Positive ways I’ve found to reduce self-harm

Grainne talks about how introducing positive ways to deal with emotional distress helped to reduce self-harm

Written by Grainne Jones


Self-harm has become an epidemic for the younger generation, and I, like many others my age, have struggled with hurting myself since I was in my mid-teens. Self-harm was a safety net when everything else was wrong; when I couldn’t cope with my emotions or other situations around me. I always thought that I’d be destined to hurt myself for the rest of my life, but thankfully I’ve finally realised that it doesn’t always need to be that way.

A problematic coping method

Self-harm is a coping method – a problematic one, but a coping method nonetheless. The key to reducing self-harm is to find a different way of coping to replace the damaging one. “Just stopping” harming oneself is rarely an option; we are still in emotional distress but left without a way to deal with it if we “just simply stop” hurting ourselves. What I’ve found best for reducing the amount or frequency of harming is by slowly introducing more and more positive ways of dealing with emotional distress until the need to self-harm goes away.

Start small

Taking the first step towards coping without using self-harm can be scary, but I promise it is worth it. By starting out small and finding things that work for you, slowly but surely it’s possible to reduce self-harm incidents. The very first thing I did to reduce how often I was hurting myself was by drawing on my own skin with a marker. It helped because I was still technically marking myself, but in a positive and constructive manner; the perfect middle ground for me. There are so many options for what to do instead of harming yourself. Here’s a few things I did – some of which I still do – to prevent self-harm:

  • Put an elastic band around your wrist and snap it when the urge to harm is bad; the sting from the snap works as a distraction
  • Use ice-packs or heat-packs (always wrap them in a towel first); the extremes in temperature help make the mind focus on something else instead of urges
  • Go for a run (or flailing jog if you’re me!); exerting yourself will help get that negative energy out and can calm extreme emotions
  • Cry! Let yourself feel the emotion and sit with it; it may sound counter-intuitive but sometimes feeling those emotions instead of numbing them is very important
  • Soothe yourself; light candles, burn incense and take a bath (again, cry if you need to!) – you deserve to be kind to yourself and your body, even if your mind is telling you otherwise
  • Occupy your hands; squeezing stress balls or making things out of play-doh (trust me, you’re never too old for play-doh!) can be a great way to get some of that energy out and it works as a distraction
  • Write and scribble as much as you possibly can; fill a journal up with everything that is going on in your mind. Getting those thoughts and urges out on paper helps

There is hope

When I was at my worst, I hated people telling me that things would get better; to me, their positivity was almost condescending to the pain I was experiencing. To hear someone who had never experienced self-harm say that everything would be okay meant literally nothing to me, because they didn’t really understand what I was going through. What I needed was someone who had dealt with self-harm and come out the other side to tell me – and to show me – that things can and really do improve.

There is hope for people who self-harm. Hurting yourself may be your current coping method, but with time you will be able to deal with difficult and overwhelming emotions and distressing situations in other ways. Take things one day at a time; that one day that you didn’t self-harm can turn to two, turn to a week, turn to a month. Focus on the moment and look after yourself in the here and now. Give yourself credit for how far you’ve come, because you’re stronger than you think. One day you’ll be the person giving the advice to others about how to help themselves. You CAN do this.                                                                        

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