"If you need to inject insulin but are feeling apprehensive because you don’t want to cause pain to yourself or a loved one, you are not alone," says counsellor Helen Edwards, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 37 years ago. "Perhaps you’ve had a bad experience with injections in the past, or are worried about the impact insulin will have on your body. Remember, all of these reactions are entirely normal. When I was diagnosed with type 1 at age 12, I was already terrified of needles, thanks to a painful experience in early childhood. On the day I had to inject myself for the first time, I sat crying on the bed for what seemed like hours, until the nurse finally screamed at me to ‘just do it’'. Thirty-seven years and thousands of needles later, I still hate anyone else injecting me, but I have become comfortable with injecting myself.
If this sounds familiar, or you are new to injecting yourself or your child and want to cut down on the fear factor, here are the tips that worked for me. Hopefully they can help you develop a better relationship with your needle, too!"
1. Think calm thoughts!
Do you experience symptoms of anxiety (dry mouth, dizziness, heart palpitations and sweating) before injecting? It may help to establish a relaxing routine. Start by sitting quietly and breathing deeply until you feel calm. Once you’re relaxed, visualise sitting in the room where you’re going to have your injection and feeling how you want to feel – calm and in control. Before getting out the needle, picture yourself doing the injection successfully. Practise this routine regularly and you’ll really see results – it’s amazing how much it can change the experience over time.
2. Distract yourself
The longer you sit looking at the needle hovering over your skin, the more you will freak yourself out! Give distraction techniques a go, such as tuning into a TV program or starting a conversation.
3. Refine your technique
Diabetes educator and pharmacist Cindy Tolba says it’s normal to experience discomfort from time to time when you’re injecting. However, if you’re feeling pain each time you take a needle, you’re more likely to develop a phobia about injecting. These pain-busting tips may help…
- Wait until your insulin has warmed to room temperature (about 25°C) before injecting as cold insulin can cause discomfort.
- Keep your muscles relaxed while injecting, and apply pressure to the site after removing the needle.
- Divide and conquer! If you need to inject large doses of insulin, ease the process by splitting the amount into two.
- Speak to your care team about using a smaller, finer needle – it may help minimise pain.
- Change your needle! Using the same one over and over will make it blunt and painful.
4. Make the switch
If you use syringes, consider changing to a preloaded insulin pen. It’s more accurate and less daunting to use as only the very tip of the needle is visible when injecting.
5. Keep practicing!
Build your confidence and technique by practising between needles – do air shots or inject into fruit. If you’ve just started giving your child needles, or are helping them transition to injecting themselves, invest in a soft toy. These cuddly – and comforting – diabetes helpers have injection sites that kids can practise on.
6. Seek help from the experts
If you are struggling, let your care team know. Remember, they are there to help, not to judge.
By Helen Edwards