There are so many effective ways to deal with anxiety, as well as small changes that can help you feel better over time. These include healthy things like meditation and yoga, getting more sleep, and managing stress, as well as therapy — and sometimes even medication. But in some small way, getting a tattoo can help with anxiety, too.
Of course, it's certainly not necessary to get a tattoo in order to deal with anxiety. And it's important to keep in mind that a tattoo won't fix the underlying cause. "To manage anxiety a person must learn how to calm their physiological arousal and their associated thoughts," Joshua Klapow, PhD, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. "Once they do that (typically through cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness instruction, or the like) then a symbol can be used to cue them into that practice. The symbol thus is not calming alone — it is a reminder to do the work to calm themselves down."
In addition to being a symbol of calm, the process of getting a tattoo can be meaningful, too. From his personal experience, Leo Palomino, a tattoo artist at Atomic Tattoos in Orlando, has noticed that getting a tattoo often allows people "to feel in control by making a choice that affects their happiness and body," he tells Bustle.
If you have anxiety, start by seeking out the help of a therapist, and learning coping skills. And then consider getting a tattoo, especially if you think it would be that last little finishing touch. Here, a few tattoo ideas that can help with anxiety.
1. A Semicolon
If you've seen the semicolon tattoo floating around, it was likely inspired by Project Semicolon, which is an organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide that uses the semicolon as their symbol.
Since the organization was founded in 2013, however, this punctuation mark has been adopted by those who struggle with other mental health issues. As Palomino says, it can even indicate anxiety awareness.
And therapists agree. "I think project semicolon is an important movement. It helps spread the word for mental health and suicide awareness," Nicole Lambert, LMHC, NCC, of Movement Counseling Services, tells Bustle. "I do think that for some, it can be a helpful way to manage mental health symptoms. [This tattoo] can remind them that they are not alone, to keep pushing, and if they have something to live for."
2. A Meaningful Quote
A small reminder or saying — especially in a place that can be seen everyday — can be comforting, too. "Find one that speaks to you or even create your own," Palomino says. When anxiety strikes, simply take a peek at it for a boost of confidence.
As Lambert says, "Inspiring quotes ... can be great tattoo ideas for those with anxiety. However, the tattoo should mean something personal to that individual so that it is more likely to work in helping the person manage their anxiety."
3. A Happy Memory
If a tattoo conjures up a happy memory, it may serve as a comforting reminder for anyone who struggles with anxiety. For example, one of Palomino's clients chose to get an iris tattoo because her mom loved gardening, and that was her favorite flower. "For her, she associated the iris with her mom, which brought her peace and she found it calming."
4. An Inside Joke
Along those same lines, a tattoo that reminds the wearer of a hilarious inside joke — such as one shared with a friend, a partner, a family member, or even themselves — can be quite grounding.
This was the case for another one of Palomino's clients, who chose to get a pancake tattoo so that, no matter where she was or how she was feeling, she would be able to look at it and be reminded of something light-hearted.
5. A Peaceful Scene
While it's possible to look at a peaceful scene and derive a sense of calm without getting it tattooed on your body, some people like to go that extra step. "Tattoos are very personal and so is art," Palomino says. So obviously, the end result is different for everyone.
You might, however, think along the lines of a seascape, a mountain scene, or something floral — whatever brings a sense of peace, or provides a strong, grounded feeling. And try not to settle on any old thing.
"Long before you get the tattoo, decide what symbol is a good cue for you to engage in the practice of calming ourself down," Dr. Klapow says. "Have a story behind the tattoo. Why does it remind you to calm down? How does it remind you to calm down? What does the tattoo itself symbolize to you? If you can answer those questions then you are in a better position to get a tattoo that not only has meaning, but also is likely to be a better cue to relax."
6. Patterned Art
Many people feel a sense of balance and calm by looking at patterned art, such as a mandala. "You can get lost focusing on them, which allows [you] to shift [your] focus away from the environment," Palomino says. For that reason, they might be a great choice for anyone dealing with anxiety.
7. A Strong Animal
Tattoos are personal, so it's up the to wearer to decide which animal brings them a sense of calm. For example, "one person may associate bees with being strong, determined, and defying odds because of their small wings and ability to carry 122 times their own weight in pollen," Palomino says. "But for others, bees may invoke stress and anxiety."
Do you feel a connection with a tenacious bee, a sturdy elephant, or a soaring bird? Once you land on the perfect animal for you, getting it tattooed on your body can serve as a nice reminder of the type of personality traits you'd like to work on developing within yourself.
8. A Calming Word
Of course, nothing beats a simple, calming word when you just need a quick reminder. Classics include words like "breathe," "calm," "peace," and other anxiety-reducing mantras.
"Remember however, that unlike a bracelet, ring, etc., the tattoo stays even when you develop other cues for relaxation in your life," Dr. Klapow says. "This is why it is very important for that tattoo to represent more than just a cue. Maybe it’s a reminder of the need for you to create peace in your life. Maybe it’s a cue that says you are in control of your emotions. Maybe it’s a reminder that whatever state your are in, you have the ability to calm your fears."
The meaning may even change as you get older. And that's OK.
9. A Peaceful Color
For an even more calming effect, consider the color of your tattoo. "Colors can have an effect on your mood and decrease anxiety," Palomino says. "Blues and purples are best. There is a lot of research based on which colors are beneficial, how, and why."
Keep in mind, though, that things like this will only work once you're already on your way to dealing with anxiety. "When you are feeling anxious, looking at the tattoo [may] not calm you down," Dr. Klapow says. "It will remind you of the important shifts in thinking and breathing that you need to engage in to calm down. In this way, the tattoo shape or form is only as important as it serves as the reminder to you."
So make an effort to treat your anxiety effectively, with the help of therapist. You can also reach out to a partner, take great care of yourself, build up your support system, deal with stress — and maybe even take medication, if that feels right for you. But in terms of small reminders and ways to feel comforted on a daily basis after the work is done, a tattoo may just do the trick.