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Alternatives to Self-Harm That Actually Worked for Me

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

As somebody who spent years struggling with self-harm, I often found myself completely discouraged with the cycle I was trapped in. Many of the options on the lists I was given of alternatives to engaging in self-harm did not work for me. Most of the alternatives were distraction options, for example, like listening to music or watching a movie. These never calmed the obsessive need to release what I was feeling inside.

For me, self-harm not only gave me a physical release of the pain I felt inside, it also gave me a distorted belief that I was in control of how and when I would feel pain. So I was looking for more than a distraction from the urge. I needed that physical release I learned to rely on, and I discovered there is a whole different category of alternatives that focus on action.

Here’s a list of the self-harm alternatives I have found most helpful:

  1. Drawing on the skin where you want to self-harm until the urge passes. As an artist, this is the most helpful for me. Drawing on the skin mimics the physical action of cutting, but instead of drawing blood, you end up with a mini masterpiece to remind you that you made it through the urge and you can do it again.
  2. Running. I’m somebody who typically hates running, but I find that running as fast as I can for a minute or so helps release some of the negative energy that I crave to get out of my body.
  3. Taking a really cold shower. Focus all your attention on the freezing water raining down on your skin, let the cold consume you as all of the heat is released for your body. Once you’re too cold to stand it any longer, get out and focus your energy on getting warm again, release the cold as you thaw and take in all the warmth.
  4. Snapping a rubber band on your wrist. The snapping can both release energy, and literally snap you out of the obsessive thoughts of self-harm. This one works particularly well for when you’re not at home; just keep a rubber band with you for an easy access alternative.
  5. Scream into a pillow. Let all the pent up anger flow out of you until you’re too tired to think about anything else.
  6. Tear up old pieces of paper. Again, this lets you release your energy in a non self-destructive way.
  7. Write down everything you’re thinking and feeling. Let the pen run across the paper as quick as your thoughts are racing. Capture the moment in words and keep it to reflect on and see if there’s a correlation between self-harm urges and different emotions/stressors.
  8. Throw a stress ball at a wall. Squeezing all of the tension out of your body, releasing it into the ball and then tossing it into a wall definitely lets you physically rid your body of the negative energy.

Remember, these are coping strategies that work for me. While I recommend you try some of these if you’re looking to find something that works, just know if these don’t work for you, there are many other alternatives to try. Some people need the physical release through action, others find distraction alternatives to work better for them. Figure out what works best for you and stick with it.

Getty image by neyro2008

Originally published: May 30, 2020
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