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Tips on How To Manage the Urge to Self-Injure

Self-injury is a deliberate, intentional injury to one’s own body that causes damage or leaves marks. This is done to cope with an overwhelming or distressing situation. Here are tips on how to manage this urge.

General Practices 

  • Practice deep breathing. Slowly take a deep breath. Hold it in for three to five seconds. Breathe out slowly. Repeat this a few times.
  • Learn relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Numerous websites offer guidelines on learning and practicing relaxation techniques.
  • Take a hot bath or shower.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Avoid temptation. If you cut yourself with a razor, ask a friend to hide your razors. Avoid the aisle in the store where razors are sold.
  • Take up a sport. This can be individual (weight lifting, running, shooting baskets) or team oriented (tennis, soccer, volleyball).
  • Go to church or to your place of worship. Commune with others. Commune with your God or Higher Power.
  • Do some household chores. Clean, do laundry, vacuum.
  • Allow yourself to cry. Crying provides a catharsis—a release of anxiety and emotion—and relieves the urge to hurt yourself.
  • Make a list of the reasons why you are going to stop hurting yourself. When you get the urge to hurt yourself, read the list to remind yourself why you shouldn’t.

Reaching Out

  • Reach out to someone. Call a friend, acquaintance, or family member.
  • Try not to be alone. Go shopping or visit a friend. Be outside in a public place.
  • Learn to confront others and to feel okay about it. Make your feelings known, especially if someone angers or hurts you emotionally.

Creative Outlets

  • Listen to music—preferably music that relates to what you are feeling. If you’re feeling angry, listen to angry music. If you’re feeling down or blue, listen to upbeat or uplifting music.
  • Write in a journal, or write a letter to yourself describing what you are going through.
  • Find your own unique creative outlet for your feelings. For some people, this can be artistic, performance, music, sports, exercise, or writing. For others, maybe it’s a pogo stick or puzzles. Be creative.
  • Work with paint, clay, or Play-Doh. Create something, then do whatever you would like with it (keep it, share it with someone, destroy it).
  • Draw a picture of the person or thing that is making you angry.
  • Write a letter to the person or people who have hurt you, and express how he/she/they made you feel. Such letters do not have to be perfect, just expressive. You do not have to give or send these letters—they are for your own self-expression—though you can deliver them if you would like. Some people find comfort in destroying the letters after they have been written. Others keep them as a way to remind themselves of how much they hurt at one point in time.
  • Cook something.
  • Try sewing, cross-stitch, or other crafts.
  • Find a poem, prayer, or song that is meaningful to you (e.g., an affirmation). Recite it several times to yourself or out loud.
  • Write down some of your good points or strengths and the reasons that you do not deserve to be hurt. Everybody has good points, even though they may sometimes be difficult to see or feel.
  • Write (in a journal) why you want to hurt yourself. If you have already hurt yourself, try to identify some of the triggers (the things that led up to hurting yourself, your feelings).
  • Play a musical instrument (even a harmonica works). Even if you do not know how, playing a tune forces you to concentrate and can relieve that overwhelming feeling—the urge—to hurt yourself.
  • Write down the word or words that best describe how you are feeling (e.g., horrible, sad, empty, lonely, enraged, overwhelmed). Write the word over and over. Sometimes, this process can make the word look humorous or silly, and can make an overwhelming feeling seem like not such a big deal.
  • Scribble or doodle on paper. Scribble hard if you would like, or scribble with crayons or markers.

Instead of Hurting Yourself

  • Wear an elastic band around your wrist. Snap it when you have the urge to harm yourself.
  • Draw red lines on your body where you usually cut or hurt yourself. Use washable markers.
  • Hold ice cubes in your hands. The cold causes pain in your hands, but it is not dangerous and will not leave scars.
  • Punch a bed or a pillow—something soft and unbreakable.
  • Find a piece of wood and scratch or draw a picture on it (with a pen, with a screwdriver, etc.).
  • Go outside and scream or yell.
  • Try massaging the area you want to cut or burn with massage oil or cream, reminding yourself that you deserve to treat your body with respect.
  • Break the object(s) that you use to hurt yourself as a way to show that you have control over it/them.
  • Take the thing you use to cut or burn and use it on something else. If you cut yourself with a razor, try using it to cut a towel. Sometimes, seeing the potential of the object can make you think twice about using it on yourself. This can also give you the feeling of cutting without hurting yourself.


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