Most medical facilities will have accommodations for this exact situation. Heck, even most makeshift COVID vaccine sites will accommodate you if you ask.
Your doctors, nurses, and pharmacists want you to stay healthy and if fear of fainting is keeping you from receiving care, then they will go out of their way to change that.
Every clinical laboratory where you can get your blood drawn should have a room where you can lie down. Passing out while getting blood drawn can be a danger to both you and your phlebotomist, so be sure to let them know what you need ahead of time.
Additionally, all allergy testing centers should have a reclining examination chair where you can lie down for your scratch test.
If you’re planning to get a vaccination, your best bet is probably to make an appointment with your general practitioner or even at an urgent care center and make them aware of your anxiety issues in advance.
If making a private appointment isn’t an option for you, simply call the facility you intend to use and let them know in advance. They will usually give you instructions for your arrival, and may even make preparations if they know when you are going to be there.
This is a trick no one told me for years until I got dizzy with a butterfly needle in my arm and a kind phlebotomist had me put my head down on the table. Miraculously, I didn’t pass out.
And that’s pretty much all there is to it. Lying down with your head down and legs up is the ideal position, but sometimes you just can’t do that.
If there’s a chair around, you can sit down and essentially put your head in your lap, holding it up with your hands.
Without a chair, sitting on the floor with your knees up and head between your legs should also work.
Just be sure to give yourself adequate time to regain your strength, and try to hydrate as soon as you’re able.
I walk into the doctor’s office with an already heightened level of anxiety. I become hypervigilant and overly aware of my surroundings. The buzzing and brightness of the fluorescent lights, the cold tile underneath my socks, the tightness of the blood pressure cuff. I quickly get overwhelmed, and sometimes find myself struggling to verbalize my issues and my needs.
While mindfulness and deep breathing exercises can certainly help refocus your attention, sometimes you just need to block it all out.
If you experience hypersensitivity to any of these senses below (at least while anxious), here are a few unconventional but effective precautions you can take:
- Wear sunglasses to your appointment to avoid bright light
- Wear extra thick socks or dress in layers to avoid cold, hard surfaces like the floor, scale, or examination table
- Wear earplugs, earbuds, or headphones to draw focus from unwanted sounds
- Bring a fidget toy — fidget toys can help you regain control over your sensory experience; some people find that a small stone or even just a small regular toy that they can play with in their hands works well
- Talk to your doctor about any textural issues you may have (such as with cotton balls or wooden tongue depressors)
Some of these suggestions may seem silly, but I promise you a good doctor won’t even blink twice if you tell them you’re just trying to put yourself at ease. They want you to be comfortable as much as you do.
Uncertainty is excellent fuel for anxiety in any situation.
When heading to a doctor’s appointment, my anxiety tends to start with worrying about logistics like how to get there, which door to enter, what to say to the receptionist, what kinds of questions will the nurse ask me, etc.
All of this logistical anxiety compounds with my phobia and, well, it doesn’t end up well.
Planning my experience out has been extremely helpful. Depending on your main stressors and concerns, here are some ways to prepare:
- Map out the route in advance
- Look up the building on Google Maps (or a similar app) and get a feel for the location and the parking situation (if you’re driving)
- Read up what to do when you get there on the website — you can usually find detailed instructions such as which entrance to use, what floor the office is on, suite number, etc.
- Make sure you have your insurance card, pharmacy card, and/or copay amount in your wallet before you go
- Fill out any paperwork in advance if possible, so you won’t have to worry about missing information
- Compile a list of current medications and supplements (with dosages), recent symptoms, reasons for visiting, and any questions so you’re ready when you start your appointment
- Look up COVID-19-specific policies — Do you have to arrive 15 minutes early? Is the waiting room open? Is a surgical mask required? Will there be a temperature check?
In my experience, well-meaning doctors and nurses will often try to reassure you when you voice concerns about feeling faint at the sight of blood or when you tell them you’re about to pass out. Reassurance is nice, but it’s not what you need when you’re seconds from hitting the floor.
- Tell the nurse about your anxiety as soon as you get to your appointment.
- Tell them what you need — if you’re in a facility where they don’t deal with fainting patients very often, they may not have the best handle on the situation (I’ve shocked several dermatologists and optometrists in my time — one of them panicked and sent me to the ER!).
- Insist. I’ve had several appointments where I’ve told them that I tend to pass out around needles, and they’ve responded with “Don’t worry, people don’t usually pass out from this,” and I let it go. But guess what? I passed out. You know your own needs better than anyone, so make them clear.
- Don’t be timid. Chances are, shyness will just result in reassurance when you need action.