We spoke to some of the staff on our emotional support helpline who often help callers overcome the urge to self-harm, to find out what techniques and advice they offer to help people. Ways of coping tend to fall into two categories: coping with the urge to self-injure, and harm-minimisation techniques.

Coping with the urge to self-injure

Ways of coping with the urge to self-injure often focus on distracting you from the thoughts and urges you are having. Here are a few things to try:

  • Prepare a ‘distraction box’ – this might be a box, bag or basket that you put together, containing things that help you cope with difficult urges. Some people include old photos of happy times, scents or herbal teas that they find comforting, and crosswords or colouring books that can divert their attention. Find what works for you. If you are creative, you might like to decorate the box or bag, to make it feel more special to you. You can see some examples of other peoples’ boxes here.
  • If you have a pet, find them and give them a cuddle. Our pets love unconditionally and don’t offer judgement, so they can be a great companion in difficult times. Being around animals is also proven to release chemicals in our body called endorphins, which can improve your mood. (A favourite soft toy can also have a similar effect.)
  • Choose self-care over self-injury. Not only will this distract you from harming yourself, it will improve your overall self-care habits and, in time, your self-esteem. For example, you could choose to apply your favourite body lotion to the area of your body you might usually harm.
  • Many people find mindfulness techniques very helpful in getting past the urge to self-injure. Try noticing and naming feelings as you become aware of them; or focus on what is going on around you, such as furniture in your room or the natural world outside. Mind have a lot of useful mindfulness techniques and tips.
  • Depending on where you are and what time of day it is, physical exercise can help you to channel your urges away from self-injury. If you feel safe and able to do so, try going for a brisk walk.

Minimising harm

The aim of these alternatives is to get you through periods of strong urges to self-injure by providing a ‘short, sharp shock’ that doesn’t create lasting physical harm. Some common harm-minimisation alternatives are:

  • Writing down your thoughts or feelings on some paper and ripping it up, taking out your feelings on the paper rather than yourself.
  • Drawing on yourself with a red pen. This visual image might help relieve your urge without actually cutting yourself.
  • Put elastic bands on your wrists, arms or legs and flick them instead of cutting or hitting.
  • Squeeze a piece of ice hard in your hand or against the areas where you might usually harm yourself.

Remember, the most helpful coping techniques and strategies will be different for everyone, because it depends on what you find most effective at distracting you from/overcoming your urge to self-injure. LifeSIGNS, a self-injury guidance and support network, have a fantastic range of resources for helping yourself (as well as guidance for friends and family of people who self-injure).

If you are still struggling, it’s important to talk to someone who can help you. If you don’t feel able to reach out to friends or family, we offer emotional support helplines and webchat in some areas.

See if our helpline is available in your area