How I overcame fear of needles?

Imagine the following scene:

You hear the news that you are going to get a shot in the near future, and the only thing you can think about is how bad it is going to be.

You read up on how to prepare, and get good advice such as don’t look at the needle, do it in the morning and have someone come with you for moral support.

But it all does not help. Already before the shot, you are trembling, your face is pale, you look like a zombie, and a dark circle starts to creep in from the side of your vision. Above all, it is getting very, very cold.

My story

This happened to me many times. No matter how I prepared, it was always the same scene, ending with me almost passing out. Even just by smelling the rubbing alcohol I started to shake and shiver. Simply put, getting a shot always freaked me out.

As a kid, I could not sleep before vaccination day, I was trying to invent ways to skip school the next day, and just lying awake in my bed, wondering why they can’t just give a pill or anything that is less painful.

My creative (but futile) attempts to fix the problem

I was desperate to find a way to take vaccination better. For example, I found that the glass cleanser had a similar scent to rubbing alcohol. So I tried spraying window cleaner all over the room, and pinch myself so that I get used to the feeling. This worked wonderfully in a sense that it was painful, I could replicate the symptoms, but did not prepare me for the next “real” event.

Another thing I tried is the so called Silva Mind Training, where you are supposed to imagine a happy outcome of the situation. What happened to me was that already just by imagining getting a shot, I started to freak out, and doing it several times did not solve anything.

How I finally fixed the problem – the 30-day persistence challenge

I am now much older, and not getting vaccinated that frequently anymore, but the problem still used to be at the back of my mind. When I revisited the problem, I found the only thing I did not try was a buckle-down brute-force approach.

So I then decided that for the next 30 days, I will do do the following routine:

Every morning before breakfast, I would watch for 5 minutes a video clip about people getting flu shots or having their blood drawn (why would anyone upload videos like this?). One example video clip I watched:

Just before and right after watching the video clip, I would note down my “stress” level.

Any measure will do (heart rate, breathing rate), I choose to measure my stress using an app from Google Playstore (Stress Check by Azumio).

Results

I have three interesting results about the 30-day experiment.

  1. The stress measurements were all over the place. There seemed to be no trend or consistency in them, the measurements were just numbers between 0 and 100%.
  2. This is the mind-blowing part: just by measuring something, I felt better already, and the past symptoms of shaking, feeling cold and breathing heavy started to diminish.
  3. After 30 days have passed, I became mostly indifferent to most of the videos, and they did not trigger the symptoms anymore.

Theory meets practice

Shortly after the 30-day challenge I had to visit the hospital almost every day. My wife had to have blood tests and check ups, and I volunteered to go with her.

The first few occasions were really bad, and most of the symptoms came back, but it was a lot less in intensity. For the first time in my life, I was not kicked out from the room and I did not need to sit down even. Somehow, I was able to recover in less than 5 minutes.

After about 3 occasions, the same de-sensitizing effect kicked in, and I was able to look at the needle going into the arm without freaking out.

Takeaways

First, persistent training (which is super hard, especially in the beginning) can make you insensitive to needles.

Second, measuring anything (even meaningless values) helps to reduce the symptoms much faster.

I concluded that measuring my heart rate or skin resistance would have been equally effective. The key was that because I had to observe myself, I felt immediately detached from the situation and also I felt just weird to freak out.

On about day 10, I started to be well aware of the heavy breathing, shaking and the rest, but at the same time I was questioning myself: why am I doing this? Is this necessary?

Finally, I would like to encourage you to try this method; and I would be super interested to know your results.

Let me know if it helped you!

Peter

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Author: kisfaludipeter

Embedded Software Engineer helping to make the world a better place.

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