The Needle-Hater’s Guide to Donating Blood

Think donating blood doesn’t do much good? This statistic will change your mind: If you start donating when you’re 17 years old, you could potentially save more than 1,000 lives in your lifetime. That’s because someone in the U.S. needs blood every two seconds, according to the American Red Cross. And the only place to get blood is through donors. Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of Americans actually donate blood in a given year.

So what’s holding people back? For many adults who are hesitant to donate, it comes down to one thing: a fear of needles. If this sounds like you, rest assured that the American Red Cross has found that most first-time donors with a fear of needles find the donation process easy and relatively painless. Here are some other tips that can help combat any fears:

  • Know what to expect. The unknown is scary, so understand the blood donation process. That way you’ll feel prepared when you get there. And feel free to ask the nurses questions if you’re uncomfortable or nervous at any point along the way.
  • Find a distraction. Thinking about the size of the needle, how much it’s going to hurt going in or staring at it sticking out of your arm is only going to make you panic. So close your eyes and relax, listen to music, read a book or talk with the staff instead. Focus on something else and you won’t even realize what’s going on.
  • Breathe. Most importantly, focus on maintaining your breathing and keeping it slow and steady. In fact, studies show that breathing exercises can boost feelings of relaxation, slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure.
  • Assume the right position. Some donors may faint at the sight of needles, so lying down or elevating your legs can help ease feelings of faintness. If you do fear that you will faint in the process, make sure you let someone know so they are prepared.
  • Talk it out. Rather than keeping your fear of needles a secret, let the staff know that you are nervous. The medical professionals will make you feel more comfortable and will be able to help and distract you during the donation process.
  • Bring support. Many donors bring a friend or close family member with them. It’s a great way to encourage each other and celebrate the donation that you are providing together.
  • Remember the reason. Focus on the lives that you can be helping from just a slight pinch and few seconds of discomfort.

The other reason people may not be donating? They don’t know where to do it. This month, in honor of National Blood Donor Month, head to and enter your zip code to find blood drives near you.

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Photo credit: Dave Herholz

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