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Alternatives to self-harm and distraction techniques

These are some ideas for helping people delay or avoid self-harm that you might wish to consider. Some ideas might seem ridiculous, but others might work.

Different people find that different things help, and it is not failure if you try something and it doe not help. You will be able to add things which you have discovered.

Letting it out physically

  • Scream as loud as you can
  • Hit a cushion, punch bag, throw a cushion against a wall
  • Smash a water melon
  • Kick a football against a wall
  • Squeeze ice really hard
  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Tear up a newspaper or phone directory
  • Play loud music and dance energetically – be as wild as you like
  • Draw on the place you want to cut with red marker pen, fake blood or watered down food colouring
  • Write words on yourself with a red marker pen
  • Spend some energy – go for a walk, swim, go to the gym, ride a bike, or go running

Try to work out how you are feeling

  • Ask yourself “Do I feel angry?” “Do I feel anxious?”
  • Ask yourself “What would the razor blade say if it could talk to me?”
  • Write a letter to someone you are angry with or are hurt by saying how you feel. You do not have to send it
  • Write a list of your achievements
  • Write a letter to yourself saying “I love myself because…”
  • Make a list of things you are thankful for
  • Make a wish list

Talk about it

  • Talk to a friend
  • Call the Samaritans or other helpline
  • Allow yourself to cry if you can

Using your creativity

  • Express what you want to do or what you are feeling: draw, paint, collage, paper mache, finger paint, sculpt in clay
  • Write a poem, story, song, joke, autobiography, parody, musical
  • Write a diary or journal
  • Scribble a word again and again to say how you’re feeling such as lonely or angry
  • Take some photos
  • Play an instrument or sing to music as loud as you can
  • Put on music which expresses how you are feeling
  • Write out the soundtrack to your life if it were a film
  • Make a memory box or scrapbook
  • Write an alternative ending to a story
  • Watch a foreign language channel and make up your own interpretations
  • Create your own cartoon characters

Comforting yourself

  • Have a bath or shower
  • Stay in bed
  • Use aromatherapy oils
  • Eat chocolate
  • Have an ’emergency box’ with whatever helps you cope
  • Buy something special
  • Massage your hands, arms, feet (or the area you want to harm)
  • Stroke your pet or cuddle a teddy bear
  • Ask a friend to hold you
  • Paint your nails or do your hair
  • Have a cup of tea
  • Rock and hug yourself
  • Give yourself a henna tattoo
  • Meditate, yoga or Pilates

Leisure Activities

  • Watch television, a YouTube video, film
  • Play on your computer
  • Learn a new skill
  • Do or make your own puzzles
  • Play chess and find out how to put 8 queens on a chessboard without any of them being able to take each other (there are 92 possible ways to do this)
  • Origami
  • Make jewellery
  • Sew or knit
  • Go through a photo album
  • Design a dream house
  • Build a card house
  • Make a paper chain of the days its been since you last cut (add a new one every day)
  •  Make a T-shirt
  • Look for pictures in the clouds
  • Getting out and about
  • Sweep the path
  • Wash your car
  • Do some gardening
  • Go for a walk
  • Go for a drive
  • Go to an arcade or playground
  • Make and fly a kite
  • Look at the stars at night

Being Productive

  • Catch up on some homework
  • Cook or bake something
  • Have a clear out and give your old stuff to charity
  • Re-arrange your room and decorate
  • Read or study something you enjoy
  • Volunteer somewhere
  • Join a class
  • Think about what you would like to change about your life and make a plan

Reasoning with yourself

When you do not want to self-harm, write a list of reasons to avoid self-harm. The list will be different for each person. Look at the list when you feel like harming yourself. It could include things like:

  • “I have managed for 2 weeks without harming. I do not want to start again”
  • “Once I start it is difficult to stop”
  • “I’ll regret the damage afterwards”
  • “It does not help in the long run. I can harm now but I will need to do it again in a couple of days.”
  • “I do not want to end up in hospital”
  • “If I can hang on the need to self-harm sometimes passes”
  • “There may be consequences I do not want”
  • “Self-harm affects my relationships”
  • “I do not deserve to be hurt”

Making yourself safe

  • Try to identify things that prompt you to self-harm. If possible avoid them or prepare for them
  • Avoid shops that sell things you might use to harm yourself
  • Stay with a friend
  • Ask GP to give you weekly prescriptions or pick up medication for 2 days at a time from the chemist
  • Do not stockpile medication (prescribed or over the counter)

Reducing stress

  • Do some relaxation exercises
  • Listen to a relaxation tape
  • Reduce your commitments in the next few days

Rewarding yourself for not self-harming

  • Keep a chart and add a star for each day or hour you have not self-harmed
  • If you do self-harm, just leave a space and start again

Delaying self-harm

  • Keep things you harm yourself with in a locked cupboard or in a box with sellotape around it. It gives you time to think between wanting to self-harm and doing it.
  • Phone Samaritans – arrange to ring again in an 1 or 2 hours and promise yourself you will not harm before then
  • Use any of the suggestions for avoiding self-harm to try and delay it for a while


Helpline 08457 90 90 90 (UK) 1850 60 90 90 (ROI)
Confidential emotional support for anyone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
You can also e-mail jo@samaritans.org for support, or write to ‘Chris’ P.O. Box 9090, Stirling, FK8 2SA. Some centres also offer face to face support, usually by appointment.

Bristol Crisis Service For Women (BCSW)
Helpline 0117 925 1119
National helpline for women in distress, especially women who self-harm. Open Friday and Saturday evenings 9 pm to 12.30 am and Sundays 6pm to 9pm.

Support Line
Helpline: 0208 554 9004
A confidential helpline providing emotional support to individuals of any age on any issue. Support line also has a data base of local services. Ring for helpline opening hours. You can also e-mail on infor@supportline.org.uk

Helpline: 0845 767 8000
Offers practical care and support to anybody affected by mental health problems. Open from noon to 11 pm Monday to Friday, noon to 6 pm Saturday and Sunday.

42nd Street
Helpline: 0161 832 0170
A mental health service in Manchester for young people aged 14 to 25. Their helpline offers support and advice, particularly around suicide and self injury. Open weekdays from 12.30 pm to 4.30 pm.

Nightline (for University students)
National organisation of NightLine student helplines in Universities across the UK. Visit the website to find out if your Uni has one.

No Panic
Helpline: 0808 808 0545
Support for people who experience panic attacks, and those with phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, general anxiety disorder and who are withdrawing from tranquillisers. (10 am to 10 pm every day)
email: ceo@nopanic.org.uk

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: MH49

Resource Type: Article

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