Unfortunately, self-harm is not uncommon behavior for those struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. Self-harm is defined as an individual inflicting pain on their own body. This occurs as a way to alleviate pain from the mind, release emotions, serve as a form of self-punishment, or a variety of other motivations. Individuals who engage in self-harm can have difficulty stopping because they have reinforced satisfaction from the behavior.

Training your mind to view self-harm differently and avoid this behavior can take time and adjustment. There are a variety of alternative activities or interventions you can use in place of self-harm that may give you the same level of satisfaction without putting yourself in danger. These can be utilized to safely stray away from the act of self-harming.

Self-harm can be an unhealthy escape from a variety of emotions. The alternative methods may differ depending on the feeling you are trying to overcome; however, any strategy that resonates with you is better than self-harm. 

Dealing With Cravings

Experiencing cravings can lead an individual to cave into desires for self-harm. Engaging in something that creates a painful or strong sensation can draw the attention away from the craving and towards the physical sensation. The next time you feel tempted to use self-harm as a coping mechanism for cravings, try the following alternatives instead.

  • Submerge your hand into ice-cold water
  • Squeeze an ice cube or ice pack
  • Take a cold shower
  • Eat a hot pepper
  • Flick your wrist with a rubber band

These alternative activities can be helpful when dealing with cravings or dissociation. Many of the techniques above involve a form of cold water. Using cold temperatures to inflict a strong physical sensation can ground you and direct your thoughts into the present without causing damage to your body. 

Dealing With Anger

Extreme anger expressed in the form of self-harm is often directed toward yourself. Your body alters into a fight-or-flight mode and begins to fight against itself. Try the following alternative techniques to release anger without hurting yourself or others.

  • Use a pillow as a punching bag or to scream into
  • Write down your frustrations on paper and then rip them up when you are finished
  • Tear an old piece of clothing
  • Go for a run

When dealing with self-harm and anger, alternative methods that involve some level of physical release seem to be the most efficient. Allowing yourself to release your frustration through physical actions without putting anyone in danger is a way to stray away from self-harm.

Dealing With Sadness

Self-harm is a common form of coping utilized in those with depression, self-hate, or addiction. These alternatives may seem like simple relaxation techniques, but some of them are more specific to those who strongly desire to engage in the act of self-harm.

  • Take a hot bath
  • Surround yourself with peaceful sounds and scents
  • Draw on yourself with henna (Using henna on the skin that you desire to obstruct allows you to draw and soothe your mind, and you can peel the dried paint after.)
  • Cover your hands with kid-safe glue such as liquid Elmer’s glue (Allowing it to dry and peeling it off can give the satisfying feeling of self-harm without inflicting injury.)

These alternative behaviors are ideal for those who feel a strong desire to self-harm or need a form of distraction. The concentration required to peel henna ink or glue off your skin can be a solid distraction from the initial emotions that led you toward the desire to self-harm in the first place. 

Function of Alternatives

The overall function of these alternatives is to ease the desire to engage in self-harm. Self-harm itself can be addictive and requires a process of overcoming, similar to substance abuse recovery. Using these techniques as steppingstones to reach a point where you can express your feelings in an alternative manner is a worthwhile and healthy goal. These steps are helpful in the transition phase as you learn to avoid self-harm and keep yourself safe in the process.

To successfully stray away from self-harm, you often need a strong form of distraction from the behavior. All of the previously listed alternatives bring a level of focus to something other than the current emotion you are suffering through. These behaviors are similar to self-harm because they are a form of distraction but don’t cause any damage. Using these to prevent yourself from engaging in the habit of self-harm can help you reduce your reliance on it as a coping mechanism in the future.

Self-harm occurs for a variety of reasons by people with mental health or substance use disorders. The motive of the individual engaging in self-harm can vary, but prevention practices are similar and harmless. There are a variety of alternative behaviors that can be used when you feel the desire to self-harm that will give you a similar sensation or satisfaction without putting yourself or others in danger. Desires to self-harm can be triggered by a variety of emotions. The suggested alternative coping strategies differ slightly depending on the inciting emotion: cravings, anger, or sadness. While the suggestions differ, any method can be used if you feel it is the best alternative for you. Try these alternative coping skills instead and work toward creating a safe space for yourself. Reach out to Dream Recovery to learn more about these alternatives to self-harm and choose the right one for you at (949) 732-1960.

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