Tattoos and Anxiety: A Match Made in Heaven?


I had a lot of questions from bloggers and friends regarding tattoos, the pain and the anxiety that comes with it. The perfect person to answer all your questions is my very lovely friend Dolly so she wrote this post to try and help you out and most of all give you some answers!

At the age of 25, I have suffered from chronic anxiety for over a decade, so I have written this blog (at the request of my darling girl Effi) to explain the link between anxiety and my job as a tattoo artist and also to give you some tips (whether you suffer from any kind of mental illness or not) on how to go about getting tattooed and approaching your artist.

So firstly, let me introduce myself. I’m Dolly, I live in Brighton and was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) when I was 14 years old. Since then I have been on a cocktail of meds, partied hard, tried all types of coping mechanisms and therapy to try and “fix myself”. But here’s the catch, nothing is going to change my brain, things can numb it, ruin it, melt it and fuck it up, but turns out…there’s nothing to fix because I’m NOT BROKEN. To those of you who are suffering, please know that you are not alone, you are not damaged, you are not “fucked up”, and the sooner you can accept that anxiety is not something you are being punished with, and that it’s part of you, I promise it gets a hell of a lot easier to cope with it.

I spent years suffering in silence, not telling the people closest to me, and losing them or pushing them away as a result. Nowadays, I am beyond vocal about it all, if I don’t wanna hang out, it’s not because I hate you, or because I’m boring, or a flake, but maybe it’s just because I can’t deal with that s*** right now and my brain is too busy making up a whole load of scenarios that probably won’t happen, and surrounding yourself with friends who understand that and deal with it appropriately makes life so much easier.

Tattooing for me…was a way of escaping my head. I got my first tattoo the week after my 18th birthday, I was sensible and waited until I was old enough…that doesn’t mean I thought long and hard about what I wanted, nor did I make a good choice when it came to getting a tattoo and who did it. I was clueless, ignorant and just too bloody excited that my mum had said yes! I got tattooed too fast, too young, as a way of overcoming a variety of body hang ups and wanting to cover my body with pretty pictures to distract from the person underneath. I have spent the last couple of years having to fix those mistakes so trust me when I say there is nothing fun about living with shit tattoos, which is why this blog is important.

Now…almost 8 years later, my tattoos are a form of empowerment. No longer do they hide the girl underneath, they do the exact opposite. I have never been more sure of myself, who I am and what I stand for. It’s been a long old journey to get here. It has not been easy, and it will continue to be an uphill struggle. Anxiety doesn’t go away, it just becomes a part of everyday life, and if anyone knows how to own it…it’s me!

So get to know yourself, figure out what makes you tick, what makes you feel really uncomfortable and figure out if it’s something you want to push through and resolve it….or not. Which brings me onto the anxiety hundreds of people are faced when it comes to getting a tattoo, meeting a new artist or even planning a tattoo in the first place.

I have been on both ends of the needle and I know exactly how it feels to feel completely overwhelmed by the whole process, so Effi asked you guys some questions (and i’ll chuck a few in that people often ask me too!) and together we can try and make it as straightforward as possible!

  1. How to find a reputable tattoo artist?

DO YOUR RESEARCH! We live in a glorious world where we have the INTERNET! (I know right?!) It’s useful…if you can…to figure out the kind of style that you’d like your tattoo to be in. Whether it’s traditional, neo-traditional, realistic, watercolour, dotwork etc. These days, most artists specialise in a particular style because there’s so many tattooists to choose from! So it’s best to stick with someone who is best for the job.

Word of mouth is also a pretty good tool for finding an artist that is actually good. People don’t talk kindly about bad tattooists, so listen, pay attention and ask around. Hunt around on instagram, there’s a million hashtags you can search.

Lastly, I cannot stress the importance of following your gut, get out there, look at people’s portfolios, meet artists, book consultations (there’s never a fee or any pressure to book a tattoo for a consultation, it just means you can meet an artist face to face and get to know them!) you’re not only looking for a good artist (although that should always be your priority) but you need to keep your eyes peeled for someone who is really passionate about your project, who makes you feel comfortable and who tattoos in a style that suits your vision.

  1. How to prepare for your first tattoo?

There are two parts to this. Preparing to book your first tattoo and get it designed etc. And what you should do before your actual appointment!

When thinking about your first tattoo, you should consider the following:

  • Where you want your tattoo.
  • How big you want it.
  • Whether you’d like colour or black and grey.
  • What styles you like.
  • What subject matter you want to be included in your tattoo.


Whilst these are all important to have thought about before you get your tattoo, I cannot stress the importance of listening to your artist. This is another reason why it’s good to book a consultation (particularly for your first tattoo) as it gives the artist and you a chance to sit down, discuss options and figure out what’s going to be best for you. It’s important to remember that it’s our work and reputation walking around on you, it’s what we do for a living and most of the time we know what we’re talking about! It’s so so vital to have faith in your tattooist, and this comes from doing your research, looking through portfolios and finding the right artist for the job.

Before your appointment there are a few things I always tell people to do!

  • DON’T BE HUNGOVER (or drunk for that matter) – It is illegal to tattoo anyone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Also, alcohol (even from the night before) thins the blood and can affect the tattooing process and it’s healing. Why you would ever want to get tattooed when you’re already feeling rubbish is beyond be, alas…it happens and it’s not clever!
  • Make sure you’ve eaten. And I don’t just mean half a sandwich or whatever. Real food! Tattooing can seriously affect your blood sugar levels so it’s important to keep your energy up! If you’re in for a long sitting, bring snacks, sweets and fizzy drinks to keep you topped up throughout the day.
  • Bring your I.D. We are required by law to ID anyone who looks like they could be under 25. The legal age for tattooing in the UK is 18. There is no such thing as 17 with parental consent so don’t be fooled by tattooists trying to make a quick buck.
  • Please do not bring a small army of supporters with you! Whilst I understand you might be nervous and want some moral support, pick your favourite friend, someone who has a calming influence! Not all shops allow friends into the tattooing area and in my experience, clients sit wayyyyy better when they come in on their own. Friends often will make you panic and think about the pain because they’re intrigued by what’s going on!
  • Wear appropriate clothing for the area that’s being tattooed! If you’re having your thigh done, it’s not ideal to rock up in skinny jeans. You can ask your artist for advice on what to wear for the area that you’re having done!
  • Bring Cash! Tattooists are not unlike pirates. 90% of us deal in cash only, so be prepared!
  1. How much do they cost and is it per design (size etc.) or per sitting?

Unfortunately there’s no rule with regards to pricing, every artist is different. For instance…I charge by the piece because most of my work gets finished in one sitting. If not, I have a day rate for ongoing large scale work that requires long sittings. Some people charge hourly so it’s something you should discuss in a consultation. All I can say for definite is PLEASE remember that tattoos are permanent, they’re an investment on your body that you’ll have to look at every day for the rest of your natural born lives. If you’re not prepared to spend decent money on it, you are not ready to be tattooed. If you want it badly enough, you’ll save up and wait for the right artist for you.

  1. Where hurts the most / least?

I get asked this a lot and to be honest there’s no 100% legitimate answer. We’re all wired differently so some places hurt people more than others. Typically…ribs and feet are most common when it comes to being “the most painful”…but I do have a lot of clients who think it’s completely fine. My advice is not too different from the last question. This shit is forever, pain is temporary. So have your tattoo where you want it, and where it’ll look best (it’s worth discussing placement with your artist) but….a few days after your tattoo you won’t even remember the pain, if it was that awful people just wouldn’t do it…much less get more than one.

  1. Any tips to get over severe nerves?

Be open about your nerves, remember any tattoo artist has been on the other end of the needle, so we understand! I often recommend bring headphones with you so you can plug into your own music if you’re super nervous, it helps to distract the mind. Get to know your artist, if someone makes you feel uncomfortable…that’s not going to help your anxiety. If you feel relaxed around your artist, you’re going to have a much better experience. After all…that’s what it’s all about! It’s not just about coming in, getting a tattoo, and leaving. We want you to have a nice time…honest!

  1. What’s your best piece of advice for getting a tattoo?
  • Be 100% sure of your motives behind getting a tattoo, it should be a personal choice, not just because all your mates are getting them.
  • Do your research. Make sure you know you’re with the right artist for the piece you’re after.
  • Have faith. If you’ve found yourself a reputable artist who works in a style you love, have faith that your tattoo is going to be the best it can possibly be if you trust that we know what we’re doing.

I hope all of that makes sense. I tried to keep it short and sweet but turns out I have lots to say! I guess all that’s left is that you create your own destiny, the importance of trusting your gut and the universe to lead you on the right path is a gift we were all born with. But it is your choice to be smart about the actions you take. We live in a world where it’s too easy to get tattooed these days, long gone are the underground studios, where tattoos were for sailors and prostitutes. As a result, people are strolling into bad shops, making bad choices and regretting them forever. So be clever about it, make good choices and really think about the permanence of this form of artistry before you take the leap into the land of tattooing….although it’s bloody fun when you get here 😉


You can find my work at the following places!


Thanks for reading ❤

Peace out!

Dolly xo

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