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Training your brain to overcome fears

Hypnotist Robert Merlin helps clients overcome the fear of needles.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Many people don’t like being stuck with a needle.

Reports show 25-percent of Americans are afraid of them, but for some folks, the fear is more extreme.

Trypanophobia, or needle phobia, is an anxiety disorder that can cause symptomatic extreme responses like fainting, sweating, or rapid heartbeat.

As health experts continue to push for covid and flu vaccinations, the fear can cause vaccine hesitancy.

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Robert Merlin is the director of the Merlin Centre for Hypnosis and Enlightenment in Greensboro.

He said hypnotherapy can help others overcome a fear of needles with just a few sessions.

He said the first step is learning how to distract the mind.

“I’m going to focus on something that the person likes,” Merlin said.

“Maybe they like to water ski. Then I’m going to have that person thinking about water skiing and the best time that they ever had in their life when they were water skiing. Get them in that event under hypnosis, which amplifies the emotions around that. Well when you do that, when someone is about to get the injection, or when they’re in that office, they’re not even thinking about it anymore. They’re actually involved in that memory and it distracts them.”

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Merlin said he then provides the patient with breathing techniques to help relax the entire body.

“The third thing is muscle relaxation,” Merlin said.

“If I tense up my arm and someone gives me an injection it's going to hurt, so if my body is completely relaxed and my mind is distracted onto something I enjoy, it’s almost like the event is not happening. It makes it so much easier.”

For people who may not want to try clinical hypnosis just yet, Merlin recommends the following:

  • Bring a picture of a fond memory to a vaccine appointment as a distraction
  • Try looking away from the needle
  • Try deep breathing 

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