Afraid of Needles? How to Get a Vaccine Without Freaking Out

Getting a shot at the doctor’s office doesn’t have to be a nightmare anymore thanks to these expert tips.

Don't feel embarrassed about your fear of needles. It happens to the best of us. While you may not get a sticker or lollipop for a reward, there are ways to make the process of getting vaccinated (you know, “getting your shots”) easier and totally stress-free.

Vaccines Are Good for You! Get Happy

Whether you need to get vaccinated for school, travel, or other health reasons, it’s important to understand and remember that vaccines prevent dangerous and potentially life-threatening infectious diseases. The Mayo Clinic has an easy guide — according to age — based on recommendations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s OK to Freak Out (We Freak Out Too)

The first thing to understand is that your fear is normal. “In an evolutionary model, we should be afraid of another person sticking a piece of metal into our bodies,” says Dr. Simon Rego, director of Psychology Training and the CBT Training Program at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. “That’s our old brain doing what it believes is best for our survival.”

The trick is to catch and modify any negative thoughts. “When we feel fear, it is usually connected to some perception of threat,” says Dr. Rego. “So if we can figure out what exactly we are telling ourselves is so threatening when we think about getting an injection (‘This is really going to hurt!’ or ‘I could die!’), we can learn to challenge and balance our thinking (‘It’s uncomfortable, but only for a second or two, then it’s okay,’ or ‘How could I die? I [actually] have more of a chance of dying if I don’t get vaccinated!’).”

Relax, Breathe, and Distract

It’s essential to relax. “When we feel fear/anxiety/stress, our muscles tense,” says Dr. Rego. “That can make injections more painful. If you learn to relax your muscles, you can help make the process as painless as possible — literally.”

Deep breaths will help, according to the National Vaccine Program Office in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are lots of breathing exercises you can do. Other relaxation methods include meditation and even hypnosis.

And then there’s distraction. Avoid looking at the syringe. Distract yourself as much as possible. Bring a game, book, music, or movie player. Your doctor’s office might even have scheduled time slots just for shots, which makes the wait shorter.

Focus intently on something in the room, like a picture, poster, or sign on the wall. Lose yourself in the details. If there’s someone in the room with you, carry on a conversation.

Have a Conversation!

Warning the clinician of your fear will also allow s/he to help you. Ultimately, it’s important to face your concerns. “When people feel afraid, the natural tendency is to avoid the trigger of the fear, if possible, such as not seeing the doctor,” Dr. Rego says. “This only allows the fear to build as well as any potential health-related issues to get worse!”

Sources:

Immunization: Why vaccines are so important to safeguarding health. (n.d.). MayoClinic.com Health Library. Retrieved April 29, 2014, from Riverside.

Adult health (Vaccines for adults: Which do you need?)(n.d.). MayoClinic. Retrieved April 29, 2014, from MayoClinic.

Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. (2012, May 15). WebMD. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from WebMD.

Dowshen, S. (2013, September 1). 5 Tips for Surviving Shots. Kid’s Health. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from Kid’s Health.

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