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How to Calm Down Before a Vaccine

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From waiting rooms to needles, there's not one part about getting a shot that appeals to Em—besides not contracting a deadly disease.


How to Stay Calm When You Have to Go Get a Flu Shot

  • Don't read horror stories.
  • Make a plan for something fun to do afterward.
  • Have a friend take you.
  • Bring some aromatherapy to help you along as you take full, deep breaths.
  • Bring something to listen to.
  • Play with a fidget spinner or another fidget toy while you wait in the waiting room.
  • Ask if you can lay down instead of sitting up for the shot.
  • Don't look while it's happening.
  • Bring something to drink and a little snack to have afterward.
  • Wear a t-shirt with a sweater or jacket over it so you don't have to look at your arm afterward.
  • Find out if you're eligible for the flu mist instead.

Getting shots is definitely not on the top of my list of favorites. Then again, neither is the flu, measles or tetanus, so I suck it up and I get it done. Not without a bunch of anxiety though. While I'm no longer young enough to be going in for boosters all of the time, I still make it in each fall for my annual flu shot, before which I used to spend an incredible amount of energy fretting until I learned these tricks for handling shot anxiety from my therapist.

Don't Read Horror Stories on Reddit or Anywhere Else

Okay, first and foremost, the most important thing I've learned from my therapist is to stop indulging my fears by reading the worst stories about the thing I fear. The problem with this is it's just too easy to Google stuff like "People who died after getting the flu shot," so you need to practice some self-control for your peace of mind.

I've never gotten ill, had some freak thing happen to me during or afterward or even passed out. Truly, all of my anxiety was for nothing and reading bad stories (by the handful of people who went to the internet with them) only worsened my nervousness. Remember this - rarely do people go to the internet to share their positive experiences.

What To Do Instead

Read up on vaccine facts vs. myths.

Make a Plan for Something Fun to Do Afterward

For you, going out to lunch and seeing a movie with your best friend might be a fun to-do. For me, it's usually something like re-watching the first few episodes of Gilmore Girls at home in my jammies, something I'm usually too busy to let myself do these days.

Whatever it is, make sure it's something to which the excitement is equal to the fear you feel about going in to get vaccinated.

Why It Works

Having something to look forward to after your shot is going to give you something positive to focus on instead of ruminating on the 20 seconds it'll take you to get the actual shot.

Have a Friend Take You

Something that helps me a lot when I'm dealing with anxiety is to not be alone. Grab an understanding friend (hey, maybe you can return the favor for them!) to come along. When I went to get my last flu shot, I had my boyfriend go with me to hold my purse and my hand.

Why It Works

A) You won't bail out (it's good to have someone there to hold you accountable) and

B) You'll have someone to distract you a bit from your anxious thoughts.

Utilize Aromatherapy

Bring along a vial of lavender essential oil or an aromatherapy rollerball to swipe on your temples while you practice some deep breathing on the ride there and in the waiting room. Just a few deep breaths as you take in scents like lavender, chamomile or eucalyptus can slow down a racing heart and mind and give you a moment to reset your thoughts.

Why It Works

It could be that memory is strongly tied to smell (the mix of coffee and rubbing alcohol ala my childhood pediatricians office still strikes fear in me). Science doesn't totally know why aromatherapy helps reduce anxiety, but it does!

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Listen to Music that Relaxes You

Make sure you have a pair of earbuds and a couple songs picked out to listen to while you wait to keep your mind off the quick poke ahead. I like putting on one of the spa relaxation playlists on Spotify; it gives me some soothing rhythms to focus on without overwhelming me.

Why It Works

As with aromatherapy, music is known to reduce stress and anxiety, if for no other reason than because it's a great distraction from anxious, irrational thoughts.

Wear a Tee and Bring a Sweater

Whenever I'm having blood drawn or getting a shot I wear a t-shirt so I don't have to hassle with my sleeves, and I layer with a cardigan so I won't have to think about the band-aid afterward.

Why It Works

Out of sight, out of mind.

Bring a Sensory Toy to Keep You Busy

If you're a kinetic person who needs to move around to burn off nervous energy but doesn't want to be that person pacing around the doctor's office, bring a fidget spinner, a Tangle toy or one of these to squish around.

Why It Works

It's a great alternative to mindlessly scrolling through your phone.


Lay Back When You Get Your Shot

Something that always helps me when I'm feeling especially nervous about a needle is to lay down with my knees bent up and my feet planted flat on the exam table instead of sitting while I receive my shot.

Why it Works

Getting poked with a needle doesn't cause fainting, but forgetting to breathe because you're so nervous about the needle does. Being in a resting position makes it easier to be mindful of your breathing.

Don't Look!

If needles really bother you, don't look!

Why It Works

For obvious reasons.

Bring a Snack and Drink for Afterward

Anytime I get a poke I always have a granola bar and a sports drink afterward.

Why It Works

I probably don't actually need it but it helps raise my blood sugar which helps me feel more alert and less anxious and it gives me something to do on the ride home to move my mind forward and away from the shot and onto the rest of my day.

Find Out If You Can Get The Flu Mist Instead

Many people ages 2-49 years old who are not pregnant or immune comprimised are eligible for the flu nasal mist as an alternative to the jab. It works a little differently than the needle method but in the end it's a flu vaccine and a great option for those with needle phobias!

Terrified of Getting a Shot?

You're not alone - it's a real phobia called Trypanophobia and it can be treated in a number of ways including through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and the use of prescription numbing creams like Emla (I personally use this one for bloodwork).

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Em Clark

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