What is Self Harm?

Mental health struggles can look like anxiety, depression, mood swings, delusions, hallucinations, etc. These moments may feel like it is impossible to move forward or to feel better. When this is the case, the mental anguish can be so painful that some feel they must distract themselves with something easier to comprehend: physical pain. This can be a distraction or a release for those who have found themselves self-harming. Self-harm is considered any form of hurting oneself on purpose1. It is important to note that typically self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but rather a way to cope with emotional distress.

Types of Self-Harm

For those who turn to self-harm, it can manifest in a variety of ways. Some of the most common types of self-harm include:

  • Cutting
  • Scratching
  • Burning
  • Carving words/symbols in skin
  • Hitting/punching self
  • Piercing skin with sharp objects
  • Pulling hair out
  • Picking at wounds2.

Warning  Signs of Self-Harm

Self-Harm can be looked down upon by others. Due to the stigma surrounding the topic, some people resist reaching out for help or being open with others regarding these struggles. If you are afraid that someone in your life could be self-harming, here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Scars
  • Fresh cuts, scratches, bruises, burns
  • Repeatedly wearing long sleeves/pants, regardless of the weather
  • Impulsive behaviour, unpredictability
  • Statements of hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness
  • Isolating behaviours 3.

Distraction Techniques & Coping Skills

Recovery can come through the help of loved ones, therapy, medication, or a combination of these. Recovery from self-harm can be similar to substance use recovery, where many may deal with relapse or triggers. Here are some specific strategies to utilize when feeling triggered to self-harm, based on what you are feeling:

When You Are Feeling Angry

  • Find a ‘rage room’ near you, which will allow you to channel your anger and safely hit, kick, and break objects, in a controlled environment.
  • Hit a punching bag.
  • Punch your pillow.
  • Write a note or letter regarding what is making you angry, then tear it apart.
  • Throw ice or eggs at a wall or into a sink or bathtub–allowing them to shatter in a safe environment that will not cause damage.

Feeling Depressed/Sad

  • Take a hot bath with aromatherapy, candles, or bubbles.
  • Hug a loved one, a pet, or a stuffed animal.
  • Make a list of things that make you happy.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Bake things that you enjoy the smell/taste of.
  • Watch a movie, a television show, or a book.

Experiencing Guilt/Self-Deprecating Thoughts

  • List as many good things about yourself as you can.
  • Do something kind for someone in your life.
  • Think of times when you have done positive things in your life.
  • Think of what is making you feel guilty, and ways that you can change the situation4.

General Distraction Techniques When Triggered

Here are some general distraction techniques and coping skills for when feeling triggered to self-harm:

  1. Texting or Calling Someone: This can be done in a variety of ways. Someone to call may be a person who you trust and who you can reach out to when you are feeling an urge to self-harm, in order to keep yourself accountable. Click here for a link to Global Support lines.
  2. Change your Environment: Sometimes just changing where we are and what we are doing is enough to get out of the mindset we are in. This could mean going for a walk around your neighborhood, going to a local park, or finding a fun activity to do for the day.
  3. Exercise: Helps to produce endorphins, which can lead to happier feelings and thoughts. It may be as simple as getting out of the house and going for a walk or could involve getting to a gym and lifting weights.
  4. Meditating: Meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, and practicing mindfulness all can help with anxiety, depression, and thoughts of self-harm. These all can take practice to truly master, but when you become well-versed in these techniques, they can be utilized in moments of turmoil.
  5. Expressing Yourself: Journaling, drawing, painting, dancing, and other forms of artistic expression can be utilized to get your feelings out. These techniques can all be helpful expressions, allowing us to feel less heavy in our hearts.
  6. A Cold Touch: Placing something cold, such as an ice pack on your chest, can promote cardiac vagal activity, which increases heart rate variability. This sign specifically points to decreased stress5.
  7. Speaking to a Professional: Finally, reaching out to a therapist can be one of the greatest ways to deal with self-harm triggers. Many therapists will be available to you in moments of deep distress. While you may not always be able to contact your therapist outside of sessions, during sessions you can discuss ways to work through these triggers.

Getting Additional Help

If you are looking for a therapist to support you on your journey of recovery from self-harm, our therapists at Online-Therapy.com provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

We have a variety of therapists who would love to help you with mental health concerns. Our platform offers a complete online therapy toolbox. Our site has multiple options, which involve time with a personal therapist who can support you throughout your journey. If this is something you have an interest in, we would love to hear from you.

If you feel you need support through your journey to recovery from self-harm, head over to www.online-therapy.com, we are looking forward to helping you!


Crisis Text Line. (2023). How to Deal with Self Harm. Crisis Text Line. https://www.crisistextline.org/topics/self-harm/#what-is-self-harm-1

Kilburn, E. & Whitlock, J.L. (2009). Distraction Techniques and Alternative Coping Strategies. The Practical Matters Series, Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery. Cornell University. Ithaca, NY.

Petrarca, M. (September 23, 2022). Can Icing Your Chest Ease a Panic Attack and Make you Sleep Better? Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/can-icing-your-chest-ease-a-panic-attack-and-make-you-sleep-better/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CThe%20reasoning%20behind%20’icing’,a%20sign%20of%20decreased%20stress.