“Each day that individuals decide not to get vaccinated out of fear results in that individual not being protected and not protecting others.” – Dr. Marty Martin
30% of the world’s population have a fear of needles and injections, while 3% have a full-on phobia resulting in complete avoidance of medical treatments including crucial dental work, diabetes medication, and most recently, COVID-19 vaccines.
Clinical health psychologist and public health educator, Dr. Marty Martin wrote his new book, Conquer Needle Phobia: Simple Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety and Fear specifically to address this serious and potentially life-threatening issue.
“9 million [Americans] would literally rather die than get a needle,” says Dr. Martin. “These are individuals who may ideologically be okay from a religious and spiritual point of view with the [COVID] vaccine, but an extreme fear or phobia prevents them from actually getting it”.
So, what is the difference between a fear and a phobia? According to Dr. Martin, fear is when you experience feelings of discomfort or anxiety. Most people in this category feel fear about something but do it anyway (you are scared of the dentist, but you go anyway). A phobia, on the other hand, is an anxiety that is so intense that the person will avoid their fear completely, even if it’s detrimental to their own health.
A fear of needles is something Dr. Martin knows something about personally. When he was 10 years old, he had dental problems that required long procedures. His dentist was intolerant of his pain and as a result, he developed a fear of needles. He still struggles with this somewhat as an adult but he has found a way to manage his fear using several methods he outlines in the book.
“I wanted to provide a range of techniques so that people could have something that worked for them because every technique is not going to work for everybody,” says Dr. Martin. “The goal is not for you to like or love [needles], but to make it tolerable so you don’t avoid them.”
The gold-standard treatment of needle phobia is Exposure Therapy. You start by looking at a cartoon image of a needle and rate your fear between one (low) and 10 (extremely high). You gradually increase the time you spend looking at the image until your fear level is a two or a three, then move to looking at an actual photo of a needle, then a real needle, and so on.
Another treatment that is very common to needle phobia is something called Applied Tension Technique (ATT). This is progressive muscle relaxation where you tighten one part of your body, hold it, then let go. Then you tighten another part of your body, hold it, and let go. This brings blood to the core of your body and helps prevent the dizziness that many people with needle fears experience.
Dr. Martin also recommends plain old distraction: watching a funny video, carrying a card with a confidence statement, even just looking out the window can help with anxiety. “If I’m in the dental chair, I will hold one hand with the other and squeeze it,” says Dr. Martin. “It focuses me on the squeezing of my hand rather than what’s happening in my mouth and that works for me.”
Self acceptance and self-compassion is an important starting point for anyone who feels afraid of needles. It’s OK not to feel OK, says Dr. Martin. However, it’s crucial that they address it as soon as possible.
“Unfortunately, this is probably not going to be the last pandemic,” says Dr. Martin “If you talk to epidemiologists, they will tell you that to establish herd immunity, we need 70 to 85% of the global population, about 7.8 billion people, to get vaccinated.”