How can I get to be less squeamish about blood?
March 8, 2013 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Just talking too much about bleeding, shots, or giving blood can make me woozy. This sucks. What can I do to get a stronger stomach about such things? My only thought is desensitization through completely horrific google image searches, but I'd rather there be some other ideas.
posted by davebug to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This article (no pictures) talks about desensitization and something called applied tension. Tightening your muscles to keep from fainting (learned from a therapist).

I'd say seek out someone who specializes in treating phobias.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:45 PM on March 8, 2013

Get a job or volunteer in a hospital or clinic.
posted by karlos at 3:00 PM on March 8, 2013

Best answer: IANAD. But this sounds like a pretty classic vasovagal reaction to me -- where in response to some stimulus (in your case, talking about anything blood-related), your nervous system essentially sends a signal that says "Drop heart rate and/or blood pressure now!", which makes you feel dizzy.

I found this 2002 article from Circulation -- I think you should be able to view and download it for free. Briefly, these researchers found that when people crossed their legs and tensed their leg muscles, abdominal muscles, and buttocks, they were able to stop themselves from having a vasovagal reaction. (Muscle tension helps keep your blood pressure from dropping.)

In response to this article, another researcher noted that similar muscle-tensing maneuvers had been successfully used with gradual exposure therapy to get rid of anxiety-provoked vasovagal reactions entirely.

Gradual exposure therapy means what it sounds like. You start with something that makes you just a little bit anxious or woozy, expose yourself to it until it doesn't bother you anymore, and work your way up step-by-step to something that would (right now) cause you to pass out.

So you might start with, I don't know, imagining getting a paper cut. Then you might move up to looking at a picture of someone with a paper cut. And so forth, until you've worked your way up to actually giving blood.

If I understand the article response correctly, then their idea is that you tense the lower half of your body during each step of the exposure, to keep yourself from getting dizzy. That way, your body and brain learn not to associate the stimulus with dizziness. Your brain eventually learns to stop sending the "Drop blood pressure now!" signal in response to the stimulus.

Pretty neat idea.

You might want to talk to a therapist who does behavioral therapy. They can help you work out the details of how to go about the gradual exposure.
posted by snowmentality at 3:19 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Get a group of friends together and go and donate blood as a group. This worked for a friend who was a bit squeamish. The advantage is you get support and peer pressure, the converse is people around if you get freaked out. The other bonus is blood donated. Consider whether you are really up for this first.
posted by biffa at 3:37 PM on March 8, 2013

I like Biffas' suggestion. I'd also suggest looking on Youtube for old PSAs and instructional videos about giving blood. If it's presented in a very clinical, non-gross manner like that, it probably won't freak you out as much. That's the kind of desensitization that could maybe be good for you. If you search for phlebotomy training on Youtube, you get a bunch of pretty bland-looking videos, including one were students practice on artificial arms.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:42 PM on March 8, 2013

I've had amazing results by running folks through this visualization:

Imagine you are sitting in a cinema. You are the only one in the cinema. In front of you is a blank screen. Above and behind you there is a projection room.

You're sitting in a seat near the middle. See yourself sitting there, waiting for the show to begin. Next, imagine floating out of your body, and up into the projection room behind you. From there in the projection room, you can see the screen, and you can see yourself sitting down there in the seat in the middle of the cinema.

Now imagine that a film begins to play slowly. The film is of a situation in which your phobia manifests. If you feel frightened or distressed you can stop it instantly.

From the projection booth, watch yourself watching the film.

Change the film to black and white. Now make it very small on the screen. Now try adding a comic element, maybe some goofy narration, or a Monty Python-esque foot coming down and stomping everything.

Start the film again, and let it be a little bit longer, to show you a little more of your phobia. Again, if it causes you any distress, you can stop it. Remember: you are watching yourself from the projection booth.

When you get to the end, run the film backwards. You will see everything happening in reverse: people will walk backwards, things will move backwards. Run the film back to the start.

Now run the film forward, but do it really fast, taking only one or two seconds to do it. Then run it backwards just as quickly.

If you need to you can run the film again and again, each time changing something about it until you feel comfortable thinking about the phobic situation.
posted by Specklet at 3:46 PM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you associate blood with pain or injury or scary situations? I see you have or are about to have a baby, which would definitely be a trigger.

My husband is super squeamish about every little paper cut or shaving nick, and we talked about it and discovered that it's a fear response for him. I explained that having periods has made me far more blase about minor injuries because I'm desensitized by the regularity of menstrual flow.

Can you talk to your wife about, say, how she feels about blood-shedding every month and see if that helps with the feeling of squeamishness?
posted by vickyverky at 4:30 PM on March 8, 2013

I went with friends to donate blood to try to get over my issues with feeling faint from exposure to it and it was awful. It was way worse than I expected and the person drawing my blood told me to please not donate again—I think she was kind of a jerk about it but it was a pain for everyone involved that I almost passed out and threw up through the whole thing. My friends all felt fine and couldn't do a damn thing for me, so I was embarrassed and it made getting blood drawn in the future into an even worse experience. I wish I had gone with snowmentality's suggestions instead!

YMMV, naturally, but as someone who recently had to design stuff for a medical group and almost couldn't do it because of abstract pictures of veins, I don't think jumping into giving blood is a good starting point if you're easily affected by stuff like that like I am. (Oddly, menstrual blood doesn't bother me at all, who knows why.) And working/volunteering in a hospital sounds pretty advanced too!
posted by thesocietyfor at 5:00 PM on March 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Throughout my childhood and into my late teens I was a fainter at the sight of blood. I finally figured out that it related to feeling not in control when it occurred to me that dealing with my periods didn't make me woozy and I had no trouble cleaning and bandaging the bloody scrapes of the kids I babysat.

I eventually traced my phobia back to having witnessed a medical emergency as a toddler (the first fainting I can date with any accuracy was about a year later) - a situation in which Scary Things Involving Blood were happening to a family member (everything was fine, but my toddler psyche didn't understand that). This contributed to overcoming my squeamishness, but the realization that it was about being in control was the bigger part of the solution for me.

I wouldn't go along with the suggestion to go donate blood with some friends (honestly, my Inner Fainter is shuddering at the idea - there is so much stigma around this kind of phobia from within the medical community and I fell out of more than one chair while having blood drawn as a child because telling a kid to just be brave and look away is not actually how to prevent a vasovagal reaction noI'mnotbitter), but otherwise I think you have a good start on things to think about and to try.

Sorry I don't have a step-by-step plan for you, but I hope it helps to know it can be done. I even had ended up working as a home care aide for a few years and dealt with things that would once have made me squeam my little heart out, but there were lots of baby steps in between.
posted by camyram at 6:37 PM on March 8, 2013

IANAD but my sister has/had fairly severe vasovagal reactions to seeing blood. She once passed out upon seeing a finger injury and ended up having to get stitches in the back of her head. I would caution you against any kind of self-led desensitization process just for safety's sake. At the very least, make sure you have someone around to watch out for if you actually vagal out.
posted by Polyhymnia at 4:36 AM on March 9, 2013

Blood is fascinating! It delivers oxygen and nutrients, and removes cell waste! Blood lives in this stuff called plasma! Blood even has a cool shape under a microsocope. Also, the concept of blood types stems (possibly) from scientific racism.

Replace your fear with knowledge. Afraid of spiders? Dude, spiders are amazing. Anyway, back to blood:

Start with watching some amazing videos all about blood. Then read some HowStuffWorks articles on blood and white blood cells. White blood cells are awesome. Move on to how / why scars are formed, and so on!
posted by blahtsk at 10:07 AM on March 9, 2013

Speaking solely from personal experience here, but for whatever it's worth...I've always been very squeamish about non-fake blood/gore, and recently actually tried the "horrible google image search" desensitization technique on myself.

This did have a positive effect in the sense that I am now much better at handling photos and videos of traditionally squick-provoking stimuli (in fact, there are a couple blogs I now enjoy reading that regularly feature bizarre/gross imagery; i.e., stuff that would have made me feel physically ill a couple months ago now just makes me go "WOW THAT IS FASCINATING!").

Unfortunately, though, my newfound badassery seems limited to stuff viewed on a screen. It has not carried over into real life at all. I had a nasty whittling accident (of the ER-and-stitches-requiring type) back in April that kept me home from work for 3 days afterward...not because of the pain but because I would get faint whenever anyone in my vicinity started describing their own past injuries or even just abstractly talking about blood.

Thankfully that has leveled off somewhat, but in general if someone either describes or shows me evidence of actual injury to their person you're liable to find me sitting on the floor real soon afterward. The things I've found that help stop the reaction from progressing to "even more embarrassing than sitting on the floor" are:

(1) Humor/hypothetical escalation of a situation to ridiculous levels. E.g., my SO is extremely good at taking an existing scenario and describing it with more and more hilariously gross elements ("now imagine the [gross thing] is covered in mayonnaise. Also, a dog is pooping on it!") to the point where I start laughing, and that can often stop the fainty/nauseous business in its tracks.

(2) Not getting dehydrated. Or overly hungry. Or sleep-deprived. Or overheated. All of those factors can hinder your body's ability to regulate blood pressure, and mine is much more likely to drop in the event of even a minor Noxious Stimulus if I'm not drinking enough water or if I only got 3 hours of sleep, etc.

(3) Not trying to be a hero, i.e., if you feel like you need to sit down...sit the heck down!

(4) Adopt a "documentarian" persona during gross/scary situations. There is no way I could have remained as lucid as I did during my ER visit if I'd not brought my iphone and used it to take disgusting pictures during the process of being stitched up! Somehow the very idea of taking photos helped create a level of distance between self and the horror of the situation, possibly because it required a perspective shift from "pained and bleeding accident victim" to "observer/photographer".

...and there may be others, but I can't think of them now. Bottom line: desensitization-via-Google can be helpful, but it may not carry over into real-life situations. And in real-life situations, you may not be able to eliminate squeamishness, but you can at least control other variables (like sleep, hydration, etc.) that might help curb the more unpleasant aspects of said squeamishness.
posted by aecorwin at 1:14 PM on May 24, 2013

« Older Help me refresh my life!   |   Divorce/Custody Records from the 1970s? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.