6 Healthy Alternatives to Self-Harming Behaviors

Table of Contents

6 Healthy Alternatives to Self-Harming Behaviors

*This page includes mentions of non-suicidal self-injury and self-harming behaviors. Please, avoid reading if you believe these subjects may cause you emotional distress.* 

The vast majority of people who self-injure have no intention of permanently harming themselves and are seeking temporary relief to a specific stressful situation or are attempting to cope with overwhelming emotional distress. Non-suicidal self-injury sometimes referred to as deliberate self-harm, can manifest on its own or accompany a range of disorders, including: 

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Self-Harm and Substance Use Disorder

Individuals diagnosed with substance use disorder (SUD) have a higher risk of developing maladaptive coping techniques like self-harming behaviors. A study published by Cognitive Therapy and Research reported that emotion dysregulation caused a higher rate of deliberate self-harm in patients with substance use disorder and was more prevalent in individuals with the following: “limited access to effective emotion regulation strategies, emotional nonacceptance, and difficulties engaging in goal-directed behaviors when distressed.”

According to research published by Frontiers in Psychiatry, “recent literature suggests that both non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and suicidal behavior (SB) can also be conceptualized as addictions.” You can get treatment for substance use disorder and self-harming tendencies simultaneously, and often, the same therapy method will work for both. Standard treatment options can include a combination of the following: 

  • Peer support
  • Psychotherapy
  • Medications

How Misinformation and Stigmas Interfere With Treatment

Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes, but some people are better able to cope because they learned essential life skills, including emotion processing and regulation. For someone who may not have those skills, it can be challenging to understand and connect with emotions without the benefit of treatment. Self-harming behaviors are often associated with the following:

  • Abuse
  • Neglect
  • Chronic pain
  • Emotional distress
  • Trauma
  • Family dysfunction

When you start with the disadvantages of traumatic circumstances in childhood or young adulthood, it can be difficult to reach out for help. Unfortunately, misinformation, biases, and social stigmas surrounding the topics of mental health and self-injury create barriers to treatment for individuals who have difficulty processing their pain in a healthy way. However, there is hope. Private and local community support initiatives exist around the country to help connect people who self-injure with treatment services. 

Self-Injury and Your Mental Health

The risk of self-harm increases when mental health disorders like depression or anxiety remain untreated. When attending a rehabilitation facility like White Recovery and Detox, it is essential to get treatment for substance use disorder and any psychiatric conditions that might contribute to your self-harming. Some of the most common types of self-injuring behaviors seen in individuals with co-occurring disorders include: 

  • Cutting or scratching
  • Burning
  • Self-hitting and headbanging
  • Piercing the skin with an object
  • Inserting objects beneath the skin

6 Healthy Alternatives to Self-Harm

You may need to try several different healthy coping skills and alternative activities to find the ones that work best for you. Below are six things you can try when you experience intrusive thoughts or compulsions related to NSSI: 

#1. Try following guided breathing exercises to lower your heart rate and physically relax your body.

#2. Use a crisis chat or phone line to reach out to trained professionals during a crisis when you feel the compulsion to self-harm. The volunteers are certified and experienced in providing emotional support for individuals in crisis. 

#3. Technology can help you cope with difficult moments and long-term symptoms. Apps like Calm Harm and Breathly provide breathing exercises, distracting tasks, and validating activities to help you avoid acting on intrusive thoughts. 

#4. Physical activity can distract you from thoughts and habits related to NSSI. You can play with your pet, go for a walk, or do any number of activities that keep your mind and body focused on something you find exciting and enjoyable.

#5. Stimulate your senses in another way. For example, you can rub ice cubes over your skin, tear paper, take a cold shower, or draw carefully on the areas of your body where you feel the need to hurt yourself. By redirecting your energy and safely stimulating your senses, you can decrease the power of intrusive thoughts. 

#6. Journaling, art, and other forms of self-expression can give you a healthy outlet for your emotions. Adult coloring books are a popular option that gives you a set task to focus on while giving you a creative space to express yourself. 

Crisis Support Resources

Crisis support services exist to help you cope and connect with local resources. You can reach out to your therapist or doctor’s office to get information about crisis lines in your area, or you can use the information provided by national support organizations, including: 

  • Crisis Text Line
  • Lifeline Crisis Chat
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Dial 2-1-1 to get information about crisis services in your state.

*If you are actively suicidal or believe that you may be a danger to yourself or others, please, call 9-1-1 or reach out to a medical professional*

Substance use and mental health disorders can increase your risk of developing unhealthy coping mechanisms, including deliberate self-harming behaviors. The link between substance abuse and self-harm is complicated, and each case is unique. You control the future of your recovery. No matter what you have experienced or how you feel today, there is hope, and we can help you heal. The staff at White House Recovery and Detox understands that sometimes emotions and life circumstances can cause high levels of distress and emotional pain. We believe that holistic treatment can provide relief and hope, which is why our residential program incorporates a variety of evidence-based treatments, including psychotherapy and peer support. We know what it takes to overcome challenges related to recovery. At White House Recovery and Detox, we care about your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Learn more about our services by reaching out today. Call us at (800) 510-5393.