I love to joke about the correlation between folks with mental illnesses and getting body modifications. The internet loves to joke about it too, with a bevy of honestly hilarious memes about tattoo therapy, mental breakdown piercings, and everything in-between. But I do think there is a general correlation between folks who do struggle with mental health issues and finding agency, self expression, and empowerment via body modification. But sometimes, this also means struggling with our modifications as well.
While I don’t have an anxiety disorder, I do struggle with anxiety as a symptom of BPD and CPTSD. And I have many friends, colleagues, and clients who struggle with various forms anxiety as well. This anxiety can sometimes creep in and effect our experiences with our body piercings, sometimes even going so far as to impact our healing processes. So today I want to look closer at having and healing piercings when we struggle with anxiety, and offer some tips to make the process hopefully a little easier.
Perhaps the most common way I see anxiety present when clients are healing piercings is feeling anxious over if their piercings are healing properly or correctly. And I think almost everyone with piercings experiences this feeling of anxiety and worry at some point during the healing process- that’s totally normal. But for folks with anxiety, this can actually become detrimental to the piercing healing. Folks are so worried about a piercing being clean that they clean it 7 or 10 times every single day- and end up causing irritation bumps and issues from over cleaning. I see clients who worry about jewelry falling out, and thus touch their piercing the check if its still there dozens of times a day. Inadvertently causing irritation and issues from touching and bumping it around.
Most often, I see this become a big issue after a client has gotten an irritation bump. See, piercings aren’t all going to heal perfectly. Sometimes we are going to get bumps on our piercings- it happens! But for many clients their anxiety convinces them that one single bump means they are failing at healing, their piercing is horribly infected, or they are going to loose the entire piercing. In this anxiety they become obsessed with checking the piercing to see if there’s improvement or what’s going on, and cleaning it to try to heal it. But this can lead to clients really roughly handling their piercing to see what’s going on (yanking their whole ear forward in the mirror to see the back of a helix, or pulling their navel jewelry up and out to look inside their navel) which causes a ton of irritation on its own. Or, they turn to the internet and try a lot of unsafe “home bump remedies” which also just make things worse.
These aren’t the only ways anxiety can impact our healing process, but they are some of the most common ones I see. And if you have anxiety, or you see yourself reflected in any of these behaviors- it’s ok! These can be perfectly normal responses to struggling with anxiety surrounding your healing body piercing. But they can also hurt your piercing- so we want to find ways to work around them.
For me one of the biggest things is communication, knowledge, and reassurance. Many clients simply aren’t super informed about what’s normal and what’s not, and even if they are, when it comes to your own body it’s easy to panic. If you have anxiety, I suggest telling your piercer that when you get pierced and mentioning you are worried about the healing process. A good piercer won’t mind explaining things more in-depth to you initially. This can also set a good foundation for more communication during the healing process. Before you panic and start putting weird things on your piercing or messing around with it- message your piercer! If you are struggling with keeping your hands off your piercings or checking them- message your piercer! They can probably offer you some reassurance and peace of mind that you and your piercing is ok, and work with you to figure out how to help you cope with your anxiety in ways that work for you. I also think knowledge can be very beneficial- and understanding how piercings heal and why irritation bumps form can help you feel less anxious and worried when healing doesn’t go exactly as expected.
Piercings As A Fidget
Anxiety doesn’t always effect our piercing so directly either. Often times we are dealing with anxiety surrounding other areas of our life, and part of how that presents is needing things to fidget or play with. And our piercings can easily become one of those things. We twist and play with our earrings when we are focused or stressed, we chew on the backs of our labret piercings when we are nervous. We compulsively adjust our septum during the day. Whatever the behavior, our piercings can often become an outlet for anxiety or a stim to help us when we feel a little overwhelmed. But, sometimes these behaviors can cause irritation or issues for our piercing or be unhealthy for our body. One of the most popular ways folks use piercings as a stim is with oral piercings- chewing on them, running them along their teeth, or fidgeting with them. But these are behaviors that can not only irritate our piercing but also be very unhealthy for our teeth and gums.
Now there are some piercings that you could safely fidget with. If a piercing is well healed and stable, and has jewelry that is secure, and you’ve found lightly playing with it or stimming with it doesn’t cause any irritation then you are safe to continue. I know many clients who choose to wear specific jewelry in their stretched ears or their septums just to be able to use for this purpose. But if you are, please understand that these repetitive movements could cause jewelry to come loose and be lost- so be aware of that risk and check jewelry for tightness from time to time. Also be ok making the call to take a break from using your piercing in this way if it does become tender, red, or irritated from you playing with it. It also doesn’t hurt to check in with your piercer more often to ensure that this piercing is still healthy.
But for piercings we can’t safely fidget with, things that are still healing or could cause harm to ourselves and our bodies to stim with, we need to find alternatives. Many clients wear fidget rings or necklaces to give them something that’s easily accessible on their body they can play with besides their piercings. Others may have say a healed earlobe piercing and choose to focus on that as their fidget rather than a newer piercing or a more irritated one. And other clients choose to simply try to unlearn the behavior, distracting themselves with things on their phones, giving themselves rewards when they stop fidgeting and break the habit, or practicing meditation and mindful breathing when they feel like they want to fidget.
Medication Can Effect Healing
For many of us who struggle with mental illness, we will experience medication at some point in our journey. Medications for mental illness like anti depressants, anti anxiety medication and anti psychotics are all very very useful, important medications that help people every day. But many of these medications also have a lot of side effects. And these side effects can often impact our bodies skin, immune system, and ability to heal wounds. Side effects such as weight loss or gain, dry or oily skin, appetite changes, effects on immune system, dry mouth, sleep problems, excess sweat, and blood pressure changes can all impact our piercings, and how they heal. Many clients may start new medications, change dosages, or stop medications and notice an impact on their piercings. This is very normal! These medications can cause a lot of changes in your body, and your piercing is not exempt from that.
If you notice your piercings becoming irritated or having issues, don’t hesitate to contact your piercer. You may need to resume aftercare or modify aftercare to help your piercing adjust to new changes in your medication. It also may simply take time for your body to adjust to a new dose before your piercing will settle down. Depending on what medication and dose you are taking this could be a weeks or even months long process. Please be patient with your body while it adjusts to medication changes. And work with your piercer to make an aftercare plan that works best for you.
If you struggle with anxiety, you are not alone. There are so many of us here with you who do as well. But anxiety can impact even our body piercings, from stress over healing to side effects from medication. Please be gentle on yourself if you are struggling with any of these things, or anything we didn’t cover in this blog. Understand that healing is not linear, and our piercings will have good and bad days just like we do. I hope this can help you adjust your healing and piercing care routines to work better with your body and mind. Happy healing!