Tips to Ease Needle Anxiety

Needle. For some people, the word--almost as much as the sight of one sliding into skin--is enough for people to cringe, cry, even swoon if they're standing in line waiting for one.

Experts believe fear of needles may be preventing people from rolling up their sleeves for the H1N1 vaccination.

"I think people may have concerns about vaccines for a variety of reasons, but pain and the actual fear of getting the injection is often the barrier that prevents people from getting the vaccine," said psychologist Christine Chambers, a Canada Research Chair in Pain and Child Health, based at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. "Certainly people who are anxious in general are more likely to be fearful about other consequences and other side effects that they see might be associated with the vaccine."

Concerned that university-aged students who are making health decisions for themselves may be bypassing immunization for H1N1 because of their fear of needles, Chambers assures there are things they can do to reduce pain. For one, she suggests the purchase of a topical anesthetic cream or a patch and applying it 30 to 60 minutes before getting the needle.

She also advises practicing the art of distraction; in other words, try not to think about it so much. Bring along an ipod while you're waiting in line or take a friend with you.

"The other thing to do is breathing exercises," she said. "If your body is tense, the needle will hurt more. But we know simple deep breathing exercises--the kind you might do in yoga class--are effective at reducing pain."

Chambers says needles are painful for some, but that the fear of the needle may be out of proportion to the actual pain. People who have had bad experiences in the past may have good reason to be fearful, she adds. If the anxiety is severe, Chambers advises students can contact Dalhousie Counselling Services for support.

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