Scared Of Needles? Here’s How To Deal Before Your COVID Vaccine

Tips from other adults who need someone to hold their hand during their flu shot.

A person sits in a hospital waiting area before receiving a COVID vaccine.
RK Studio/Shutterstock

You're stoked at the prospect of life getting back to normal with the COVID vaccine on the horizon. But to get the vaccine, you need not just one shot, but two. Even if you're a full-on grown up with a mortgage and 2.5 dogs, the idea of getting two shots can definitely strike fear into your very adult heart. Suddenly, getting over your fear of needles is a must-do on your 2021 personal growth agenda.

Why Am I So Scared Of Needles?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 7% of adults avoid getting vaccinated because they're scared of needles. "I used to have to get pinned down by about six nurses just to get one shot," certified holistic wellness coach Kama Hagar tells Bustle.

While it's understandable to shy away from doing things you're scared of. It's helpful to remind yourself of why the COVID vaccine will help you and your community, even and especially when you're scared. "You are not only getting the vaccine to protect yourself, but rather, to protect your family, friends, and community," says Dr. Shaili Gandhi, Pharm.D., the vice president of formulary operations at the free prescription savings service SingleCare. But even if you know you'll get the vaccine the second you're eligible, that doesn't make the fear go away.

When you're anticipating getting a shot, particularly if you're scared of needles already, your central nervous system gets riled up by the adrenaline, which activates your fight, flight, or freeze response. Hagar suggests that instead of trying to ignore it or shove your feelings away, try to embrace techniques that will remind your central nervous system that you are safe, like the meditation practices that have helped her soothe her needle-phobia.

How To Get Over A Fear Of Needles Or Trypanophobia

Different people are scared of needles — in its most extreme form, called trypanophobia — for different reasons, which means what helps someone else might not be what helps you. "Try to understand why you may have the phobia," Dr. Gandhi says. Whether it's pain-based, emotion-based, or both, assemble all your fave self-soothing tactics. "You can plug in your headphones and listen to music," Dr. Gandhi suggests. "Bring a comfort item or hold someone’s hand."

Try cultivating a set of tools to calm yourself as much as possible. It might not "cure" your fear, but acknowledging your feelings and practicing self-love can help you get through it. "Some things that can soothe your nervous system are sipping on a warm cup of water or herbal (caffeine-free!) tea, wearing something soft and cozy to soothe your skin, practicing mindful breathing, or starting your day with a meditation and visualization of the positive outcome," Hagar says. Exercising before your vaccine appointment can also help calm you down, thanks to the endorphin rush.

For some, focusing on the benefits can help desensitize you to what's going on with the darn needle. "Honestly, I don't know if I'll ever get over it," says Harlan, 33. "But giving myself T shots every week for the past three years has definitely been helpful." He still squirms, but he focuses on the end goal. "These hormone shots literally save my life every week. Do I hate it? Definitely. Am I alive because of them? Absolutely. So I while I'm freaking out, I make myself focus on the outcome, not the process."

How To Prep For The COVID Vaccine When You're Afraid Of Needles

When it's time to calm yourself down before heading out to get your COVID vaccine, check in with your body. Hagar tells Bustle that she starts with her breath. Breathing smoothly can help the shot go easier since your muscles will be more relaxed — and focusing on inhaling and exhaling can help stave off panic. Plus, taking longer exhales than inhales is a good hack for tricking your nervous system into relaxing.

If you're so scared that you're having trouble focusing on counting your breaths, Dr. Gandhi suggests striking up a conversation. "What helps me is engaging in a conversation with the health care professional administering the shot," she says. "Talk about the weather, weekend plans, or something funny your child did that morning." Like deep breathing, talking about nothing in particular can help ground you and take your mind off the needle.

While you're chatting it up, don't be ashamed to tell your nurse or COVID vaccine volunteer that you're scared. "Last time I got a flu vaccine, I had to look my nurse dead in the face and tell him not to be fooled by my neck tattoos — needles make me sob like a school boy," says Lisa, 28. "He had to bring in someone to hold my hand. Since they probably won't be able to do that with my COVID vaccine, I am definitely bringing my lavender-scented stuffed elephant with me to squeeze. I'd rather look a little silly than pass out."

Harlan says that blasting music can help, too. "I know a kid who blasted the Panic! At The Disco song "Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off" the first time he got his T shot because of the line about 'testosterone boys,'" he explains. "So he was kind of crying and bopping his head to the beat at the same time. Quirky flex, but it got him through it."

Try to clear your schedule as much as possible after your COVID vaccine appointment so you can have the time to calm back down. "If you need a moment to decompress before driving, take it," Hagar says. "Small sips of something warm can help, deep full belly breathing can help, and shaking your body out (like an animal shaking off trauma) can help. Just make sure you're going slowly and gently and really checking in with you."

It's OK if all your attempts to soothe yourself don't "fix" your fear overnight. "Be proud of yourself," Dr. Gandhi says. "You did something outside of your comfort zone — something that allows us to get back to normalization." That normalization will last a lot longer than those darn shots, so in the battle between you and needles, you're definitely going to win.


Dr. Shaili Gandhi, Pharm.D., vice president of formulary operations, SingleCare

Kama Hagar, certified holistic wellness coach