TRIGGER WARNING: this post includes information about self-harm and self injury that may be triggering and distressing.
Self-harm means that you harm yourself on purpose. While it is not a mental health problem in itself, it is often linked to acute mental distress. The need to hurt or harm one’s own body stems from frustration, stress, and situations in life that are out of our control. This stress can be physical, psychological or emotional. Self-harm is therefore used as a way of dealing with stressors and frustration when it becomes too overwhelming.
Even though it may seem like a good idea at the time, self-harm can be incredibly dangerous in the long run. It can have unintended consequences on an individual’s health and appearance and might also cause serious injuries, hospitalisation or death.
Trust us when we say this: even though we end up hiding our feelings and emotions, it isn’t fun trying to hide the scars, the cuts or the bruises – in fact it can get even more stressful!
We understand that it feels as though there’s no light at the end of your tunnel and you feel there’s no other way to deal with what you’re feeling, but we promise that there are better ways to cope with different stressors in our lives and things will not always remain like this. Try seeking professional help or reach out to us and we will try our best to guide and help you out with your mental health concerns.
Also remember that you are responsible for your own health and it is important that your actions do not cause immense distress, harm or damage to yourself as well as to other people or things around you.
We accept no liability for unfavourable outcomes as a result of this advice. If in doubt, we advise you speak to your General Practitioner, a medical professional or a trusted adult.
Experts have put together a list of safer ways to self-harm, many of which are proven to give the same release and effect as other means, but with much less risk. Instead of putting yourself at risk physically, try doing these activities instead:
If you’re frustrated and angry:
Slap a hard surface – such as a wall or tabletop
Punch a cushion or punching bag or maybe even consider learning martial arts
Flatten aluminum cans for recycling – see how fast you can do it
Find somewhere isolated and scream as loudly as you possibly can (alternatively do it into a cushion)
Take part in high-intensity exercise; like circuit training, boxing, running or swimming
If you’re stressed and the emotions overpower you:
Take a cold bath
Play music really loudly
Try squeezing a stress ball
Find a lake or ocean and throw stones into the water as hard and as far as you can
Write down exactly how you are feeling in a diary – or if you’d prefer to, or just scribble everything out till the stress is out of your system!
Reach out – Talk to someone you trust (or talk to yourself in the mirror like you are talking to your best friend)
Give yourself a hair makeover, you would still be making drastic changes, but you can always grow your hair back
Look after and be kind to yourself; it doesn’t have to be something active. (You could try aromatherapy oil!)
If the thoughts related to self-harm are overwhelming:
Use a red marker pen to draw or write words (or put stickers) on the place where you want to cut
Paint on your body instead
Squeeze ice in your hands really hard
Squeeze the ‘pores’ in the skin of an orange / satsuma / clementine (take care to avoid getting juice in your eyes)
Find an old magazine or newspaper and tear it up
Snap a rubber band against your wrist
Self-harm is not the answer to your problems but doing the above things as a short-term measure could be safer ways of releasing the emotion and stress you felt in the moment.
While there are ways to curb hurting yourself physically, if one does go ahead with self-harming, it is always risky. You might want to lower the physical damage you do when you self-harm by following some guidelines for the least damage caused. This is called harm reduction.
Reduce the harm
Clean the things you are using to harm yourself first. Put them in boiling water or using a sterilising fluid can reduce the risk of infection. There is a decreased risk to infection if the tool you are using is sterilised.
Do not share self-harming tools with other people. There is a risk you could get a disease (including hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS).
Remember sharp implements become blunter over time so they might not work in the same way as before. Replace them regularly and test the pressure you use on something else before yourself – orange peel is useful for this.
Try using candle wax instead of lighter, hot metal, or match sticks.
Don’t self-harm in areas where you have lots of scars. Scar tissue may not be as strong as your skin.
Avoid drugs or alcohol. They can affect your judgement
Be aware that over-the-counter drugs are dangerous too, even a small overdose can have serious side effects, especially with paracetamol.
Take care of yourself
Learn first aid and keep first aid supplies nearby. Such as antiseptic wipes and bandages.
Clean cuts gently before applying a clean non-stick dressing.
Cool burns under cold running water for at least 10 minutes.
Have an emergency plan, such as keeping a phone nearby so that you can ring an ambulance if you need to.
Set yourself limits before you self-harm and stick to them. Such as decide how many cuts you will make and how big they will be. This is a good way of learning the skills you need to stop.
Think of options that don’t break your skin.
Think of options instead of swallowing medication or substances.
There is no safe way to self-poison.
Reach out immediately:
Sometimes the result of self-harm requires urgent medical attention from trained medical staff. The things to look out for are:
Deep or wide cuts.
Bleeding that spurts or won’t stop.
Burns or scalds that are bigger than a 50p.
Signs of infection such as the area being red, hot, swollen, or oozing pus.
Ingestion of poisons.
Usually, the need and thoughts of self-harm peaks when you feel distress, anxiety or loss of control in your surroundings and lasts for an hour. After which, the urge for the same might reduce. Another way of dealing with these thoughts is to distract oneself from the thoughts in the first place. We understand that sometimes these thoughts are overpowering and they guide our behaviour – but dealing with these might be easier than you believe.
If you want to reduce the self-harming behaviour, try to increase the time passing between the thoughts that lead to it and acting on it. Distract yourself, or sit with your thoughts but let time pass by and avoid the impulse of acting on your thoughts at the first go.
Change of environment: Use this energy somewhere else. The sudden surge may die down if you change the environment completely. Go for a walk, get out of the physical space itself. If not, call someone you like talking to and have a conversation with them.
Put the energy somewhere else: You like baking, drawing, painting, writing, creating art? Take all the energy you have and bake, clean, cook or create instead! (Remember that it doesn’t have to be the yummiest of dishes or prettiest of art, just make sure you do what you like for an hour or two.)
Practice mindfulness: Your negative thoughts are overpowering everything else in that moment, right? Try to be mindful of the things around you at that time. Pick an object (absolutely anything!), close your eyes and feel all the different textures, layers, and shapes of the object – then write a descriptive piece on it. If you are having bad thoughts about yourself or feeling guilty, write down everything good about yourself, or everything you’re grateful for – and continue till you feel better!
It might be a good idea to reach out mental health professionals, friends or family if you have had or acted on thoughts of self-harm for safety. Please reach out to us and we will make sure to guide you and help you out with your emotional and mental health concerns.
Unnati has an interesting knowledge of memes and Bollywood trivia. They likes to express themselves through their poetry, art, and dancing. Being a queer feminist, they change their hairstyle every few months as a way of breaking out of the dichotomy of gender, and reclaiming their own body. They are equally passionate about literature and biology as they are about mental health, and tries to keep acquiring new skills and information wherever they go.