A Guide to Getting Your First Tattoo

Photo of female tattoo artist Naomi Hoang at work in NAOHOA Luxury Bespoke Tattoos, Cardiff (Wales, UK).

Last year, I crunched the numbers and discovered a whopping 40% of NAOHOA clients came here to get their first tattoo! 

With so many of you about, I thought it would be a good idea to collate helpful information on what to prepare and expect when getting tattoo’ed…also, you voted for this topic more than the other one via Instagram Stories. 😛

Please note that I’ll be writing with NAOHOA’s processes in mind – other studios may have a different system in place. Since walk-ins aren’t accepted here, there’s generally more involvement required by the client to ensure they get a piece they really want – not just something they found.

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What Do You Want? 🤔

  • Is it in memory of something or someone? Think about what epitomises this experience or person.
  • Is it one, or a collection, of your favourite things?
  • If you’re getting a matching tattoo, what bonds you together?

These are all valid and there are no right or wrong answers! It’s your body and your choice. Saying that, I personally won’t tattoo subjects deemed offensive – different artists will have their own level of sensitivity on the matter, so check their portfolios to get an idea of what they will or won’t tattoo and be respectful of their boundaries.

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Where Do You Want It? 💪

  • Is it for you? i.e. hidden or somewhere easy for you to see.
  • Is it a statement piece? i.e. somewhere easy to flaunt.
  • Will its presence affect your work prospects? Consider what areas are appropriate for your role.
  • Honestly…think more about where you want to see it, rather than whether it’ll hurt more or not. It’ll be on you for life and in the grand scheme of things, the period of pain will be very short in comparison.

Note: I don’t ink above the neck (i.e. face – nape of the neck is fine) and private parts. I’m also reluctant to tattoo hands, as they fade very quickly and generally aren’t worth it. Artists will have their own list of no-go areas, so check with them first when enquiring.

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What Art Style? 🎨

There are many ways to portray the same subject, and I appreciate that not everyone will know the terms to specific art movements or styles. The easiest way to get your idea across, is to create a Mood Board of things you like the look of. Don’t limit yourself to other tattoos – branch out to paintings, sculptures, murals…anything visual that communicates your aesthetic taste.

Explained in more detail in ‘What To Do Before Getting Your Tattoo

If you’d like to put these thoughts to paper, you can download my Ideas Worksheet for FREE after subscribing to my Newsletter.

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Choosing a Tattoo Artist 😎

Start by seeking artist who are capable of the art style you’re after, then narrow down to location and budget. Tattoos are on you for life, so it’s best not to skimp on the details.

…you get what you pay for. 😱

Don’t forget that building a rapport is important. You’re trusting this person with your body and so the more respectful and professional they are, the better. If you’re able to visit the studio and meet the artist beforehand, or follow their posts long enough to get a gauge of their personality, this will help ascertain whether they’re a good match for you (or not).

Depending on the size of your tattoo, you’ll be spending hours at a time with this person, so it doesn’t hurt to check whether you’re compatible!

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Design Process ✍️

Photo of a vibrant, colourful watercolour-style tattoo designs. Designed and tattooed by female tattoo artist Naomi Hoang at NAOHOA Luxury Bespoke Tattoos, Cardiff (Wales, UK).

At NAOHOA, we have a face-to-face Consultation to get on the same page, before working on your design.

It’s a collaborative process where we work together to bring your idea to life.

Full process explained here.

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Temporary Tattoo

Your design is finished and you’re excited to get it tattooed…but you stiiiiiill need some time to get used to it. At NAOHOA, you can have a temporary tattoo printed of your design. Having it placed on your skin will help you adjust to the reality of having body art. If you’re unsure on where to get it, multiple copies can be printed for you to trial different locations. This is an optional step that’s £5 to pay for cost of materials.

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Tattoo Time! 👏

Energy 🍎

Eat a meal beforehand and stay hydrated during your sesh to keep your energy levels up. It’s okay to bring snacks…just nothing smelly, please!

Heads up: coffee makes people bleed more, so please lay off the stuff until after your appointment.

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Pain ⚡

Always the first question people ask about! Here’s a clear list of suggestions:

  • Relax…the more calm you are, the less you’re likely to feel the pain. You can read specific techniques in Keeping A Calm Mind’.
  • Paracetamol for pain.
  • Ibuprofen for swelling (eat something first).
  • Numbing cream is okay – you’ll need to supply and apply it yourself. Brands such as TKTX or Ametop are fine as they don’t change the texture of the skin. Emla is not suitable, because it makes the skin leathery and isn’t made for tattoos.
  • Take breaks when you need to. Herbal teas are on the house! 🍵
  • Find out which areas hurt more than others (and why) in the blog post, ‘Will It Hurt?’

NAOHOA cannot provide medical products and it is the client’s sole responsibility to use them safely.

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What to Expect on Arrival 😬

The general procedure at NAOHOA is for clients to fill in a Consent Form to confirm they’re happy with the design, then review the Medical Form completed during the Consultation to note any changes (if applicable). Please sign and date both forms.

Bevvies are served and I’ll have set up half the station before you arrive. Inks and machines are prepped after the client has arrived…in case they don’t…because that has happened before. 😐

Photo of colourful tattoo inks. Designed and tattooed by female tattoo artist Naomi Hoang at NAOHOA Luxury Bespoke Tattoos, Cardiff (Wales, UK).
All inks and aftercare products used at NAOHOA are vegan-friendly.

Black and grey pieces are straight-forward to prep, and generally take ~15 mins to have in place (inc. machines). Colour pieces take more time, as I mix every gradient individually for each tattoo, so the palette matches your design as closely as possible. This process is much like working with traditional oil paints, but with less freedom to mix colours in between, so please be mindful of the additional time it takes to prepare when paying for parking or making plans after your session.

Tattoos take time to prepare and carry out, so please be respectful of the process and avoid asking for it to be rushed. These steps are carried out to ensure you get the best possible art for you to enjoy for life. 🎨💕

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Aftercare 💜

Photo of a vibrant, colourful watercolour-style tattoo. Designed and tattooed by female tattoo artist Naomi Hoang at NAOHOA Luxury Bespoke Tattoos, Cardiff (Wales, UK).

Heading Home 🏡

If you opt for Saniderm, I’ll apply the first patch for you and teach you how to use it. If not, I’ll wrap your tattoo with cling film, which is only to be worn between the studio and when you get home. Don’t keep it on for long periods of time, as bacteria can grow underneath and infect your tattoo.

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If Using Saniderm

The first patch I apply at the end of your session can stay on for up to 24hrs. The next day, soften with warm water and remove by teasing away the edges. Clean, rinse, dry and apply the new patch, which can stay on for up to a week.

Instructional Video:

Click here for detailed written instructions

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If Not Using Saniderm

Clean and moisturise every few hours until healed (usually 2 weeks). It’ll scab and that’s normal! Just make sure it doesn’t dry up, ’cause the ink could fall out during the scabbing process.

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Universal Do’s ✔

  • Keep under wraps to protect from direct sunlight (UV rays fade ink)
  • Be attentive: clean and moisturise your new tattoo every few hours if you’re not using Saniderm.
  • If not using Saniderm, wear loose pyjamas that cover the tattooed area. When it sticks the next morning, run it under warm water and gently peel away the fabric to avoid pulling ink out of the new tattoo…otherwise, you’ll be glued to your bed sheets with no choice but to tear yourself away!

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Universal Don’t’s ❌

  • Avoid submerging in water (baths, swimming)
  • Avoid applying pressure to the new tattoo, as any sudden or sustained impact can cause the ink to bleed under the skin (i.e. blowout), leaving unsightly marks that are permanent.
  • Do not scratch – instead, pat your tattoo or apply something cold to soothe the skin.

More advice in the Aftercare page.

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Enjoy Your New Tattoo! ✨

You’ve gone through it all and your tattoo is beautifully healed – congrats!! To keep it looking fresh, moisturise your skin regularly and exfoliate once a week. When out in the sun, use SPF 30+ to protect it from UV rays, which would otherwise fade it.

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Related Blog Posts:

Everything here has been written in more detail in the following blog posts:

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Are You Ready to Begin Your Tattoo Journey?

Book a Consultation online!


#NAOHOAstory…Jumping Fox


(1/4) I met these lovely ladies at Comic Con last year and one of them was looking to get a cute jumping fox tattoo. 🦊 #NAOHOAstory

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(3/4) If you’re unsure on where to get your tattoo, temporary tattoos can be printed to help you decide! They’re just £5 extra and adds peace of mind before getting the real deal. #NAOHOAstory

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(4/4) A fresh pic of the tattoo! 🦊 #NAOHOAstory

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#NAOHOAstory…Elegant Dragon

(1/3) This client chose NAOHOA to create her first tattoo in a delicate art style…#NAOHOAstory

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(3/3) May this dragon take flight! 🐉 #NAOHOAstory

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#NAOHOAstory…Sun & Moon Become One

(1/3) This @ripple_living @kickstarter supporter wanted a sun and moon hybrid whilst supporting two local businesses! #NAOHOAstory

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(3/3) Finito~ This was so much fun to design and ink! Thanks for sitting so well for this rib piece ☀ An hour of this went towards funding @ripple_living, which has been open for nearly a year now…how time flies! 🌍💚 #NAOHOAstory

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Ready For The Plunge?

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#NAOHOAstory…Dream (Catcher) Bride

Alexis and I met at the NatWest Accelerator Hub (Cardiff) and bonded right away. She runs a subscription business, where activity packs are sent to your home each month to encourage kids to express their creativity. In a world full of phones and tablets, Mila & Pheebs aim to make playtime tactile again!

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(1/5) This bride-to-be wanted a coverup on her wrist in time for the big day. 💐 #NAOHOAstory

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(3/5) The old tattoo (left) was by another artist and had been through a few laser removal sessions. It was originally an emerald stone, in memory of her grandma, who left her a piece of jewellery with said stone…not happy with the result, she promptly asked me to cover it up when we met by chance at the #NatWestAccelerator hub! #NAOHOAstory⠀⠀⠀

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(4/5) Bye-bye old tattoo~ A dreamcatcher with her kids’ initials inside. #NAOHOAstory

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(5/5) A healed shot of Alexis’s tattoo on her wedding day! 👰💐💕 #NAOHOAstory

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What Did She Think?

” Naomi did my cover up and I can’t recommend her enough. She was so professional, fully understood my idea and her attention to detail is impeccable. “

– Alexis C.



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What is Tattoo Blowout?

You may have heard this term or even experienced it, but what exactly is ‘blowout’? Read on to find out! 

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First, let’s look into what happens when the skin is tattooed. Here, you can see the layers that make up your skin and what lies beneath. Typically, the ink is deposited in the dermis, where it sits indefinitely.

I say indefinitely, because the body treats the process as an infection, and if it succeeds in its mission to remove it, the ink fades…or, of course, if you get laser removal treatment, the ink will break into smaller pigment particles and be absorbed by the body (we’ll save that for another blog post).

The unappealing effect comes about when ink is injected deeper than necessary.

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What Does Blowout Look Like?

Embarrassingly, this is one by me. 😱 Must have been having an off day. Still, I’d rather use my own example than potentially upset another artist.

The easiest way to describe it is like an ‘ink bruise’ that surrounds the tattoo. They typically start from the edges of the tattoo and slowly fade outwards.

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What Can Cause Blowout?

There are multiple factors that can play into this – some are down to the artist, others due to aftercare:

  • Needle being pushed in too deep,
  • Needle being inserted at an awkward angle, puncturing an area of skin that doesn’t align well with the surface,
  • Stretching the skin too much whilst tattooing
  • Impact or pressure on the tattoo during the healing process
  • Excessive stretching/moving of the tattoo during the healing process

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Coverup in progress.

What Areas are More Prone to Blowout?

  • Wrists
  • Ankle
  • Feet
  • Hands

…essentially, bony areas and places with thin skin (or both).

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Can Blowout Be Removed?

Like the rest of your tattoo, it’s there to stay. Your options include:

  • Laser removal treatment
  • Altering the design to cover it (such as adding a gradient or colour around it)
  • Cover up the tattoo with another design.
The original tattoo was covered up with a new design. It isn’t necessary to go this big for a coverup – it just happens to be a design this client wanted.

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What If I Don’t Want Another Tattoo?

The short answer is: either learn to accept it or consider getting the unwanted areas removed using Laser Removal Treatment. Tattoos are permanent markings in the skin and clients must be prepared to this commitment prior to getting their body art.

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What Can I Do To Fix Mine?

If you’re looking to have your tattoo altered or covered up, please use the form below to book a Consultation. We’ll chat about your tattoo and ideas:

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If you’d rather have the blowout (or whole tattoo) removed, NAOHOA is affiliated with Rethink The Ink (Porthcawl).

5 sessions in (click here to see the post)

Jon is a fantastic practitioner whose work doesn’t leave scarring or change of skin pigmentation. Let him know that I sent you. 😉

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Thanks for reading! For more information, check out my blog posts that cover Tattoo Advice, Lifestyle or follow other people’s journey via #NAOHOAstory. 💗


#NAOHOAstory…Ghibli Tribute


(1/5) This client wanted to get a Ghibli-inspired tattoo before going on her adventure to South America 🌎 #NAOHOAstory

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(3/5) Here’s a shot from @elsielusty when it was healing, using @saniderm. Check out her profile for more photography goodness. 📸 #NAOHOAstory⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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For more information on Saniderm and how to apply it, click here.

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(4/5) Here it is, the finished and fully-healed Ghibli Tribute, all the way from sunny Columbia! 🌞 #NAOHOAstory⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
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Thanks for taking these pics, @elsielusty ! 👈 Check out her profile for travel photography and beautiful vistas via Stories. 🌄⠀⠀⠀

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(5/5) Bonus pic! It’s rare I get to see your tattoos outside of the studio. 😜 Here’s a shot of Elsie somewhere in sunny South America, with Ghibli goodness on her side. #NAOHOAstory
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What Did She Think?

” Thank you so much Naomi for my amazing piece. from start to finish naomi listened to my ideas and created a piece better than i could´ve imagined. i will definitely be returning for another – can´t recommend enough!! “

– Elsie L.



Ready For The Plunge?

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#NAOHOAstory…Sketchy Magpie

(1/3) I met this couple during Comic Con, where the gent on the left came to discuss an idea for his first tattoo, which would mark a significant part of his life… #NAOHOAstory
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Click to play video (below):

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(3/3) Congrats on your first tattoo! 👏 Sat like a pro and even left with sound advice on how to care for the plants at the studio after I over-watered them. 😅 🌱 #NAOHOAstory
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What Were His Thoughts?

I went to Naomi for my first tattoo and from the beginning she made me feel welcome and at ease. The studio is amazing, as soon as you walk into it you feel comfortable and chill. I gave Naomi a rough idea as to what I wanted and she designed it amazingly to the style I liked. Would definitely do business here again and look forward to getting my second tattoo with Naomi.

-Liam J.



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#NAOHOAstory…Rasta Lion

If you’ve got an old tattoo you’re not too fond of, worry not! NAOHOA is no stranger to coverups, as you’ll see in the next few images…

(1/4) After spotting my lion tattoo that was on display at Comic Con, this client approached me to cover up, what his family had fondly dubbed, his “diseased donkey”. 😂🐴🦁 #NAOHOAstory

(2/4) Here are two design options I gave for his coverup. It was drawn on top of a faint photo of his existing tattoo from 20 years ago…#NAOHOAstory

(3/4) On the far left is the original tattoo from 20 years ago. In the first session (middle), I faded it out with skin-tone ink and put down the outline of my design. Once healed, I went over it with colour. 🦁 #NAOHOAstory

(4/4) Bye-bye, Diseased Donkey! 😆 ‘NP’ is in memory of his grandma, who was a reggae fan. Unfortunately, some of the original tattoo reemerged after the lion healed, but the client was happy with the overall look and wanted to keep it that way. The foliage was especially fun to ink! Thanks so much for trusting me with this piece, Gareth, and thanks to Showmasters for making our paths cross at Comic Con! ✌ #NAOHOAstory

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What Did He Think Of It?

I cannot recommend NAOHOA enough! Naomi was able to cover up an absolute travesty of a tattoo that I’d been hiding for around 20 years. I am now so proud to walk around with an absolute stunner of a work-of-art on my arm. One draw back is I’ve found I do take my top off more now which is a little strange in the office! Naomi was great to deal with which is always good when you’re sat next to each other for hours on end, she makes you feel relaxed and comfortable during the whole process. 10/10, gold star, top marks!

Gareth P.
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Mind Over Matter

May marks “Mental Health Awareness” month, where people post their stories and support to lessen the stigma of issues such as Depression, Anxiety, Bi-Polar and many others.

Mental health issues affects 1 in 4 people in the UK and can be debilitating to one’s daily life if left untreated. Unlike physical injuries or disabilities, internal struggles cannot be easily seen and, if held by a high-functioning individual, is practically invisible to others.

Having suffered with severe Depression for a decade and overcame it with professional help, I wanted to dedicate a post of resources for people in similar situations. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to fathom a life without the grip of mental illness and easier to settle for coping or getting by. Words can’t describe how enlightening it feels to be rid of such a burden and I want you to know that it is possible to get to the other side.

I won’t mince my words. It’s not easy and you will have to face your fears, but take baby steps and you’ll get there eventually.

Please bear in mind that I’m not a certified therapist and that this post is about me sharing resources that I’m aware of. Some worked for me, but they might not work for you. If in doubt, contact your GP for professional advice.

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Resources

In no particular order, here are things I found during my journey.

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Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT is a talking therapy that focuses on your current situation rather than delving into the past (though some therapists may explore this with you to gain a deeper understanding). It involves changing the way we think (cognitive) by analysing our experiences logically for what they are. From there, we can make decisions (behaviour) to respond to circumstances in a healthy way, rather than falling back to old habits that may be destructive.

It’ll teach you how to interrupt the flow of negativity and direct it towards more positive outcomes.

The tasks can be challenging, but they’re completely worth it. You get what you put in. If you have time with a therapist, tell them everything because they can only help you based on what they know. The temptation is to play it cool and keep the mask up, but you’ll make more progress if you allow yourself to be vulnerable and accept help…it’s also much easier than going solo!

Contact your GP for a referral. NHS waiting times are likely to be a few months, so get in sooner rather than later. Private options are also available. Unfortunately, not all areas get the same funding or level of training, so the quality and availability of therapists may vary depending on where you live.

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Superbetter

Website | Book | App: Google / iOS

If speaking to others feels too much right now, there’s a free app that has turned therapy into a game. Fight your demons through small, daily actions and gain Power Ups when you do. Get badges and trophies for your wins and call on Allies to help, so they can cheer you on. ✊

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Learn more via Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk above. Skip to 3mins to hear positive links between gaming and life goals, or 7:40mins to hear about Superbetter.

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Self-help Books

Borrow from the library for free, visit a book shop or download an audio book. Whichever floats your boat. ⛵

Here is one my therapist recommended for me, though you can find other specific to what you’re going through. It goes into a lot of detail and has exercises to follow along the way. It’s essentially what I did in sessions, so if 1:1 therapy is not available to you in your area, then this is a good alternative.

UPDATE: The author of the book linked above has created a 3-step course version, where you can write into them like workbooks.

If you’re considering the self-help route, it may be worth asking someone you trust to check up on you every now and then for accountability. CBT exercises are worth going through, though they can take some determination at times.

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Meditation

Photograph of Naomi Hoang from NAOHOA Luxury Bespoke Tattoos, Cardiff (Wales, UK) meditating on a rock in the middle of a lake in Snowdonia.

Meditation is the act of being present. Not in the past or future – just the here and now. The most common form of meditation is seated, eyes closed and legs crossed (lotus pose, if you can manage it!). Alternatively, you can do a walking meditation, where you walk slowly and mindfully, observing all you encounter without interaction or comment. Whatever your method, the goal is to clear the mind of thoughts and simply be and exist in the space you’re in.

When deep in the midst of mental illness, this can be a truly challenging task. Be kind to yourself and allow baby steps. When I first started, I set the bar as low as 10 seconds, then went up to 20, 1 minute, 5, 10, 15….with daily practice, 15-20mins seemed like nothing at all and made a huge difference to my temperament and ability to stop the flow of negative thoughts before they spiralled out of control.

Apps such as Calm or Headspace have a free week of guided meditation each. Personally, I prefer Calm, as I find Tamara’s voice more soothing and their annual cost is more affordable (£29.99 per year, at time of writing). It has multiple sound options and can be used for self-directed meditation (free). If you’re the competitive sort, it’ll show you how many days you’ve meditated and keep track of your running streak…the longest chain I’ve managed so far is 147 days!

Read more in my blog post, Keeping a Calm Mind.

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Exercise

Getting the body moving releases endorphins and serotonin, making you feel good inside and out. For a better chance of sticking at it, choose an activity you enjoy, so it doesn’t feel arduous!

Besides being physically fitter, positive side-effects can include improved self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment when you’ve achieved goals or milestones. The good thing about exercise is that there can be clear, tangible goals, such as being able to do full push-ups or a trick you’ve been practising for weeks.

If you take part of a class, then being around other people will take you away from isolation and potentially make new friends. Taking it outdoors will give you a chance to enjoy the beauty of nature and breathe cleaner air than being cooped up indoors.

Keeping occupied physically can also clear the mind, as you’ll be focused on the task at hand. Whether it’s counting reps, keeping track of the route or trying not to fall (yes, I’m looking at you, Yoga 😂), these are ways to stay in the present and let the mind take a well-deserved break.

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Hobbies

Photo by Ashwin Vaswani

What makes you feel happy? If you’re struggling to think of anything, what did you enjoy doing when you were a kid?

As working adults, it can be tough to fit in time for leisure, but if we neglect this side of our lives, we’ll be more prone to burn-out and low moods.

Having interests outside of work not only makes us more well-rounded people, they can also help us feel refreshed, challenged or enable us to widen our social circles with like-minded people. If you’re concerned about ‘wasting your time’, think of it this way: energy gained from outside of work can feed into your career, whether through inspiration or new skills acquired that compliment it.

When I was in the severest part of my Depression in 2013-14, I didn’t do anything fun in my spare time, despite longing for it. Low self-esteem talked me into believing I wasn’t worthy of nice things, so my time was spent working and mentally spiralling into a black hole until I passed out from exhaustion…don’t do that!! It’s such an unhealthy and miserable place to be in. 😰 Nowadays, I make things, draw comics and am trying to get back into playing the piano. 🎹

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Nature

In Wales, we’re lucky to have a plethora of outdoor options. Here’s a pic I took in Snowdonia.

Walks, jogs, cycling…skating, anything! Heading to the park or taking a trip to go hiking can be a great change of pace and environment.

Allow yourself the time to take in the scenery, hear the birds and breathe in the fresh air. If it’s sunny, even better! Low levels of Vitamin D can make us lethargic, and just 15minutes (depending on your skin tone) of natural, direct sunlight each day can help us feel more perky.

If you can’t find anyone to join you, there are group walking tours available – just have a look at places like Meetup.com or Facebook (please exercise caution when travelling alone and always let someone you trust know where you are).

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Being with Others

Comic by Bob Guy

This can seem like the hardest thing to do when struggling with mental illness. From not wanting to ‘burden’ others with their problems and being a killjoy, feeling scared to leave their home, to not feeling worthy of their company or nice things in general, there can be lots of reasons why people with mental illness may isolate themselves from others. Kindness and patience is needed from friends, along with a willingness to try from those going through a rough time.

Confiding in someone you trust who would be willing to sit with you during down spells is a beautiful thing. Instead of pushing them away, cherish those around you who have your back.

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Medication

Photo by Thought Catalog

Use and need of medication will vary depending on your case and your GP will advise the best course of action. Please research these first to make an informed decision.

Personally, I avoided medication because I wanted to muster the strength to overcome Depression without it. The idea of having to make an appointment and physically get myself to the GP again if I had a relapse filled me with dread, so I instead made a beastly effort to go without. This approach suits my stubborn personality type, but may not be appropriate for others, and I certainly don’t judge those who choose to take them.

That’s not to say they’re wrong – everyone is different and their situations unique. I simply can’t comment on their effectiveness due to lack of experience.

Just bear in mind that medication is a crutch – it’ll help you get by, but it won’t resolve the underlying issue(s) that cause their use of them. I highly recommend CBT for lasting change.

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Rest

Art by Fable Fire

Last but not least…rest. 😌 Take one step at a time and allow yourself to take a break when times get overwhelming. Take a step back, breathe, recoup and start the next day with a fresh start. You’ve got this.

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Thanks for reading and I hope this helps! If you know someone who is struggling with mental illness, please consider sharing this with them. 😊

Naomi xxx