Most significant fears, including that of blood and needles, can be effectively overcome using gradual exposure. However, most people do not have ready exposure to the things that terrify them, and that is probably for the best.  The good news is that people do not necessarily need access in order to effectively use these techniques. The exercise below is based on imagining the stimuli and related situations.

Although it is easier to tackle this problem with the help of a therapist, here is what you can try on your own. If you fear needles, start by writing down a hierarchy, from least feared to most feared, as it relates to needles. For example, your hierarchy may look like this:

  1. Driving past the doctor’s office
  2. Walking into the doctor’s office
  3. Sitting in the waiting room
  4. Walking into the exam room
  5. Speaking to the doctor about the needed procedure
  6. Sitting on the examination table
  7. Rolling up one’s sleeve
  8. Seeing the doctor take out the needle
  9. Watching the doctor approach with the needle
  10. Watching the needle get inserted into the vein
  11. Having blood drawn
  12. Watching the needle be extracted

After the list is complete, begin by engaging in a relaxation exercise, such as breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.  If you do not know any exercises, do whatever you normally do to get yourself to calm down or take this opportunity to learn some exercises. When calm, imagine as vividly as possible, the first item on the list.  If your anxiety starts to rise, continue to imagine the scene while engaging in relaxation exercises.  Do not stop imagining the scene until the anxiety subsides, otherwise you will just reinforce the fear.  This activity should be repeated as often as necessary until that scene stops causing anxiety.  Once you can imagine the first item without any anxiety, you are ready to move on to the next item.  Repeat all of the steps until you can imagine your last step comfortably.  At that point, having your blood drawn becomes just the next step in the hierarchy and should be approached in the same fashion.  Good Luck!

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