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Simple and safer emergency alternatives to self harm

Updated on August 11, 2015

What is self harm?

The short answer is that self harm is primarily a coping mechanism. It is when a person deliberately causes self injury. This is usually a very private thing and is kept hidden, but not every case is the same. An act of self harm is not necessarily a suicide attempt, though it can be linked to mental health issues, it is mostly just a way to deal with difficult or complicated feelings.

Occurrences of self harm are most common among teens and young adults. Feelings are hard enough to express at this age, and when certain pressures or troubles are added, sometimes it can become just too overwhelming. But as i mentioned, not every case is the same. There are incidents of self harm for individuals later in life too. There is no age limit for which we experience pressure and tough situations. You may have been;

  • Bullied or discriminated against.
  • Suffered a painful breakup.
  • Lost a close friend or loved one
  • Suffered or currently suffering a form or physical/ emotional/ sexual abuse
  • Suffered or currently suffering a serious illness or disability

These are just a few examples of course. Self harm may seem like a viable option to some, but it is a practice that takes a toll physically and emotionally. It is a temporary solution. Whatever release you take from an act of self harm will eventually fade and you will soon feel the urge to harm again. This can spiral out of control and even call for greater acts of harm. This comes with a huge risk of serious injury or even in some cases accidental death. Thankfully, there are other alternatives which can produce some similar effects in an emergency situation.

Note: These are EMERGENCY ALTERNATIVES ONLY. If you are experiencing urges of self harm please contact your doctor or professional. Self Harm is a serious issue with serious consequences. Also, I know I wont be able to cover every issue and cause, but this is just a look at the most common topics.

Graph below taken from

If you are feeling angry or frustrated

Anger and frustration are normal human responses. We experience them on a daily basis. However, problems arise when these feelings are not dealt with in the correct manner. Some end up projecting these feelings on themselves in forms of self harm. Self harm can sooth the destructive urges associated with anger, and restore a sense of control when we are swept up in the chaos of frustration. If you find that you cannot calm down and the urge to self harm becomes too strong when angry or frustrated, here are some alternatives that are at least worth a try.

  • Hit something (not someone)- Take your feelings out on a pillow or punching bag. It is a great way to release these feelings and also use up some pent up energy that may be causing restlessness.
  • Exercise- A bad day is a great motivator for a workout. As well as relieving tension and pent up energy it also has obvious physical health benefits. Some people who self harm experience a "euphoric" feeling when they cut. This comes from the release of endorphins and other hormones to deal with the pain. The release of these chemicals are also achieved through exercise.
  • Make a mess- You can tear up a newspaper or phone book, stamp and flatten some aluminium cans or even break some old toys. It will surely sooth your destructive urges. Just remember to tidy up afterwards

When you feel numb and disassociated

Feeling numb, emotionless and distant are common symptoms of depression and even some side effects of anti-depressant medications such as Amitriptyline and Prozac . (If you have not yet sought help dealing with these feelings/lack of feeling, please do so.) People who struggle with this are often so desperate to feel something, that even pain is a welcome experience. This is completely understandable as pain is a very important response. It is a basic response to danger and as long as we feel pain, it is an assurance that we are indeed still alive. Pain connects us to the moment and self injury provides us with just that. However there are forms of pain we can inflict upon ourselves that do not carry much risk and will produce the effects we need;

  • Snapping an elastic band on your skin- Yes, this hurts, and you can do it in repeated succession if your threshold is a little higher than normal.
  • Hold an ice cube tight in your hand
  • Stamp your feet hard on the ground
  • Bite into something spicy

For feelings of sadness and melancholy

Periods of sadness are unfortunately unavoidable for us all at times. But like anger and frustration, these feelings can trigger an urge to self harm. But life is full of simple pleasures that can be used as a pick me up when you find yourself felling a little beaten down;

  • Make a list of things you are grateful for- Ugh.. lists.. Yes I know lists can be boring, but it never hurts to take some time to make a note of the positive things in your life. The list can consist of anything big or small, from a compliment you may have gotten recently to a holiday you are looking forward to.
  • Treat yourself- There are few better feelings than indulging in a guilty pleasure. Don't go running yourself into debt, but if you would rather deal with your bad mood in a new pair of shoes or a new top, then so be it.
  • Have a relaxing evening- Slow things down and work your problems out with a nice long relaxing bath, a mug of hot chocolate or glass of wine and some music.
  • Visit a friend or family member- spend some time with someone who lifts your mood. They can also be someone you can simply vent to.

A video based on a girls journey through self harm

Alternatives are not a solution

Self harm is a cycle addiction, a harmful cycle of addiction which needs to be broken. Addictions need to be taken seriously and treated appropriately as they can easily spiral out of control. Harming yourself, whether it leaves a scar or not is never ideal. You should care for your mind and body. But as with most mental health issues, taking the first step towards help is always difficult, yet it is worth taking. Because this is still a taboo subject, parents can be hard to approach for help in this area. But it is important to try. If this does not work or you simply cannot find the words, that is ok. If you don't get a positive response, it is not because you have done something wrong or that you are at fault, it is just a difficult subject for some to grasp. You can always find support from other family members, friends or from your doctor. It is important to know that this is not something you will overcome overnight. You will struggle with it just like any other addiction. But the battle can be won. If you struggle and find yourself relapsing, don't be discouraged, don't give up. Sometimes, all that is needed is a different approach. Try to avoid anything that could serve as a "trigger". Triggers are topics, images, videos and forums/sites that can promote self harm as a viable option or they could be topics that induce the urge to self harm indirectly through poor management of sensitive material.

There are plenty of ways to release without pain. A good cry can do the world of good, but people avoid this because they can feel it is associated with weakness, but it is a much better alternative to self harm. Keeping a journal or blog of your journey is also extremely helpful. It will help you keep track of your feelings and progress as well as keeping you grounded.

There are plenty of online resources available and i will post a link or two below as an example. If you are reading this because you are struggling with self harm or looking to support a friend or loved one battling with self harm, I want to congratulate you on taking a step towards overcoming a very tough issue. Please be patient and have faith in yourself and your loved one. Please feel free to share any ideas, opinions and experiences in the comments as any extra bit of information is always valuable. Thank you for taking the time to check out my article and I wish you every success.

© 2015 Sean Gorman


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    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      While working as a School Psychologist, I saw many students where this was an issue. It seemed to stem from generational trauma, where students didn't feel that they had a future, and would become numb to the demands on their time and talents within the school system. Some would even use pencil erasers to make burns that left scars. These tips look like they would be very helpful.

    • Sean Gorman profile image

      Sean Gorman 2 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks John, Really appreciate the comment. Also I am glad to hear your niece is doing better.

    • John Kelly28 profile image

      John Kelly 2 years ago from Sheffield

      My niece found a lot of these alternatives helpful when struggling with self injury two years back. It definitely helped to "take the edge off" her urges. She is doing so much better now thank God. Good stuff Sean. Keep it up.

    • profile image

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