Medical Phobias: Tips for Overcoming Common Fears

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Elizabeth Beasley on May 24, 2021
  • Is Anxiety Your Friend...
    Ditch your doctor dread.
    Roughly 8% of the population suffers from a specific phobia, like an irrational fear of doctors and medical procedures. That’s right, nearly 19 million people fear some of the same things you do! Folks are scared of everything from needles to blood to stripping down to their skivvies. Know that you’re not alone in your nervousness and don’t let your anxiety keep you from getting the right care. Here are some creative tips to trick your medical phobias into disappearing, at least for a few minutes!
  • doctor diagnosis
    1. Find a doctor who understands.
    Just like you would take your child to a pediatrician, choose a doctor who specializes in people with medical phobias. When you call for an appointment, simply ask about the nurse and doctor’s experience with extra-nervous patients and mention any particular anxieties you have. Knowledge is the antidote for anxiety. They might know some nifty techniques to calm you and get you in and out of the office with ease. And you might even get a lollipop on your way out!
  • Caucasian Young Woman Using Laptop in Home Bedroom, Copy Space'
    2. Approach your fear with baby steps.
    Have you ever seen the movie “What About Bob?”? The main character, Bob, is desperately trying to overcome a raft of phobias and one of his tricks is to take baby steps for every challenge he faces. Though the movie’s a comedy, gradual exposure seriously works and you can eventually become desensitized to the situation. This is great for phobias like a fear of needles (belonephobia) or blood (hemophobia). You might start by looking at photographs or watch videos, like medical dramas, where you’ll repeatedly see the things you fear. Soon you’ll be able to touch an actual needle or see your own blood without getting too squeamish.
  • Doctor with hand on patients shoulder
    3. Ask if there’s an alternative.
    Can’t tolerate a certain medical test? Do you panic at the thought of a finger prick or a puff of air on your eye? Instead of suffering through these awkward exam moments, ask your doctor if there is an alternative test available. Sometimes it may cost a bit more, but it’ll be worth saving your sanity. For example, the most common test for glaucoma involves measuring your eye pressure by blowing a puff of air onto your cornea. Shudder. There are other glaucoma test options, like tonometry, so keep an eye out for a different approach to any tests that stress you out.
  • Woman covering face
    4. Find a distraction.
    Here’s an obvious strategy that people often forget about: look the other way. If blood, needles, and other unsightly things make you squirm then look at anything but that object. Sometimes people think they need to tough it out and face their fears, but a great alternative is to simply cover your eyes, hold your breath and surrender. It’ll be over before you know it. Here’s another: Pinch your thigh while you’re getting an injection--you won’t feel the needle! And you know all of those anatomy posters on the wall of your doctor’s office? Try reading one of those to distract your mind. You’ll breeze through the procedure and learn a little something!
  • Hands of yoga man
    5. Calm yourself with meditation.
    Here’s a technique that experts have been getting excited about lately: using mindfulness to tackle your medical phobia. It might sound simple, but classic relaxation techniques are an excellent way to get short-term relief from your fears. There are some things you just have to grin and bear during medical exams—like wearing an embarrassing paper gown in front of a nurse or listening to the grind of your dentist filling a cavity. Practicing 5-10 minutes of meditation before your visit can reduce your stress level and put you in a peaceful place. A quick, easy meditation technique is to breathe deeply, focus on your breath and repeat a mantra like “I am keeping myself healthy”.
  • Letting the melody wash over her
    6. Listen to music.
    Speaking of gritting your teeth and dealing with the drill of a dental procedure, here’s a sound tip from the American Dental Association: Listen to music while your dentist does his thing. Whether your favorite riffs are rock or rap, the music will drown out the noise of the drill and any other instruments they are using to make your mouth healthy. Some dentists even offer headphones for you to listen to in-house music and movies. Look for a practice with perks if you care about your teeth, but don’t dig hearing the dentist’s every move.
  • Female pharmacist in her pharmacy with a client
    7. Disguise pills inside your favorite foods.
    Sometimes you just have to fake it til you make it. If you can’t face your fears, then denial is an excellent coping strategy for pretending your phobia doesn’t exist. Hate swallowing pills? Ask the pharmacist if the medication is available in liquid form. Otherwise, borrow this old tip from veterinarians and mix your medication into your food. Shove your pill into a piece of cheese, grind it into a bowl of cereal or disguise it in a spoonful of peanut butter. Just be sure to share your secret tip with your doctor first to make sure it doesn’t alter the effect of your medication.
  • Ice cream
    8. Offer yourself a reward.
    If you simply can’t seem to trick yourself into overcoming your medical fears, then try the opposite approach and reward yourself with a treat. Endure your annual physical; book a massage. Make it through a mammogram; buy a new fancy bra. Pass your prostate exam; binge on some new briefs. Before you know it, you’ll start looking forward to your checkups (and a scoop of ice cream)!
Medical Phobias: Tips for Overcoming Common Fears

About The Author

Elizabeth has been writing for Healthgrades since 2014 and specializes in articles about alternative and complementary therapies like meditation, yoga, energy work and aromatherapy. She also performs improv comedy and is a firm believer that laughter really is the best medicine.
  1. Facts & Statistics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
  2. Phobias. American Psychiatric Association. http://www.psychiatry.org/phobias
  3. Preparing Your Child for Visits to the Doctor. KidsHealth from Nemours. http://kidshealth.org/parent/system/doctor/dr_visits.html
  4. Five Common Glaucoma Tests. Glaucoma Research Foundation. http://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/diagnostic-tests.php
  5. Complementary & Alternative Treatment. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. http://www.adaa.org/finding-help/treatment/complementary-alternative-treatment
  6. Anxiety. Mouth Healthy brought to you by the ADA American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/a/anesthesia-and-sedation
Was this helpful?
5
Last Review Date: 2021 May 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.