What if you have trypanophobia, a fear of injections?

Experts around the world say that a successful, widespread vaccination uptake is the only way we can defeat COVID. But what if you’re afraid of injections?

The rollout for the much-awaited coronavirus vaccine is just a week away and experts say that it’s the only route to the world returning to normal. Even though Australia has the situation under control, it’s unlikely international travel will look anything like it did pre-pandemic if widespread vaccination doesn’t occur. But what if you’re afraid of needles?

Known as trypanophobia, a fear of injections is more common than we think, says clinical psychotherapist and psychologist, Noosha Anzab, with its general onset taking place at around five years old. It usually decreases with age but can affect up to 10 percent of the adult population.

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“Some people believe that we have a genetic response that’s evolved over time in response to avoidance to piercing, stabbing, and cutting injuries that may have been caused by teeth, claws, fangs, and sticks,” she says.

“Others may fear needles due to a traumatic event such as an extremely painful medical procedure which has caused the person to associate all procedures involving needles with the original negative experience.”

The phobia can also stem from seeing a sibling cry after receiving a jab.

Trypanophobia can manifest physically in a variety of ways; symptoms like dizziness, panic attacks, high blood pressure, a racing heart, or just feeling nauseous are common.

“On the more extreme end, some individuals can experience a vasovagal response when they get an injection, causing them to pass out or faint,” says Anzab.

So if you’re feeling fearful of the COVID jab, or indeed any injection, Anzab has some short and long-term tactics to help you overcome it.

Talk about it

A great tactic when a person is in the doctor’s room is to verbalise your fear to the doctor or nurse. Better yet, let them know in advance and when the day comes, your medical team will hopefully take a little extra time getting you comfortable or use special techniques to distract you.

Deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing exercises that can relax and calm the mind have been known to help alleviate some of the pain. Being at ease when the vaccination comes can relax a person’s muscles which is important for an injection to be as pain-free as possible. If a person is tensing up, the needle is going to feel more painful.

Get familiar with the idea of needles

Sometimes, gradual exposure to an injection or needle can help a person to overcome their fear because the object has become more familiar to them and the familiarisation isn’t paired with such a strong emotional or physical response.

This is essentially a form of exposure therapy and can be done in a controlled environment too, involving being gradually exposed to more intense stimuli over time.

Grab a sweet treat

Some research shows that babies and toddlers who are fed a sugary syrup don’t cry as long after vaccinations as their unsweetened counterparts. This is likely due to the fact that sugar can reduce a person’s perception of pain by triggering a hit of feel-good chemicals.

Seek the help of a professional

In more severe cases, people with trypanophobia may need to seek help from a professional psychologist who can use methods such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or other tactics to help the person gain control over their fear.

Noosha Anzab is a clinical psychotherapist and psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world-class wellbeing technology that helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist while being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.