In contrast to other fears and phobias, those with belonephobia aren’t nervous or feel like fleeing. However, they do experience a decrease in blood circulation and pulse rate. In more serious cases, the simple fact of facing their object of terror provokes cold sweats and trembling.
We shouldn’t confuse fear of needles with hematophobia. People with hematophobia, or fear of blood, have no reason to fear needles. However, the answer to the fear of needles is the same as it is for those with hematophobia. Because of this, the treatment for one phobia is the same as it is for the other.
In spite of the fact that belonephobia is widespread, there isn’t enough scientific literature on it. The fear of needles also tends to accompany the fear of sharp pointed objects. Acrophobia is the term for fear of sharp and pointed objects.
The physiological pattern of those who suffer from belonephobia
People who have a serious fear of blood or needles can become dizzy and even pass out. This condition is known as vasovagal syncope.
Firstly, their blood pressure rises. As a consequence of this increase, there’s a hyper reaction of the mechanism called the sino-aortic baroreflex arch. This mechanism compensates for the rapid increase of blood pressure and lowers it.
In other words, the initial response of the sympathetic nervous system is followed by an immediate response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This double response is what causes dizziness and fainting.
The complexity of belonephobia requires a different treatment than what specialists tend to use for other types of more common phobias. Studies indicate that the tendency for overcompensation is related to a heredity component.
Who suffers from belonephobia and how can it be avoided?
This irrational fear of needles occurs in both children and adults at behavioral, cognitive, and physical levels. Greater sensitivity to experimentally induced pain, clinical pain, and pain-related distress are higher in women than in men.
In contrast with other fears and phobias, it doesn’t cause nervousness or the urge to flee. Instead, circulation decreases and there’s a slowing of the heart rate. However, in more serious cases, the simple fact of confronting the object itself causes cold sweats and trembling.
For example, belonephobia represents an important issue for women who want to have a child. Before conception and during pregnancy, they should have several blood tests. The fear of needles is also incapacitating when it comes to blood analyses for disease or for vaccinations.
Treatment for belonephobia
Up until today, treatment was practically the same as for the treatment of the fear of blood.
Even so, the treatment discussed in the article “Applied stress and gradual exposure in a case of injection phobia” (2003) by Pedro Espada, Xavier Méndez, and Mireia Orgilés will be presented.
1. Controlling anticipated anxiety
It’s beneficial to know the anxiety response, its components, and the mechanisms of acquisition and maintenance of phobic behaviors. All of these factors provide the patient with very important information that can help them know what’s happening. They also tell them about the biphasic response and the reason why fainting occurs.
As a result, the management of anticipatory anxiety is important. It’s because many of these patients not only have anxiety at the moment of contact with the needle, as they may suffer even hours or days before the event.
In order to treat patients, medical professionals give them instructions to practice abdominal breathing each time they feel anxiety. They do this until they feel calmer. At the same time, the A-B-C model is presented. They explain that anxiety (C) isn’t produced by the needle (A) but by their thoughts (B).
By using this model, they begin eliminating thoughts of anxiety and start substituting them with more functional thoughts. For example, “Nothing is going to happen”, ” I can control my heartbeat”, or “Everything will be okay”.
2. Gradual exposure
The goal of gradual exposure is to habituate the patients to the phobic stimulus. At the same time, an attempt is made to keep the heart rate within normal parameters. It starts with an imaginative approach to the phobic stimulus. Then, in the last phase, the patient moves on to live exposure.
They learn that fleeing from frightening situations only reinforces the fear. Therefore, they’re exposed to the stimuli that generate anxiety until the habituation process is achieved. In any case, reinforcing the escape behavior would only further perpetuate the phobia.
3. Applied stress training
This is training to facilitate control of vasovagal activation. Espada, Mendez, and Orgiles describe this training as “interspersed with periods of tension of 20 to 25 seconds and distension without relaxation for 15 to 20 seconds”.
The goal is to increase the heartbeat. This way, when the patient feels that they may pass out, they can recover by using this technique.
4. Enriched gradual exposure and applied tension
In this phase, the person practices the exposure in their imagination supported by concrete stimuli, which can be the smell of alcohol.
The difference between this phase and the previous ones is that they ask the patient to use the applied tension exercises when they start to notice that their body is becoming limp.
5. Live exposure
This takes place in a clinical analysis laboratory and is where the patient uses the self-instruction that they previously learned. As a rule, this encourages them and makes use of deep breathing.
The therapist who’s with them is also calming and explains everything that happens if necessary. Then, once the blood is drawn, the therapist offers praise to reinforce the behavior.
Psychology is a scientific discipline that is constantly searching for better solutions. In spite of being very widespread, literature on this topic is still scarce. However, professionals use the same treatment for hematophobia and it seems to yield good results.
With time, we’ll be seeing great advances in this area, as well as in other areas that have to do with a person’s well-being. Psychology never stops. With all of the technological advances and research, there’ll be more precise and effective techniques all the time.