple exercises and practice. For some people, it is linked to fainting, or feeling faint. When their fear is triggered (for example, by seeing blood or thinking about an injection), their heart rate and blood pressure increase (as with other kinds of fears), but then rapidly drop. It is this fall in blood pressure that can cause fainting. Many people do not confront their fear because they are worried they may embarrass or hurt themselves through fainting.

Other people do not feel faint or actually faint, but do feel panicky when their fear is triggered.

What can I do to overcome my fears?

First of all, do tell the person who is co-ordinating your care, or the person who is giving you your injection or blood test, about your worries. They may be able to answer any specific questions you have. They may also be able to help you cope with the procedure, for example, by chatting to distract you. Also, think about whether there been has anything which has helped you to cope with needles in the past. Can you use something like this to help you again?

If your fear is linked to fainting (or feeling very faint), the next step is to teach yourself applied tension. If you feel panicky (for example, your heart races, your chest feels tight and your stomach churns), but do not feel faint, the next step is to learn breathing for relaxation.
These exercises are safe in pregnancy, and with most medical conditions.

This is how to do it:
Sit down somewhere you are comfortable
Tense the muscles in your arms, upper body and legs and hold this tension for about 10-15 seconds, or until you start to feel the warmth rising in your face.
Release the tension and go back to your normal sitting position
After about 20-30 seconds go through the tension procedure, again until you feel the warmth in your face.
Repeat this procedure so that you have practised the tension 5 times

If you can, practise this procedure three times every day for about a week, before moving on to the next step. This will help you to build your confidence in using the procedure and increasing your blood pressure. It will take about five minutes on each occasion. It may be helpful to think ahead and plan for when you are likely to have a few spare minutes to do it. If you get headaches after doing this exercise, take care not to tense the muscles in your face and head. Also, do go gently when tensing any part of your body where you have any health problems.

Breathing for relaxation

Sit in a comfortable position, with your back upright but not stiff. Let your shoulders and jaw relax. Put one hand low down on your belly. Take a long, slow, deep, gentle breath, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Try to breathe right down into your belly, but don’t force it. Just let your body breathe as deeply as is comfortable for you. Do this for five breaths.

If possible, practise this exercise three times every day for a week, before moving on to the next step. This will help you to build your confidence in doing the exercise and using it to relax. It will take less than five minutes on each occasion. It may be helpful to think ahead and plan for when you are likely to have a few spare minutes to do it.

Using a hierarchy

Once you have mastered applied tension or breathing for relaxation, the next step is to develop a “hierarchy”; a list of all of the situations related to needles which you fear, arranged in order of difficulty. This might include thinking about procedures, seeing pictures of them, watching them on video and in real life, and actually having them done. Rate each situation on a 0-10 scale, where 10 is the most difficult and 0 is not difficult at all.

Here is an example of a hierarchy:

Example Hierarchy

Rate each situation on a 0-10 scale, where 10 is the most difficult and 0 is not difficult at all.

Write down your own hierarchy

Try to include some situations which are not too difficult. These are the ones you will start with. Think about what makes a difference to how difficult a situation is.
For example, you might find it easier to look at a picture of a small needle than of a large one.

Start with the least difficult item on the hierarchy (e.g. thinking about having an injection, in the example above).
Plan enough time so that you can stay with the anxiety long enough to watch it peak, stay on a level for a while, then gradually reduce. Staying with it allows you to see that this is what anxiety does.
Begin to use applied tension or breathing for relaxation, as you have been practising.
Go into the situation, and stay with it until your anxiety has started to drop.
Take some time to relax, perhaps using the breathing for relaxation exercise.
When you feel confident with one situation, move on to the next one up the hierarchy. You may need to practice with one situation on several occasions
before you are ready to move on to the next one.

Tips for dealing with patients with a needle phobia

Watch this short video for tips and tricks on handling a patients fear of needles

Source: Written by Dr Jane Hutton, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Department of Psychological Medicine, King’s College Hospital, June 2012

How NHS staff member overcame his needle phobia – read his story:

Neil Martin, Rehabilitation Therapy Services Supervisor at Broadmoor Hospital at West London NHS Trust, talks about his needle phobia and why he changed his mind and had the Covid-19 vaccination.

“From an early age, I’ve always had a massive phobia of needles. My fear has often prevented me from going to the dentist, giving blood and having the flu jab. It has also made parts of my role difficult. I was also apprehensive about having the vaccination because of my doubts about its safety and efficacy, including how quickly it was made available and unknown side effects.

Losing my mum in August 2020 made me change my mind about having the vaccination. After 55 years together, my dad was left alone. I’m the only person in my dad’s support bubble, as most of our family live far away and most of my father’s friends are very elderly and unable to provide physical support due to Covid-19 restrictions. This put a lot of things in perspective for me and I needed to be there for my dad, to offer him physical and emotional support now and in the future. I see my dad every week and I know how important this is to him. I would have felt terrible if I couldn’t have continued to do this by being selfish and only thinking about my fears, rather than what my dad needed. After speaking to my wife one evening, we both came to the conclusion that I needed to do everything I could to ensure that I would be able to continue to support my dad.

I psyched myself up by simply saying to myself that I needed to have the jab to help keep my dad safe and well looked after. With some added encouragement from my wife and my peers, I had the vaccination and it was over in seconds.

I felt a bit ropey the morning after my first jab, but after taking some paracetamol, I was able to continue with my day with no problems. After my second jab, the only side effect I had was a sore arm.

I had the vaccination because it was important for the people around me. My own fears became irrelevant once I realised what was truly important. I would urge others who may be scared to have the vaccination: it’s over in seconds and you know you’ve done your part to protect everyone.”

If you experience needle phobia, we can help you. Speak to one of our wellbeing professionals via live chat on our website.

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