40 Alternatives To Self-Harm

The Depression Project

6 min read

If you engage in self-harm, our friend, then one of several different strategies you can implement to break out of this habit is to replace it with an alternative, much healthier behaviour. So, we asked our 1,000,000+ person Facebook community what alternatives to self-harm they find effective, and below, we've accumulated 40 of the most common responses.

As you'll see, some of these alternatives to self-harm have different objectives - for example:

  • To help distract you;
  • To help you release painful emotions;
  • To help you break out of numbness.

For this reason among others, not all of these alternatives to self-harm are likely to resonate with you. However, hopefully you'll find at least a handful of them helpful :)

40 Alternatives To Self-Harm

  1. Tear apart a newspaper, photo or magazine.

  2. Go for a walk or a run.

  3. Allow yourself to cry without shaming yourself for it. Let it out freely.

  4. Distract yourself with Youtube videos.

  5. Write down words that empower you and sticky-tape them to your body.

  6. Re-organise your room.

  7. Repeat a positive affirmation to yourself (e.g. "I deserve love, not pain").

  8. Reach out to a friend to talk through your emotions.

  9. Practice aromatherapy.

  10. Call a crisis line (click here to find a list of numbers you may be able to call).

  11. Plan your dream holiday.

  12. Hug and squeeze your pillow tightly.

  13. Have a cold shower.

  14. Write out the lyrics to your favourite song.

  15. Dance around your room to release excess energy.

  16. Browse Amazon and make a wishlist.

  17. Doodle over your notebook.

  18. Buy a cuddle toy.

  19. Write your negative thoughts on a piece of paper and then tear it up.

  20. Set a stopwatch and delay harming yourself for one minute ... and then another ... and then another ... and then another ... etcetera, etcetera. After each minute, congratulate yourself on your strength and your self-control.

  21. Eat chewing gum and focus all of your attention on it.

  22. Practice a mindfulness exercise.

  23. Break sticks in your backyard.

  24. Re-watch your favourite TV show.

  25. Scream into a pillow.

  26. Journal your thoughts.

  27. Count the tiles on your floor.

  28. Squeeze a stress ball.

  29. Put on a fake tattoo.

  30. Study the night sky and see how many stars you can count.

  31. Blow up balloons and pop them.

  32. Scribble with crayons over a blank page.

  33. Use a pen / marker to draw on yourself.

  34. Knit a scarf.

  35. Play music and sing along to the lyrics of your favourite songs.

  36. Pop bubble wrap.

  37. Treat yourself to your favourite meal.

  38. Count to 100.

  39. Paint your nails a new colour.

  40. Pick flowers.

TIP: Try To Replace Self-Harm With An Alternative Behaviour That Can Fulfil A Similar "Objective" To The One You're Looking For

Remember before sharing this list of alternatives to self-harm with you, when we said that some of these alternatives have different objectives? Well, in order for these alternatives to self-harm to be as effective as possible, you'll likely find it helpful if you replace self-harm with an alternative behaviour that can fulfil a similar objective to the one you're looking for.

For example:

Reason Why You Feel The Urge To Self-Harm: Because you're in excruciating mental pain.

The "Objective" You're Looking To Achieve: Distraction from this pain.

Healthy Alternatives To Self-Harm That Can Help You Achieve This "Objective":

  • Watching Youtube videos;

  • Planning your dream holiday;

  • Browsing Amazon and making a wishlist;

  • Doodling over your notebook;

  • Re-watching your favourite television show.

Reason Why You Feel The Urge To Self-Harm: Because your emotions have been building for so long and you're desperate to release them.

The "Objective" You're Looking To Achieve: A release from these pent-up emotions.

Healthy Alternatives To Self-Harm That Can Help You Achieve This "Objective":

  • Going for a walk or a run;

  • Screaming into a pillow;

  • Journalling;

  • Writing your negative thoughts on a piece of paper and then tearing it up

Reason Why You Feel The Urge To Self-Harm: Because you're feeling extremely numb.

The "Objective" You're Looking To Achieve: A "break" from your numbness, to feel something, to remind yourself that you're still alive.

Healthy Alternatives To Self-Harm That Can Help You Achieve This "Objective": Doing something to engage your senses that isn't inflicting pain - such as:

  • Having a cold shower;

  • Aromatherapy;

  • Eating spicy food;

  • Smelling your favourite perfume;

  • Going in a steaming hot sauna.

These are all much healthier ways of breaking out of numbness, "feeling something", and reminding yourself that you're still alive.

Important: Regardless Of Your "Objective" For Wanting To Engage In Self-Harm, A Really Helpful Alternative Can Be To Call A Crisis Support Line

This can indeed be really, really beneficial, since a crisis support line can help you to:

  • Unpack the different emotions that are causing you to want to engage in self-harm;

  • Give you strategies to implement to help you avoid engaging in self-harm;

  • Provide encouragement and support;

  • Ensure your safety.

For a list of crisis numbers that you may be able to call in your area, please click here.

Got Any Suggestions For Other Alternatives To Self-Harm?

If so, then you're more than welcome to comment them on our extremely popular Instagram post that's become somewhat of a "hub" for alternatives to self-harm. Here, you'll also be able to read other people's suggested alternatives to self-harm as well!

Between this Instagram post and this blog post that you've just read, we really hope that you identify some healthier behaviours that you can implement as alternatives to self-harm :)

All our love,

The Depression Project ❤️

P.S. Want More Help To Stop Self-Harming & To Overcome Depression?

If you haven't done so already, then we encourage you to join The Depression Project's Depression School - which is full of online courses, books and other resources that have been created by therapists to help you get better!

In particular, to help you stop self-harming, you'll likely find our course How To Break Out Of Self-Sabotaging Habits When You're In A Depressive Episode really, really useful!

And, to help you with other aspects of depression, you'll likely also benefit from our other books and courses as well - such as, for example:

  • Making Sense Of Your Depression

  • This Is How You Overcome Depression

  • Self-Care 101: A Blueprint For Looking After Your Mental Health

  • How To Overcome Your Negative Thoughts

  • How To Get A Good Night's Sleep When You Have Depression

  • How To Overcome Negative Core Beliefs About Yourself

  • How To Overcome "Depression Shame"

  • How To Practice Self-Compassion When You Feel Depressed

  • How To Stop People Pleasing

  • How To Cope With "Depression Loneliness"

  • How To Stop Social Media From Triggering Your Depression

  • How To Restore Your Self-Worth After Mental Abuse

  • And much, much more!

To find out more about Depression School and to join yourself, please click the button below!

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