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6 Things That Help My Child Cope With Needle Anxiety


If you have a chronic disease, try to count how many needles you’ve had. I’m talking everything from blood draws and infusions to diagnostic testing and vaccines. Can’t even begin to come up with a number? My son can relate. He has Crohn’s disease and has been dealing with all that that entails for the last five years.

And you can likely relate to his needle anxiety, too. My son has had countless uneventful pokes. But enough of them have been painful — some even horrific — that his stress level spikes before each new poke. One IV insertion was attempted three times and involved myself and a nurse pinning him to a hospital bed. That was by the far the worst and has contributed significantly to his overall dislike of needles. He has also fainted, thrown up and shed many tears.

So much of dealing with a chronic illness robs those who have it of any control. Not only in terms of how the disease makes a person feel, but also treatments available and side effects from those treatments. These all can combine to compound the feeling of helplessness and loss of control. And it’s that lack of control that can lead to feelings of despair and depression.

These experiences have had a profound effect on my son and he now has a game plan when he knows he has a poke coming up. We do the following:

1. Talking.

The night before and the day of, we talk about his fears and we go over the steps in his game plan to make sure we’re not missing anything.

2. Hydration.

My son starts the day before by making sure he drinks lots of water. Staying hydrated is important when accessing veins.

3. Sleep.

Stressful situations are so much harder to deal with when we haven’t slept well. Getting a solid rest is vital to dealing with procedures.

4. Meditation.

While waiting for the procedure, this can be as simple as imagining being in a favorite spot or thinking about his dog.

5. Breathing.

During the procedure, this has become an incredibly valuable tool. Doing deep breathing, with focused breaths, helps to clear the mind and calm the body. This is particularly important when Step 6 isn’t available.

6. Distraction.

YouTube videos about dogs doing silly things are a favorite. If it’s a longer procedure where technology is allowed, video games are a go.

Following a routine has helped significantly. Sometimes even the smallest steps can help regain a sense of control. Helping yourself can be vital in the management of any disease. It can be difficult to find the opportunities or even the strength to do this, but the payoff is worth it.

If you have needle anxiety and none of these techniques work for you or your loved one, talk to a health care provider. They can establish a desensitization or rehearsal protocol with you. Anything that can be done to alleviate your stress during procedures is a win.

Getty image by ElenaNichizhenova