You’ve never liked getting shots. They make you anxious. The sight of a needle alone is enough to make you squirm.
If any of these describes you, being told you’ll have to start giving yourself shots might fill you with dread.
Whether you need to give yourself insulin or some other drug, injecting yourself is probably a lot easier than you think. It’s almost certainly less painful. Marlene Bedrich, RN, program coordinator at the Diabetes Teaching Center at UCSF, says her folks give themselves their first shots in the office -- after some coaching.
“Ninety-nine percent of people will say that didn’t hurt at all,” Bedrich says.
Fears Are Common
Joni Pagenkemper, diabetes education lead at Nebraska Medicine, agrees that for some, fears overshadow reality.
“They get an image in their head of a long, wicked needle,” Pagenkemper says. She’s quick to add, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
If you fear shots, you’ve got plenty of company. Research suggests that 22% of us are afraid of them.
Even if you don’t mind getting a shot from someone else, giving yourself one can make you anxious. Usually, it's about the needles, and the worry whether you can give yourself a shot the right way.
Minimizing the Pain
There are ways to make your self-injection as pleasant as possible:
- If you can, make sure your medicine is at room temperature.
- Wait until the alcohol you used to clean where you’re going to inject is dry.
- Always use a new needle.
- Get the air bubbles out of the syringe.
- Make sure the needle is lined up right going in and coming out.
- Stick the needle in quickly.
The reality for people with diabetes is less intimidating than it was even a few years ago.
Pens, Not Syringes
You’ll probably use insulin pens instead of syringes and vials. The pens have needles that are less than half the length of the ones used for things like flu shots. They’re also thinner.
At Nebraska Medicine, Pagenkemper says folks can practice giving a shot on a rubber dummy before they try it on themselves.
Because the needles are so small and thin, you don't have to pinch the fat when you’re injecting yourself -- unless you’re very skinny, she says.
If you really don’t want to look at the needle when you’re injecting yourself, a shield is an option. It goes around the needle and screws onto the syringe the way a needle would. It's designed to keep you from sticking yourself accidentally. It also hides the needle from view.
If you have diabetes, you'll need to give yourself as many as four shots a day.
Medicines for other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis, require less frequent injections. But, they need to be in the muscle. That requires a longer needle than shots that just go under the skin.
The longer needle may make you more anxious. Still, there are things that can ease your fears:
- Use breathing exercises to relax.
- Learn to ignore unhelpful thoughts like “It will hurt” or “I can’t do this” or “I will mess up the shot.”
- Put an ice pack on the spot where you’re going to inject yourself. This will numb it.
- Try to relax the muscle before you give yourself the shot.
- If the thought of “sticking” yourself makes you uncomfortable, rest the needle against your skin and then push to insert the needle.
After you give yourself the first shot, you likely won't be as anxious.
They're less painful if you insert the needle, push down the plunger on the syringe and take out the needle as quickly as possible. The slower you go, the more painful it is.
If you’re taking too long, practice speeding things up with a spare needle and syringe on something firm at home: a mattress or the arm of a couch, for example.
For some meds that require shots that go into a muscle, you also can choose battery-powered injecting devices. Many come ready to use. With others, you’ll need to put the syringe and needle inside the autoinjector.
Motivation and Support
These are important, too, whether the shots are for MS, diabetes, or some other condition, says Veronica Brady, PhD, a nurse practitioner at the University of Nevada.
She tells her folks with type 2 diabetes, “This insulin is standing between you and a hospitalization." She says that helps people.
Brady also stresses that this will be something you’ve got to deal with for the rest of your life.
“This is a part-time job you have. It’s a part-time job you hate, but it’s vital for life.”
When you go for education on how to inject yourself with a new medicine, bring a family member or friend for support, Bedrich says.