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Sit Back, Relax: Ultimate Guide on How to Handle Tattoo Anxiety

Sit Back, Relax: Ultimate Guide on How to Handle Tattoo Anxiety
Guides10 min Read


We tell you how to take care of those first tattoo jitters whether it's budget concerns, pain panics, parental pressure, or permanence problems.

There are many people who don’t give getting their first tattoo a second thought. They jump right in and do it. For many others, that certainly isn’t the case. We all confront important life changes or moments differently, and getting a new tattoo, especially a first, is one of those times when unexpected anxiety or stress can step in.

But that definitely doesn’t have to be the case! In this guide, we give the best advice we can for those who are looking for information on how to get over pre tattoo nerves or how to get over tattoo anxiety in general. Whether you are suffering from a fear of tattoos, or your nerves are just a bit shaky, or needles totally freak you out...all of those feelings are totally understandable and we’re here to help.

Before Appointment First Tattoo Anxiety

If you’re extremely nervous before tattoo experiences, the best advice I can give is to find a tattoo artist whose work you love, but who also makes you feel good during the consultation before the appointment. If you get bad vibes from an artist...walk away. Your first tattoo should be an awesome experience no matter what.

So focus on gearing up to those excited stomach feelings instead of those nauseous anxiety stomach feelings...hopefully these next two steps will show you how to calm nerves before tattoo appointments.

If you're interested, check out our Comprehensive First Tattoo Guide.

First Step: Figure Out Why You’re Having First Tattoo Anxiety

There are many varied reasons why people can feel anxious about a tattoo appointment. For some it’s a concern about tattoo costs. For others, their first tattoo jitters stem from the thought of needles or the pain involved. Permanence can also be a huge factor for people, as well as worries about how others, like parents, partners, or friends, may perceive the choice to get a new tattoo.

To get past your first tattoo anxiety, and learn how to ease it, you first need to objectively figure out where your fear is coming from so that you can embrace it, find some peace of mind, and move on to this exciting moment in your life.

Second Step: Figure Out How to Handle Your Tattoo Stress Factor

Once you know why you’re kind of freaking out, that’s awesome. Because now you can break down your fear and confront it. Below we go through the ins and outs of budget fears, pain panics, doubts stemming from the permanence, and the angst inducing pressures of societal expectations.

Budget Fears:

If tattoo cost is the cause of your stress, make sure that when you set up your appointment that you talk to your artist about your budget and what you are capable of spending. This is totally natural, and they will completely understand. Keep in mind that if you’re in a country that tips tattooists after a good tattoo, like the United States, you’ll need to add on around 20% to the artist's final estimate.

And if your dream tattoo is a bit too expensive...that’s totally cool! An artist can either split it up into more sessions for you, or you can take more time to save up the cash. Budget fears are 100% normal, and something you can manage. No worries.

Pain Panics:

Yes, tattoos are painful. But there are many different types of pain, levels of pain, and all of them are something you can manage with a little practical know-how. To be perfectly honest: your fears are probably making more out of the pain than you will actually physically feel in the moment. When you get a tattoo, your endorphins kick in...these are your brain's natural pain relievers. If that’s not enough, ask your artist during your consultation if they would be willing to use a numbing spray for your skin.` `

Another thing you should keep in mind is that the pain is temporary. When you add on emotional stress, you’re actually adding to the physical pain of getting a tattoo. Your body is extremely receptive to the power of your brain...which means by accepting the pain, and embracing pain as a natural process of life, and getting tattooed, you’re actually becoming stronger and will notice the pain less. You have the internal power to create pain relief.

Plus, all of that pain will completely be gone as soon as your tattoo is finished...and you’ll notice that all those negative feelings are immediately replaced with the incredible joy of receiving your brand new first tattoo.

Permanence Doubts:

This may sound pretty bad but...tattoos are no longer so permanent. Tattoo removal technology is becoming so advanced that even the pain of removal, the cost of laser treatment, and the healing process is all becoming vastly better than in previous decades.

Lital Din tattoo Berlin
Lital Din tattoo Berlin

My advice? If permanence is your fear then take all the time you need to make sure that this is your choice. You don’t have to feel pressure of any form: your body, your rules.

Getting a tattoo should empower you. It should make you feel even more awesome about your body than you did before. So there’s no reason to rush. Find the perfect design, artist, studio, date, and you’ll find all those fears of permanence drift away because you’ll be making the right choice for you. And if you don’t feel good about it, then don’t do it! It’s totally okay to do what feels right for you.

Get the perfect custom tattoos with this guide: How to Talk Custom Tattoo Art With Your Artist

Fears of Societal Expectation:

Thankfully, this big ol’ fear is also getting pushed to the wayside. How society viewed tattoos has drastically changed over the past ten years. Way more people are accepting of them and even employers are becoming more lenient about them. Even the U.S. Military has loosened up their restrictions because so many people are finally seeing tattoos for what they are: an awesome way to express yourself.

There are definitely still some cultures out there, as well as older generations, who aren’t so down with the tattoo trend overtaking the globe...but...again, this experience, getting your first tattoo is about you. Do what feels right and don’t let anyone shame you for wanting to indulge in one of the most beautiful forms of self-expression. Mindfulness is key here. Just be authentic to yourself and you’ll be all good.

During Appointment First Tattoo Anxiety

Again, tattoos and anxiety are totally normal. For those who know they’ll be feeling those jitters during their appointment we’ll give you some tips on how to stay calm while getting a tattoo. And I can’t stress this enough, but finding the right artist for your first piece is of the utmost importance. They should make you feel comfortable and not pressured.

Seek out a tattooist who understands your fears and can answer them in a professional manner. And, obviously, if you’re crazy about their art...that will make so much of your anxiety disappear.

Coping with the Pain of Your First Tattoo

How to relax during a tattoo may start with knowing how to cope with and minimize tattoo pain. As we mentioned before there are many ways to deal with the agony you may feel during your appointment. If the idea that your endorphins will really help your body naturally deal with the pain isn’t that comforting, or you know from experience that you’re unable to move past the emotional tension caused by physical pain, ask your tattooist if they can use numbing spray. Most tattooists do not carry this in their studio, so be prepared to bring your own.

We often hear, “I want a tattoo but I’m scared of the pain.” So it’s completely normal to have those feelings. But we honestly promise that it won’t be as terrible as you think it will be and that it will be over. At some point. We can also promise that if you do your research and find that perfect fit of a tattooist, that the pain will be 100% worth it. Keep all these things in mind and keep repeating them in your head while you’re getting tattooed. Concentrate on the positive, not the temporary negative.

Tattoo by Rob Hamilton #RobHamilton
Tattoo by Rob Hamilton #RobHamilton

Taking Xanax Before Tattoo Appointments

Yes, you can take Xanax before getting a tattoo if, and that’s a very big if, you know how you’ll react to the medication and have taken it before for similar anxiety issues. We’d love it if it were your own personal medication too but, hey, we’re not judging. Taking anti-anxiety medication before tattoo appointments can definitely help if you’re really truly sure you want this brand new first tattoo but are really struggling with serious stress.

Our advice is just to be very careful and, again, find a tattooist who you love. You’ll be in good hands floating on Cloud 9.

Fear of Needles

If you’re scared to get tattoo appointments because you suffer from a severe fear of needles, no stress. We totally understand. Honestly, being at the doctor and getting stabbed with giant metal pointy af tubes is not our cup of tea either. We often hear, “I want a tattoo but I’m scared of needles.” and this is also very very normal.

If you’re looking for advice on how to get a tattoo if you’re scared of needles, we’ve definitely got some. First, this should not feel like or be like a medical experience. This is not some weird clinical doctor dude setting you up for impersonal contact. Getting stabbed with a flu shot is cool cuz you don’t get sick….but it’s nothing like the satisfaction of getting tattooed. A flu shot you’ll have to repeat in another 12 months...but that new tattoo? It’ll be there forever and you only have to repeat if you want. Plus, you should admire the work and vibe of your tattooist enough that you’ll feel comfortable resting your fate in their hands. I can’t really say that I’ve ever felt that way with doctors….

But there’s other ways to manage a fear of needles: bring a friend. Distraction is a great way to help you get through this. You don’t have to watch the artist set-up. They know what they’re doing and looking at all the needles may just aggravate your anxiety. Simply. Look. Away. Fight the curiosity and instead perhaps focus on the drawing your artist has made...look at the stencil on your skin and focus on how beautiful it will look when it’s finished.

I’ll also mention that medical needles and tattoo needles are very very different. They serve different purposes. A medical needle goes far deeper than a tattoo needle ever will: “Subcutaneous injections are administered in the fat layer, underneath the skin. Intramuscular injections are delivered into the muscle.” A tattoo needle, on the other hand, only goes into the dermis layer. This means a tattoo needle goes only 1-2 millimeters into the skin, while medical needles go anywhere from 3-5 millimeters all the way to 2 centimeters. Pull out a ruler, and you’ll see the difference. You’ll also feel the a good way!

After Appointment First Tattoo Anxiety

Anxiety after getting tattooed hopefully, in most cases, shouldn’t happen. But if it does...go back up to that Step 1 we talked about: figure out where your anxiety or fears are coming from. Is it because you think you made a mistake? Is it because you don’t know how to take care of your new tattoo? Are you worried your parents are going to be super pissed?

Post tattoo anxiety shouldn’t be the case if you followed the advice above. But if you find yourself in this situation, learn from it. If you’re not happy with the tattoo, make sure to find a better artist next time. You can even find an artist you feel more satisfied to fix your piece if you’re still unhappy with it after the tattoo heals. And, of course, tattoo removal is always an option. It’s okay! Life happens. We’re strong enough to move on and do better, you know?

But if you’re stressed about parents or friends or some outside opinion...don’t listen to any of that. I can’t say this enough: your body, your choice. This moment should be empowering and transformative. It should give you confidence. Plus, you should realize that suddenly you’re part of an entire community and culture that absolutely adores this art form. Leave the haters to be negative Nancy’s on their own. Ain’t got time for that!

Here are some other guides to help with some super common stressors:

First Tattoo Anxiety: Straight to the Point

Simply said: find a really good artist you trust, admire, and who treats you with respect. Listen to your inner voice. Take your time. Do research. Ask questions. Brush off any outside pressure. And definitely get excited! This is an awesome moment in your life!! Take a large.

Anxiety and tattoos can often go hand in hand for a lot of people, so don’t think you’re alone. So many people are scared of getting a tattoo. Even sometimes hardcore collectors will tell you that although they love the art form so much...they don’t really look forward to the process. We are, after all, human! And kudos to you for overcoming fear. Tattoos are definitely worth the effort.

However, the fact that you’re reading this, and doing the research, is a great start! It means you’re taking this step very seriously and that you want to enjoy it as much as possible! And you totally should have as much fun as possible during your first tattoo experience. It’s something that you’ll never forget. Take all of the advice given above and you’re sure to do great. Then when you get super old and wrinkly, you’ll take a good look at your skin and know you lived life to the fullest, freest, and completely authentic to you. Nothin’ better than that.

Anatta Vela
Written byAnatta Vela

Social Producer, Journalist, Editor, and Curator I am here to support you 🌻 IG: @lathe.of.heaven