Site icon Mental Magazine

No Harm, No Foul: Self-Harm Distractions

man standing in front of the window
Photo by: Sasha Freemind/Unsplash

Recovery from self-harming tendencies can be a long and difficult road. Slip-ups and relapses can happen easily and can trigger vicious cycles of self-hatred and self-harm. Read on for tips on how to avoid self-harming behaviours and know that you are not alone. You’ve got this.

Self-harming tendencies and behaviours can be extremely difficult to break free from, especially if they have become habitual in nature. If we’re honest, there is nothing quite like the feeling we get from those self-destructive acts. 

I personally have not engaged in self-harm behaviours for over six years now, but when I think about the times that I did, I can still feel the physical sensations I felt in those moments almost like my skin can remember the feeling. I even get a slight dopamine release just thinking about it at times when I am feeling particularly low.

We all know, however, that these behaviours are not helpful in the long run, are dangerous, and do not achieve anything positive in the long run. That is why it is so important to try and break free from these behaviours. Easier said than done I know.

Here are my recommendations for alternative behaviours and activities for when those urges strike.

Disclaimer: I would only suggest these tips for those days you are feeling strong enough to put up a fight. You do not need to ever feel guilty of not being strong enough to fight. Recovery from anything can be exhausting, and you are allowed to be less than perfect and have setbacks. Just keep these ideas in your tool kit for the days that you have the energy to lift them.

Hair Bands

Alright, so this one may seem like barely even a tip or a change at all. However, for those who have suffered or do suffer from self-harm struggles a shift to pinging a hairband or elastic band can be a hugely positive step. I want you to know that baby steps are still valid, important steps to take. A hairband on your wrist can be a good first tool to have, especially if you are fighting this alone. Similarly, if you do not have or use hair bands, holding an ice cube in your hand can achieve the same sense of relief.


For this one, it is important to note that you do not have to be good at drawing! Personally, even so long after engaging in self-destructive behaviours, I am still drawn to (excuse the pun) drawing on my skin. The theory behind it, I guess, is that it feels similar to other more destructive, harmful behaviours, but is completely harmless. 

This is another baby step to take at the beginning of a recovery journey. Please make sure however that you do not press too hard, and you use a pen with good ink flow to discourage unnecessary pressure.

Get Outside

This one is good as the weather gets warmer and nicer outside. Often when we are feeling like we are overwhelmed, that we have huge amounts of pent-up emotion that we just need to get out, being inside can exacerbate things. It is easy to feel claustrophobic, panicky and trapped. Removing yourself from that situation, if it is safe to do so, can help to relieve the urge to cause harm to yourself. 

Oftentimes it also removes us from the stressor, or if the stressor is in your mind, it may help to provide a distraction. Go for a walk, even run as fast as you can for as long as you can to get the adrenaline out and clear the destructive, cruel thoughts from your mind. 

Paint Your Nails

This is another nice simple trick to keep your hands busy when you feel the urge to engage in harmful behaviours. If you build up a collection of different colours and finishes it can become a ritual to choose a bright colour or a colour that you associate with feeling happy or feeling better. 

Focus on the colour as you paint each nail, watch it grow in intensity with each coat applied, acknowledge the way the paint feels, the way it smells, the sensation of it on your skin when you make it a bit messy. Again, the point isn’t to end up with beautifully manicured nails, the aim is to distract. If you have to take it off again later that day cause it’s a hot mess, that’s ok! It just means you have a blank canvas for the next time the urge strikes.


This distraction may seem to be jumping on the recent rise in popularity of journaling, but I promise it is not. I am fully aware that journaling can have great benefits for a lot of people, but for me, it just feels stressful and does nothing to help me relax, unwind, or unpack the issues I may have. However, if you are like me, all is not lost. 

Writing in any form can be extremely cathartic, get artistic with it, write poetry, write in depth about a character that is you. Alternatively, just write the thoughts you are having in the most aggressive style you can manage, hold the pen with your fist, scribble, apply as much pressure as you can to the paper, make holes in it if you need to. Paper can always take the abuse you throw at it. 

These tips or distractions are extremely basic, and hopefully at least one or two are accessible to anyone who may need them. I understand how isolating it can feel when these urges arise. Please remember that when these feelings begin to bubble up and you start to get tunnel vision around engaging in harmful behaviours, there is a whole world outside of your bedroom floor. 

There are trips to be taken, friends to meet, opportunities to be taken advantage of. You are important to the world; you have an incredible strength that deserves to be acknowledged and so often isn’t. But I see you, I feel you, you are not alone, you can do this.

If you are really struggling, please reach out to organisations or people who can help you. 

Shout’s text line is: 85258

Samaritan’s 24/7 line: 116 123 (Webchat also available)

Exit mobile version