The news that a COVID vaccine may be available for some of us soon has vaccines and injections at the forefront of our minds. When will the vaccine be ready? Does this mean this pandemic will actually end one day? How do I get vaccinated?

For those of us with children who hate needles (and let’s be honest, for us grown-ups who hate them, too), there may be another concern on our minds: The pain of injections.

Well, there’s hope. A new study from The University of California, Irvine (UCI) found that there is an extremely easy way to decrease the pain of injections and needles by a significant amount. It’s something that we all have access to, it’s free and honestly, it’s something we probably would all like to do a little more of right now: a smile.

Researchers worked with 231 people who received injections of saline (salt water) via the same needle size that the flu shot is administered with. Participants were asked to either keep a neutral face, to smile slightly, to Duchene-smile (a smile in which the corners of the mouth lift and crows feet area of the eyes wrinkle) or to grimace. People then reported how much the injections hurt using a pain scale.

They found that people in the Duchene-smile group and the grimace group experienced almost 40% and 39% less pain than the slight-smile and neutral face groups respectively. What’s more, the people in the Duchene-smile group maintained a lower heart rate throughout the procedure.

Principal Investigator and UCI professor of psychological science, Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., said, “When facing distress or pleasure, humans make remarkably similar facial expressions that involve activation of the eye muscles, lifting of the cheeks and baring of the teeth. We found that these movements, as opposed to a neutral expression, are beneficial in reducing discomfort and stress.”

Fearing needles is fairly common. About 20% of the population has some degree of fear around injections, and 10% actually suffer from trypanophobia, a condition characterized as an excessive amount of fear toward needles.

People with trypanophobia may experience:

  • Fainting or convulsions during or after needle exposure
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hypersensitivity to needle pain

If you or your child experience these symptoms and this level of fear, talking to a health care provider is certainly warranted. The smiling and grimacing probably won’t be a cure-all; but it could help, in addition to other measures recommended by your healthcare team.

So the next time you or your child get a vaccine, bring on the smiles. Remember, big smiles that lift the corner of your mouth up and crinkle the side of your eyes work best. Tell jokes, watch a funny movie or just get into a silly mood: Whatever works to get you smiling.

(Can we please request a study that tells us that getting ice cream after the injection helps, too? Thanks in advance.)