How to Manage Mental Health Without Self-Harming

Healthy Coping Skills for Self-Harm/Cutting Urges

We hear from a lot of people who struggle with self-harm. It's important to remember that self-harm can include a variety of behaviors. If you're putting yourself through physical, emotional, or mental suffering to punish yourself, to attempt to relieve stress, or to "release" deeper emotional pain, it's going to take a toll on your mental health. It poses a physical risk, too. So, it's important to get help to stop harming yourself as soon as you realize it's a problem. 

Some of the most common ways people mentally and physically harm themselves include:

If you've been cutting or harming yourself in other ways, there are much healthier ways to manage your mental health. Here are some that people chatting with our HopeCoaches have found most helpful. 

Five Things to Focus on to Avoid Self-Harm

1. Realize You're in Control

We've noticed that people cut and self-harm because they feel overwhelmed or overtaken by painful emotions or traumatic circumstances and harmful behaviors feel like a way to cope. But that's a dangerous myth that only gets people trapped in a cycle of greater pain and harm.

  • Myth: My emotions are too much to manage.
    • Truth: You are in control of your emotions. You can decide to do something other than harming yourself.
  • Myth: I have to hurt myself to release the pain I'm feeling inside.
    • Truth: Hurting yourself will only worsen your pain.

How does it feel to know that you can find ways through these tough feelings that won't compound your suffering? It can be very empowering when we realize just how much we are capable of, especially with so many people who care, and so much support for stopping self-harm available.

For example, you can reach out to our partner, Door of Hope, for support from people who’ve been there or chat with a Hope Coach.

2. Realize Urges Will Pass

If you think back, you probably haven't followed every strong urge you've ever felt by acting on it. Of course, we all make mistakes, and we all give in to unhealthy impulses from time to time. But no single powerful emotion or urge lasts forever. 

Like all urges, the urge to cut or harm yourself will pass if you wait it out. It's best, during those times, to have a plan for healthy distractions from cutting or self-harm that you can focus on to pass the time.

You can get creative based on what you enjoy and what makes you feel relaxed, but here are some suggestions (adapted from a list by TeensHealth) to try if you’re drawing a blank:

  • Make a list of people, places, interests, or activities you love and care about.
  • Call, text, or video chat with a friend or family member about your upcoming plans, or a funny story that always makes the two of you laugh.
  • Play with your pet or take them for a walk. If you don't have a pet, look at cute pictures or videos of animals online.
  • Take a hot shower or bath to relax your muscles.
  • Go for a walk, hike, jog, or run.
  • Dance and/or sing along to your favorite songs until you're feeling better. 
  • Watch a funny show or video.
  • Drink a glass of water.
  • Lie down or snuggle up under a soft blanket.

Whatever you decide on can fill your mind and keep you occupied until the desire to hurt yourself goes away. 

3. Make a Plan

People who have talked to us about their own self-harm recovery journey have mentioned the importance of planning ahead. In the heat of the moment, it's more challenging to stop the cycle of self-harm.

But if you have a plan of steps to avoid self-harm that you know work well, you can follow that plan next time you're tempted to cut or engage in other self-harming behavior. 
Your plan can include:

  • Encouraging Things to Tell Yourself
  • People to Call or Text
  • a Bible Verse that Encourages You
  • a Song to Listen to or a Show to Watch

Keep your plan on a small card or sticky note, and put it in places that are easy to see for when you need reminders. Some people put theirs in the bedroom or bathroom mirror, on their desk, in their purse or wallet, or on the refrigerator. Choose wherever works for you, and make more than one copy if you feel you need to.

4. Focus on Your Future

When the urge to cut or harm yourself strikes, you might feel either overwhelmed by all the things you regret about your past, or powerless against the pain of the present moment. But there's something important you're forgetting: the future! Your whole life is ahead of you. In those tough moments, try imagining and hoping for your future:

  • What new hobbies would you like to try?
  • What do you want to learn more about?
  • Are there art projects or works of art you want to create?
  • Which talents and gifts would you like to share with others?
  • What are some dreams for your life you hope to achieve someday?
  • What adventures do you want to share with your friends, family, or loved

Thinking about the future can help you remember that you were created with a purpose, and there is still a lot of time left to make a difference in your life, your relationships, and the world around you. 

5. Remember Your Value

Remembering your value can be key to reclaiming your self-worth and self-esteem. When you have a strong sense of self-worth, you're far less likely to harm yourself through cutting, addiction, or some other toxic behavior. But where do you find that worth when life gets you down? Someone sent us a message that may help you with this:

"The last time I wanted to cut, I didn't know what else to do but pray. I'm not very religious, but the desire to hurt myself felt way bigger than I can handle. I don't remember what I said exactly, but it was something like, 'Please God, take this urge away from me and help me remember I'm loved'. I prayed that over and over until I felt calmer, and I noticed a picture of me with my family. I felt like God helped me get through my temptation to self-harm not only because of my prayer, but by reminding me of the love my family has for me, and that I don't want to hurt the people in my life"

Hopefully, it helps you if you're struggling with thoughts of self-harm to remember that God loves you unconditionally, and that He is ready to show you that love through the people you care about, and the people who are important to you.

We have a partner resource for you and your loved one called, Door of Hope.  They provide emotional support, guidance and resources for young adults who struggle with self-injury. You can call, text, or email a recovery coach to start breaking free from self-harm today!

TheHopeLine Team
For over 30 years, TheHopeLine has been helping students and young adults in crisis. Our team is made up of writers and mental health professionals who care deeply about helping others.
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