Self Harm

People from all walks of life can self harm or self-injure. They can be male or female, rich or poor, and any age. Self-harming behaviour can happen at any time over the lifespan. Here at, we hear from a lot of youth who use self-harming as a means of coping with various situations and feelings. They tell us that self-injury provides immediate relief, and yet they also say that often the relief is only temporary.

The definition of self-harm (and what it includes and excludes) varies greatly. For the purposes of this section, we’re referring to intentional actions whose primary goal is physical injury to the person themselves in order to cope with stress, feelings, difficulties. While there may certainly be some suicidal intent (“I wouldn’t have minded if the damage had been more serious…“), we’re usually talking about behaviours that are not suicidal in primary intent, since the idea behind them is to find a way to continue living, not stop living.

Alternatives to self-harming

If you’re trying to stop self-harming, there’s no single easy solution. Maybe it’ll be just a question of breaking the habit, maybe you’ll need to talk it out with a counsellor or therapist, maybe there’s something bigger that needs to be resolved first. This list is some things you can try out if you feel like you’re going to self-harm, but would like to try something else… either as an alternative or a distraction.


Letting off steam
  • Talk to a friend/family member/therapist/crisis line/volunteer-run crisis web chat service (Oh hey! I know one of those!)
  • Go into the recycling and tear up newspapers (or phone books if you’re strong!)
  • Scream!
  • Go to the gym, exercise, dance
  • Draw/sculpt/write what’s upsetting you, then rip/squish/burn it
  • Let yourself cry
  • Crunch ice
  • Learn a new relaxation technique and try it out (like deep breathing)
  • I hear Yoga’s really big these days!
  • Find something in your closet you’ll never wear again and rip it up
  • Squeeze a rubber ball (or stress ball, if you have one)

Strong physical sensations

  • Hold an ice cube in your hand
  • Run your hands under really cold water
  • Wax your legs (or wherever)
  • Clap hard
  • Take a cold shower
  • Chew on something really hot/strong, like a clove of garlic or a hot pepper

Kinda like, only different

  • Draw red lines in marker or lipstick where you might cut, or paint where you might scratch
  • Leave glue or clumps of Henna on your hands/arms and peel it off like a scab
  • Use a toothbrush instead of a knife/razor
  • Instead of punishing yourself by self-harming, punish yourself by not self-harming
  • Be aware of the world – say to yourself what you see. “The couch is green. The light is on. I can feel my shoe pinching my foot.” This can sometimes be enough to ground you.


  • Take a hot shower/bath
  • Colour your hair
  • Write out lyrics from your favorite song
  • Learn to swear in another language
  • Name all your soft toys
  • Put a face mask on
  • Listen to (soothing!) music
  • If you feel safe outside, take a walk… maybe even in the rain!
  • Do some cooking
  • Play an instrument
  • Read comics (best comic ever)
  • Play a video game that takes a lot of concentration
  • Plan your ideal holiday in your mind and then try and research it all online
  • Read a really long list of self-harming alternatives =P