Updated: Dec 8, 2022
Welcome back to Speakeasy Tattoo Los Angeles, you funky kids!
You know what day it is!
A name that sounds way cooler than it is.
I hope everyone survived the Thanksgiving gluttony!
Since everyone is probably still feeling full, it seems like a good time to talk about eating and tattoos.
Why would I bring those things up in the same place? I’ll tell you why. Calm down. I can only type so fast and I’m still feeling lethargic!
Which also ties into what I’m talking about.
It can all be tied together in two scary words:
(insert Inception BWOONNGGG here)
A vasovagal reaction is a fancy way doctors try to sound smarter than you when describing what the rest of the normal world refers to as “fainting.” And while there are a litany of potential causes of a person to faint, we are a tattoo shop, after all, so naturally we are trying to keep this fainting train on the rails here.
Anybody that has been to our Speakeasy to get tattooed might have noticed that the friendly person answering the door and ushering you into the underworld will oftentimes ask you if you had anything to eat that morning. You probably thought they were just being nice.
The question about where you are staying or where you come from, that’s them being nice. They are nice people and they care about you and your well being. That is, in fact, the reason why they are asking about whether or not you ate; your well being. And while eating is part of it, there are a lot more aspects that go into passing-out/fainting.
In short, you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. Most fainting is triggered by the vagus nerve which connects the digestive system to the brain, and its job is to manage blood flow to the gut.
It should come as no shock to anybody that getting a tattoo can be a source of significant anxiety, especially if it’s your first time getting tattooed. Add to that the sight of the needles set out on a metal, medical tray or the loud buzzzzzz of a coil machine, and this alone can be overwhelming to a nervous person’s nervous system. So the anxiety alone is enough to amp a person up, and almost prepare themselves to faint, thus almost ensuring they will.
Once the tattooing process actually starts, every person reacts differently and has a different tolerance of pain. Pain can stimulate the vagus nerve and is a common cause of vasovagal syncope. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, excess acetylcholine is released, the heart rate slows and the blood vessels dilate, making it harder for blood to defeat gravity and be pumped to the brain.
One other interesting element might actually be tied back to our early days of survival as a species. During warfare, confrontation with a “stranger wielding a sharp object” was likely to be associated with threat to life. Humans’ tendency to faint (or “play dead”), rather than attempt to flee or fight, may therefore have evolved as an alternative stress-induced fear-circuitry response. Obviously, no one individual can overcome pre-historic autonomic responses, so if you are someone who has an inexplicable fear of needles, just feel honored that you are more connected to your ancestors.
What is interesting to note is that fainting is more common in women than in men. It is possible that this too is tied to the Paleolothic-threat respose. The Paleolothic-threat hypothesis suggests that, during warfare, a phobic response to the sight of blood or an approaching sharp object was likely to be maladaptive for men who engaged in combat. For women and children, however, this behaviour may have been adaptive; fear-induced fainting may have increased the likelihood of being taken captive rather than being killed. Grim, kinda creepy, but pretty interesting nonetheless.
What is important to remember is that a good majority of the fainting response comes from the brain. And while it is true that a lot is on a subconscious level. It is remarkable what taking the time to relax, breathe and yes, eat. Getting tattooed is certainly painful, but it is nowhere near what most people anticipate and build up in their head. It should be a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Hopefully this did a bit to demystify some to the autonomic responses the body goes through. Take the time to talk to your artist, try not to fixate on the perceived pain.
If you are interested in a more in-depth examination, check out this great article.
And remember, its no big deal. Don’t let things get built up in your head into something bigger than they need be. We are here to guide you through this experience, as smoothly and enjoyably as possible.