Scared of Needles?

With flu season in full swing, help is available for needle-phobes.

Nobody likes getting the flu. It can knock students out of commission for days or weeks, making it nearly impossible to study or get homework done – and heaven forbid it catches up with you during midterms. The H1N1 strain going around this year is a particularly nasty one. At the same time, for some folks the prospect of getting vaccinated is the more terrifying option. What’s a needle-phobe to do?

Fear of needles falls into the broader category of “Blood-Injury-Injection” phobia. While some people may experience mild anxiety or nervousness prior to an injection, others may feel a more intense dread or terror. This particular type of phobia is unique because – unlike other common fears such as spiders, clowns, or heights – sufferers’ blood pressure can drop, sometimes causing “vasovagal syncope”, a fancy way to say fainting. (Although other types of phobias can make a person *feel* like they’re about to faint, in those cases, their blood pressure actually increases, making fainting impossible.) Fear of needles also tends to run in families; psychologists still aren’t sure why!  

If you’re afraid of needles but want to protect yourself from the flu this year, here’s some tips that can help!

1. Bring a friend. Having someone along can help you feel more comfortable and distract you when it’s time. Student Health Center staff say that students often come in pairs for just that reason. A friendly conversation or a hand to hold can go a long way!

2. If you have a history of fainting at the sight of needles or blood, let the staff know and ask if you can lay down. Having your legs up should prevent the fainting response.

3. An alternative to laying down is the “applied tension” technique, which consists of tensing and relaxing muscles, helping you to maintain your blood pressure. You’ll find it most effective if you practice ahead of time, using this basic technique. For this specific phobia, applied tension works better than “typical” relaxation techniques like deep breathing, which lower your blood pressure and could actually make you more likely to faint.

4. Learn to challenge your worries by replacing them with balanced thoughts. For example, you might find it helpful to replace the thought “I absolutely can’t bear having to get a shot,” with the more balanced, “Getting a shot makes me really anxious but it will be over quickly, and I know some strategies to deal with it.” Learning to challenge anxious thoughts takes some time and practice. CAPS counselors are a great resource to help in this process.

5. If all else fails, consider getting a nasal spray flu vaccine. Local pharmacies are out of this option for the current season, but if you plan ahead, you can take advantage of this alternative next year.

Flu vaccines are available at the Student Health Center pharmacy all season, and are free with your SHIP insurance. Stop by today – your body will thank you, and so will your partner, roommates, and friends.

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