The idea of a permanent physical reminder is the impetus behind so many tattoos – whether that’s a reminder of a song, a loved one, or a frame of mind. For people who struggle with anxiety disorders, these tattoos can be especially potent. [Anxiety tricks your mind: it tells you that the fear you’re feeling is the only thing you will ever feel. It tells you that you’re a burden to the people you love, and that something terrible is about to happen. It tells you that you’re weak or unworthy.
According to a publication from the National Institute of Mental Health, general anxiety disorder “can make daily life feel like a constant state of worry, fear, and dread.” People with GAD may know that worry too much or feel an overstated sense of dread, but they still have trouble containing their feelings. For Samantha, anxiety tells her the sun is gone, and it won’t return.
But for some anxiety sufferers, tattoos have a place in their healing journey. If they can mark their bodies with reminders, and turn to those reminders in their darkest times, maybe they can loosen anxiety’s grip or at least breathe through the grasp.
Quincee Gideon, a licensed psychologist who lives in Los Angeles, has seen people cope with anxiety and chronic illness through their tattoos. “It’s usually centered on having some external representation of an inner pain, control of our bodies, or an intersection of the two,” she says. “When we are anxious or chronically ill, we usually feel like our bodies, nervous systems, and perceptions of danger are betraying us. In some ways, tattooing can be a way to take control again or make our bodies more representative of us.”
Natasha, 25, has had anxiety and other mental health issues since she was a teenager. She started going to therapy when she was 16 after struggling with depression and social anxiety. Later, Natasha’s struggles morphed into panic disorder, which she says affects everything in her life. The disorder makes it hard to leave her house because she’s so worried about suffering a panic attack. This has also led Natasha to issues with self-medication and addiction.
When she’s in the middle of an anxiety attack, Natasha says it’s easy to get stuck on the idea that she is going to be in that mental space forever. To combat that fear, she inked a small crescent moon and accompanying flower on her rib cage as a reminder of the phases of her life, akin to the phases of the moon. As part of coping with her panic disorder, she looks at the moon tattoo and remembers how anyone can turn something difficult into something beautiful that brings them joy.