Self harm alternatives: Recommendations by Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Maite Ferrin

Self-harming is on the rise amongst teenagers and young adults.

Re:Cognition Health Psychiatrist, Dr Maite Ferrin, advises that individuals engaging in self-harm behaviour learn alternative, healthier, coping mechanisms to help reduce the damage inflicted.

Self-harm can be habit-forming for many individuals, so it will take time to break the habit and reduce the incidences.

Self-harm distractions

Coping mechanisms can be empowering for a person who has made the conscious decision to not harm themselves. It’s a very positive step towards recovery.

The following self-harm distractions are examples that may help alleviate incidences, based on the intensity of the urge.

It is always advisable to seek treatment from a medical professional.

Low urge to self-harm: alternative distracting activities:

  • Playing with a pet
  • Listen to music and sing
  • Read, write or paint
  • Phone a friend
  • Count your breaths – deep inhales and exhales
  • Take a warm bath
  • Go for a walk or run
  • Socialise – be in the company of other people
  • Meditate
  • Relax- listen to or watching a comedy
  • Repeat five things one can see, smell, touch or taste in the present surroundings

Medium urge to self-harm: replace with highly activating behavior, high sensory or low painful non-harming stimulation:

  • Eat a lemon
  • Snap a rubber band on the wrist
  • Go for a run or cycle
  • Do sit-ups, burpees or push ups
  • Hit a pillow (or scream into it)
  • Use a red felt tip pen to mark regions on the skin where cutting usually occurs
  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Making noise
  • Tearing up paper or cardboard-old phone books, newspapers or cardboard box

High urge to self-harm: substitute with moderate painful non-harming stimulation:

  • Chew a jalapeno pepper
  • Take a very cold shower
  • Place hands in freezing cold water
  • Walk with dried peas in shoes
  • Rub ice across the skin where cutting usually occurs

Other examples of self-harm help

Exercise can be a very positive coping mechanism for all people who engage in self-harm behaviour.

The endorphins released give a feel-good factor and a feeling of positivity. Whether dancing, running, swimming, kickboxing or practising pilates or yoga, exercise can help relieve stress and frustration, improve sleep and boost the mood, as well as offering many additional health benefits.

It’s imperative that people engaging in self-harm receive expert help and advice from a qualified medical professional, especially if a deeper psychiatric condition such as depression, anxiety or PTSD is suspected.

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