If you are having thoughts of death or suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK or text DBSA to 741-741. If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency room. 

If you are experiencing an intense urge to hurt yourself, it can be hard to imagine that it’s possible to do anything else. Self-harming is a destructive coping mechanism and oftentimes a symptom of larger, underlying mental health challenges. By understanding the root causes of the urge to self-harm, you can work to make healthier choices in the future. 

Understand your triggers and patterns 

‘Triggers’ are what give you the urge to hurt yourself. Triggers can include people, situations, anniversaries, sensations, or specific thoughts or feelings.  

Think about the last time you self-harmed or thought about self-harming. Write down what happened right before you felt the urge. Try and identify what experiences, thoughts or feelings led you to want to self-harm.  

Identifying patterns and triggers can help you avoid them in the future. 

Find distractions to help you resist the urge to self-harm 

Look for ways to distract yourself and release negative emotions when you feel like self-harming. Different distractions work for different people, and the same distraction won’t necessarily work for you every time. In addition to the options below, come up with some of your own.  

If you’re feeling angry or frustrated, you could try: 

  • Exercise. Going for a run or doing a workout can help release frustration and get good endorphins pumping. 
  • Hitting or shouting into a pillow. 
  • Writing a letter to the object of your anger and then tearing up the paper into tiny pieces. 

Expressing your anger physically, or by doing things like shouting, won’t work for everyone and could intensify feelings. Try things out and continue with any that have a positive effect. 

If you’re feeling sad or afraid, try: 

  • Wrapping yourself in a blanket. 
  • Spending time playing with an animal or pet. 
  • Taking a walk in nature. 
  • Letting yourself cry it out.  
  • Listening to soothing music. 
  • Deep breathing. Lie on your back in a comfortable position and breathe in and out slowly. 

If you need to feel in control, try: 

  • Writing lists. It could be a to-do list, a wish list, or a list of things you like about yourself. Writing lists can be a great distraction and help you feel in control. 
  • Tidying up. Clean up your space or do a deep-clean on something you use or see every day. 
  • Clench and slowly relax each of your muscles. Start with your face and work your way down to your toes. Flex or clench each of your muscles, hold, and then release.  

If you feel numb, try: 

  • Holding an ice cube. 
  • Taking a cold shower. 
  • Smelling something with a strong odor, like a candle or essential oils.  

If you feel shame or self-hatred, try: 

Reminding yourself that you are human, and no one is perfect. There are reasons for why you act or feel the way you do; It’s not your fault and you’re not “bad” because of it.  

Preventing self-harm in the future 

Long-term, it’s important to address the root causes of self-harm and work on a plan for recovery. To do this, you can: 

Accept your feelings 

You can’t ignore your feelings. Allow yourself to feel emotions that come to the surface; it’s the first step to managing them and moving through them. 

Build your self-esteem 

Like every person, you are unique and have something special to offer this world. To build your self-esteem, try engaging in a creative hobby like painting or writing. Take care to spend your time with people who build you up and make you feel good about yourself. Set goals and map out a plan to reach them. 

Understand your mental health in more detail 

In addition to writing down triggers, keep track of your mental health over time. Free tools like the Wellness Wheel and Wellness Tracker can help you get started.  

Reach out for support 

You don’t have to cope with self-harm on your own. If you’re not ready to seek professional help with a therapist, reach out to a trusted friend or loved one and tell them how you feel.  

If you live with depression or bipolar disorder, free online support groups are available. Learn more here.