What is self-harm?

Some people self-harm as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming experiences.

Some people have described it as:

  • “a way to express something that’s hard to put into words”
  • “changing emotional pain to physical pain”

It is thought about 1 in 15 young people in Britain have self-harmed.

Why do people self-harm?

Anyone can self-harm. For some people it is linked to specific experiences. For others the reasons are less clear. Some people may think that it is attention-seeking, but they are wrong.

Control: Self-harm can be a way of feeling in control of your body. You may have experienced trauma such as abuse, and may self-harm as a way of managing these memories.

Punishment: Some people self-harm as a way of punishing themselves, for things they feel are their fault.

You are not alone. You can always ask for help with self-harm, even if you can’t explain why you do it. Your Mindworks Surrey worker can help you with this.

Seeking help

It is important to seek help if you self-harm. See your GP or a doctor following self-harm as you may need medical treatment. Your Mindworks Surrey worker can help you to:

  • Increase your self-esteem
  • Accept your feelings
  • Look after yourself
  • Understand your self-harm better

Self-harm is a term used to describe a range of things that people deliberately do to themselves to cause harm:

  • Cutting/ scratching/ biting/ hair-pulling
  • Banging /hitting/ burning
  • Swallowing poisonous substances or objects/ overdosing
  • Exercising excessively
  • Over or under eating
  • Neglecting self care

  • Talk to someone you trust
  • Try breathing exercises; focus on your breathing
  • Listen to music or go for a walk or run
  • Make a note of the positive thoughts you have
  • Hit cushions
  • Hold ice cubes
  • Clench and then relax all your muscles
  • Write down your feelings
  • Shout and dance
  • Tear a piece of paper into tiny pieces
  • Spend time with an animal
  • Let yourself cry or sleep

Recognise your triggers

  • What happened just before you self-harmed?
  • Did you have particular thoughts?
  • Did a situation, person, object remind you of something difficult?

Become aware of the urge to self-harm

  • Physical sensations such as heart racing, strong emotions, sadness, anger, repetative thoughts, unhealthy decisions
  • This helps you take steps towards reducing or stopping

Identify distractions

  • Distracting yourself gives you time to reduce the intensity of the urge
  • Distract yourself as soon as you feel the urge, or you become aware you’re hurting yourself

There are many reasons why someone might have urges to self-harm. Whatever the reason, we know that it can be distressing for you and that it carries dangers too. Here are some helpful coping mechanisms that other young people have found useful when they’ve felt the urge to self-harm. 

One idea may work one day but not on another, so it’s important to try different techniques. Try looking at these when you are not experiencing a strong urge to self-harm so you are prepared if you do get one.

  • Take a look at the free Calm Harm app 
  • Try using a felt tip pen where you want to hurt
  • Try having a short cool shower
  • Try ripping up paper quickly
  • Try using henna - you could just draw shapes on yourself or you could write names of people who support and care for you. Some people have drawn animals on themselves and have stopped themselves from self-harming by not wanting to hurt the animal
  • Try rubbing ice where you want to cut 
  • Put a plaster where you want to hurt
  • Distract yourself with taste or sensation - try putting a teaspoon of mustard or chilli on your tongue to create a different sensation. Or try popping candy! 
  • Try the 15 minute rule: give yourself 15 minutes before you do try self-harming. Try to do an activity you enjoy. 

Self-care strategies

It's not always easy to take the best care of ourselves for many reasons: maybe you don't feel there's enough time or you have too many things to think about, but this list highlights many things we can all try to do to help keep ourselves healthy.

Physical self-care

  • Eat healthy foods
  • Eat regularly (3 meals a day)
  • Take care of personal hygiene
  • Exercise
  • Wear clothes that help me feel good about myself  
  • Get 8 hours sleep a night
  • Rest when sick or tired
  • Go to preventative medical appointments eg check-ups and the dentist

Emotional self-care

  • Participate in hobbies or fun activities
  • Get away from distractions eg your phone
  • Learn new things, unrelated to school
  • Express my feelings in a healthy way eg talking, creating art or journaling
  • Recognise my own strengths and achievements
  • Go on holiday or day-trips
  • Do something comforting eg re-watch a favourite movie, take a long bath
  • Talk about my problems  
  • Find reasons to laugh

Social self-care

  • Spend time with people who I like
  • Meet new people
  • Ask others for help, when needed
  • Keep in touch with old friends
  • Say “no” to excessive new responsibilities
  • Find reasons to laugh

Spiritual self-care

  • Spend time in nature
  • Recognise the things that give meaning to my life
  • Act in accordance with my morals and values
  • Set aside time for thought and reflection
  • Participate in a cause that is important to me or stand up for other people 
  • Appreciate art that is impactful to me eg music, film, literature

Self-care tips and videos for young people : Every Mind Matters NHS

This website has lots of excllent advice on mental health and self-care for young people, and a range of helpful self-care videos to help you take good care of yourself.

Using your Hope box when you are feeling overwhelmed will help to soothe you.

You don’t have to manage these thoughts alone. Tell a parent, carer or friend. Or maybe talk to a teacher or your doctor. Saying out loud how you feel may help to diffuse your emotion. Or if you’re feeling really uneasy, please call our 24/7 crisis line to get more help.