I'd rather be the person getting the blood drawn...
October 11, 2009 7:14 PM   Subscribe

How can I control my anxiety and nervousness when performing required venipunctures for my program? I hate drawing blood and experience isn't making it better!

My program is awesome and I love it. It is such a great fit because I love science and lab work.

Unfortunately in order to graduate I have to leave the lab (boo) and go out on the front lines and draw blood. This causes me massive anxiety and it hasn't gone away with more experience.

A little background: before entering this program I considered becoming a phlebotomist so I took a course at my local community college. We had to perform many blood draws and my anxiety actually increased as time went on. I of course opted to not work as a phlebotomist since this anxiety was incredibly bad. This was years ago and my anxiety about drawing blood is still terrible.

Last week in my program I just finished a day of outpatient draws at the hospital. I couldn't sleep some nights because I was dreading performing this duty and even though I was complemented on my technique by the phlebotomist with me, I also got many comments that I was super nervous, couldn't stop shaking, etc and the poor patients noticed too which made me feel super bad because I don't want THEM to feel even more nervous.

I just don't know what I can do to help this. I honestly feel like it is a phobia-level amount of anxiety and I have to do a week long stint drawing blood in a few months. The thought of it makes me sick.

At the end of the day after performing the blood draws, I didn't feel any better and I ended up having to take a Xanax when I got home just to calm down enough to sleep. I am already on Celexa for my anxiety but this triggers me into unbelievable levels.

Does anyone have any advice or tips to help get me through the week of blood draws I have to do? I feel terrible for the patients who are sick and already not feeling good and now they'll have to deal with an incredibly nervous person drawing their blood. I can't fake confidence like everyone is telling me and I can't stop my hand tremors.
posted by rainygrl716 to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is this special anxiety for just this, or more like stage fright or performance anxiety? Maybe beta blockers would help.
posted by floam at 7:20 PM on October 11, 2009

Yeah, I was going to say beta blockers, too. You don't really need to cure your "phobia," since you're not planning to do this for a living--you just need to suppress the outward manifestations for a week. Beta blockers can do that for you.
posted by HotToddy at 7:25 PM on October 11, 2009

Are you in Seattle or close to Seattle? My program offers venipuncture training with an instructor that I bet could TOTALLY help you with this, she's amazing. Lemme know.
posted by tristeza at 7:26 PM on October 11, 2009

Wow, that beta blocker thing just might be what I need to survive the week. It does seem to be a performance anxiety type issue but I can't even let it go afterward even when I am successful.

tristeza, I am actually in Seattle. I wonder if more training would help, though, since I did take a three month class and still feel horrible when I have to draw. I am interested though, especially if she has experience with a situation like mine.
posted by rainygrl716 at 7:31 PM on October 11, 2009

Try a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and visualization on yourself.
1. WHY do you dread drawing blood? What do you fear? What are you telling yourself might happen that scares you so much. Make a list (write it down - not just in your head). Add to it when you think of more.
2. Now look at your thinking in the calm light reason (and far away from patients). For each thought and fear, write out a response that puts in perspective. ("I'm afraid I will puncture a vein and blood with squirt to the ceiling. Response: Done it hundreds of times and it hasn't happened yet. If it does happen, I know how to deal with it. Thought: it is awful if patients notice I am nervous. Response: Even if they do notice, it's probably not a big deal. And if it does make them more nervous, it will only last for a minute or two and then they will be done. Worrying about their nervousness just make me more nervous - I should let them take care of themselves so I can be calmer (which will help them too)
3. Create a visualization of you successfully doing a series of blood draws. First picture yourself doing one, and as each negative or fearful thought comes up, tell yourself what ever response you worked out. Once you have practiced putting into perspective and not agitating yourself, then work on visualizing doing it successfully. Include in your story some problems or obstacles and visualize yourself overcoming them successfully. Practice in your head, day after day, doing the blood draws calmly and successfully. In the beginning practicing will make you anxious - when you finish one round, do some deep breathing or relaxation exercise to clear your mind.
3b. If you find yourself worrying about this at other times, remind yourself that you have a plan - add the worries to your list from step 1 and tell yourself to let go of it until it is time work on it.
4. When the time comes, you will have done so many successful blood draws in your head that real life will be a piece of cake.
posted by metahawk at 7:37 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

One tip for when you're doing it... don't hold your breath as you're doing the venepuncture. It will make you feel more anxious. Breathe in and hold for a second just as you insert the needle and then breathe away as normal. If you continue to hold your breath, as many do when anxious, it will make it much worse.

Just something I learned many years ago when I had to take blood for a living also.
posted by taff at 9:05 PM on October 11, 2009

Beta blockers are quite harmless as far as behaviour-altering medication is concerned. I have a friend who took them for his driving test and they helped a lot, taking the edge off just enough for him to perform at his normal level. You don't want to start relying on them too often but this sounds more like a one time deal anyway.

And breathing helps, too.
posted by Orchestra at 1:43 AM on October 12, 2009

I have never drawn blood, but I know that performance anxiety re: important presentations can be improved a lot by just giving the presentation in front of a friend...even if he doesn't know anything about the field. Might be similar in this case.

So, could you practise on friends and/or family? If your anxiety concerns your patients' reactions, then it might help if you try out your skill with familiar subjects who definitely won't complain or get angry or think less of you just because you're a bit nervous (e.g. your mom/sister/friend). That might put you on a positive feedback loop.

P.S. And here's a bit of reassurance from a patient's perspective: Even though it often takes the nurse/Dr. several minutes to find the right vein on my arm, and I've even fainted after blood draws, I still don't mind drawing blood at all. I can remember several nurses/Dr.s getting nervous/sweaty/shaky when drawing blood from me (apparently you're not alone), and you know what? I always found it very endearing. To me, it means that person really cares about (possibly) hurting me - which is a rare thing in the medical field IMHO.
posted by The Toad at 7:25 AM on October 12, 2009

Update: Tomorrow is my last day of my week long blood drawing experience. I opted to try the beta blockers as suggested above and they have been AMAZING! My doctor gave me Atenolol.

Of course my first day I was super nervous, but on the medicine I was able to complete blood draws without shaking at all and without flushing. My mind stayed clear because my body wasn't going into overdrive and now I feel completely comfortable going in and drawing blood from a patient. Even when I miss the vein and am unable to get the blood, my body doesn't overreact so my mind is able to stay focused and clear. It has honestly been a miracle drug for me. Today I missed a few times near the end of the day and I'm able to just let it go. With no threat of anxiety attacks, my mind doesn't dwell on it at all.

I completely recommend Atenolol for anyone experiencing a similar situation. I honestly can't believe how much fun I've had this week. Free from the anxiety, I have been able to interact with the patients and get to know them. Tomorrow I even volunteered to come in super early to help with inpatient rounds and the main phlebotomist I was working with said I should apply to draw blood if my lab work doesn't work out because I have such great confidence.

Thank you all for the advice. This week would have been such a disaster without the medicine to get me over that initial anxiety. I didn't even know beta blockers could be used for such things but I'm a firm believer now!
posted by rainygrl716 at 5:49 PM on April 29, 2010

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