9 Ways I Distract Myself From Self-Harm Urges


One of the best ways to avoid self-injury is to have an arsenal of alternatives at the ready when the urge arises. Depending on what feelings are associated with the need to self-injure — depression, feeling unreal, anxiety — different coping skills may be more effective. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of alternatives to help relieve the desire to self-injure.

1. Self-soothe.

If you’re looking for comfort, try some alternative ways to self-soothe. Take a warm bubble bath. Make a cup of hot cocoa and curl up on the couch with a book. Listen to calming music or a sound machine. Watch a funny TV show or movie. Make yourself a delicious meal or dessert. 

2. Physical exertion.

Reduce the need to self-injure by doing something physical, and gain positive feelings from the endorphins released while you’re at it. This could be heading to the gym, dancing, walking or running until the need to self-injure fades.

3. Leave the scene.

Often, self-injury becomes a ritual, and the places we self-injure can become triggering. If this happens, leave the scene. Go out in nature, go for a drive, visit a friend or head to a coffee shop until the urge to self-injure passes.

4. Come back to reality, safely.

Feeling unreal or dissociating can trigger the need to self-injure. If this is the case, use safe ways of feeling intense physical sensations. Taking a cool shower, eating something spicy or dunking your face in a bowl of water can help bring back the present moment.

5. Feel accomplished.

Feeling productive and accomplished can sometimes redirect your energy. Make a to-do list and see how many tasks you can accomplish, whether it’s cleaning, completing a work project or even finally beating your favorite game.

6. Be mindful.

Use the skill of mindfulness to pull your attention away from self-injury. Suck on a sour candy, or other snack and concentrate on the experience. What does it look like? What does it feel like in your hand? What does it feel like on your tongue? What does it taste like? Go slowly and focus on as many details as possible.

7. Get creative.

Try substituting self-injury for art as a way to healthily express what you may be feeling. Write a poem about how you are feeling. Make a collage with old magazines. Grab a coloring book, or make your own drawings. It’s important to use these activities to get to a more comfortable emotional state rather than reinforcing negative emotions.

8. Have some fun.

This may sound counterintuitive, especially when the urge to self-injure is strong, but there are some fun ways to soothe that may be helpful. Try blowing bubbles to calm your breathing. Put together a jigsaw puzzle to bring your attention to the present. Play with a pet. Color, draw, write or do something else creative to take your mind off self-injury.

9. Make a connection.

Self-injury can be lonely and isolating. One way to combat the urge to self-injure is to go out and connect with others, even when this may feel like the last thing you want to do. It could be meeting up with a friend or trying out a new meet-up group that fits your interests. Volunteer at a local senior center or animal shelter. Find a support group or 12-step program.

Remember these are just temporary distractions. Understanding what created the impulse and finding healthy ways to deal with intensely uncomfortable feelings will put you on the path to no longer “needing” self-injury to cope.

 This article first appeared on The Self Injury Foundation’s blog

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via BrianAJackson


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Self-harm

Portrait of sad woman sitting in the park

3 Things My Struggle With Self-Harm Is Not (and 3 Things It Is)

There are so many presumptions made about self-harm and those who do it. Because of this, I want to clear up a few things that have been true for me. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know my own truth. 1. It is not “attention seeking.” I don’t want anyone to know. I [...]
Tattoo master protective gloves make a tattoo in black ink on the hand of the girl. Close-up.

How My Tattoos Have Saved Me From Self-Harm

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here. I can feel the cold liquid spread onto my forearm and the stencil is placed on it. [...]
A woman and a man waring long sleeves at the beach

If You're Nervous to Show Your Self-Harm Scars This Summer...

As the weather gets warmer and summertime nears, many of us have started daydreaming about beach vacations, time off school and more chances to be outside. But with sunshine comes something that might be stressful for people who have self-harm scars — pressure to wear more revealing clothes, both for comfort and to “fit in.” [...]
support group sitting in circle while one man talks about problems

How Self-Harm Support Groups Can Be Helpful

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here. By its nature, self-harm is a secretive and isolating behavior that can make it feel like you’re [...]