I have three phobias; needles, blood and social. Today I was in a situation involving all three of these irrational fears. I had to go into hospital to have a deep-rooted tooth removed. This involved having several injections in the gum, blood coming from the wound while all the time having to do chit chat with those doing the work.
I’ve no idea what caused my phobias. The NHS website says that a phobia can develop during childhood, adolescence or early adulthood and is often linked to a frightening event or stressful situation from the past. For example, if you’re trapped in a confined space when you’re young, you may develop a fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia) when you’re older.I don’t remember anything like this happening except maybe a few nightmare social occasions, but there was no blood involved.
It’s also thought that phobias can sometimes be ‘learnt’ from an early age. For example, if someone in your family has a fear of spiders (arachnophobia), you may also develop the same fear yourself. Other factors in the family environment, such as having parents who are particularly anxious, may also affect the way you deal with anxiety later in life. My mum is an anxious person and I certainly have that trait; not sure whether she gave me that gift through genetics or through me copying it from her. She’s not afraid of blood or needles though, in fact her favourite TV programme is GPs Behind Closed Doors (I get queasy just typing the title of that show!).
Social phobia is known as a ‘complex’ phobia and it’s not known what causes these. It’s thought that genetics, brain chemistry and life experiences may all play a part in these types of phobias apparently. That doesn’t narrow it down much.
Anyway, regardless of the cause I had to somehow get through the dental procedure without screaming, taking the surgeon hostage or jumping out of the window. I did get through it without doing any of those things and the way I did that (worked for me, don’t know if it would work for anyone else) was to 1. concentrate on the facts not my own hysterical version of the facts (e.g. tell myself that the pain would last only a few seconds, that the needle was doing me good not harm etc.) 2. imagine myself on a beach with the sea lapping at my feet; 3. focus on the inside of my eyelids, watch those little dots and lines or ‘floaters’ and enjoy their movement; 4. consciously relax my neck muscles; 5.imagine myself walking out of the hospital in an hour’s time.
I don’t know whether all or none of those things helped but I got through it and it actually felt quite easy. The procedure didn’t go according to plan and the surgeon had to battle to get the tooth out. In the end she had to cut the tooth in half and sever the root before it could be removed. There was pulling and pushing and snapping and crunching. And it didn’t bother me!
Phobias are as weird and complicated as the people who suffer them and the only advice I would give to help cope with them is to figure out your own techniques. Listen to what works for others and try a few of them out. Chances are, at least one of them will work. That’s what I did and I lived.