When Antonio Gonzalez showed up recently for his COVID booster, it was all he could do not to turn and walk out. But intent on doing his part to keep himself and others safe, he stayed – even though it meant he could pretty much count on passing out. Gonzalez suffers from trypanophobia – the fear of needles, a fear that has plagued him nearly all his life.
“It started when I was a toddler,” said Gonzalez, 32. “When I would feel the needle in me, my vision would get gray, and I got a little woozy.”
His parents tried to help. They taught him breathing techniques, made sure his blood sugar was good and that he was lying down when it was time for the needle. But still, the phobia grew worse. “Eventually it got to the point where any time you put the needle in me, the lights go out,” said Gonzalez, who conducts marketing research for a software company. “It’s pretty unpleasant.”
Scientists estimate the fear of needles affects as many as 25 percent of Americans. The phobia can cause anxiety, panic attacks, sweats or nausea and insomnia.
Gonzalez says he’s made peace with his phobia but has also developed coping techniques. In the days leading up to a shot, he focuses on creating a calm state of mind and on the day of, he explains his phobia to the person with the needle and lies down for the shot. When COVID-19 vaccinations became available, he opted for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine since it involved only one injection.
“I dreaded it,” Gonzales said. “But I was really excited to be able to live a normal life again and feel safe. I felt a responsibility to my friends and family to help keep them safe and do my part.”
As for that dreaded booster, sometimes life serves up a surprise. “I was a lot more nervous and stressed than I normally am,” Gonzalez said. “But they were great. I didn’t feel the needle at all. I just felt normal. I said, ‘Are you going to give the vaccination now?’ She said, ‘I just did.’ It was the first time as an adult I didn’t pass out.”
If you suffer a fear of needles, here are some tactics that might help:
- Bring a family member or friend to hold your hand.
- Use distraction, such as listening to music on headphones or having a casual conversation with the vaccinator.
- Tell the person giving the vaccination about your fear.
- Look away.
- Relax the muscle, which may reduce pain.
- Lie down.
- Seek therapy with a mental health specialist who may be able to provide strategies for coping with the anxiety surrounding the shot.
Click here to learn more on how to cope with a fear of needles.