Self-Harm Reduction Techniques That Actually Work



Individuals, particularly adolescents, turn to self-harming behaviors as a coping mechanism. The act of self-injury is usually triggered by a distressing thought, an overwhelming emotional state, or a dissociative experience. People who engage in self-injury—as well as their parents, partners, and friends—are often desperate for solutions. This blog provides 8 effective techniques that can help reduce self-injury.


People who engage in self-harming behaviors often are in emotional pain grappling with deeper issues that need to be addressed. Click To Tweet


People who engage in self-harming behaviors often are in emotional pain grappling with deeper issues that need to be addressed. They tend to be victims of bullying, childhood neglect, sexual assault, or physical or verbal abuse.

Self-injury—which may include cutting, burning, head banging, punching oneself, scratching, picking or pinching the skin, inserting objects under the skin, pulling hair, and more —can release pain-relieving, feel-good endorphins in the body, research shows. This may calm big feelings and take the edge off of distressing thoughts.

Self-harm also serves to relieve pain and tension and release anger. For some individuals, it helps them to regain a sense of control or relieves a feeling of being emotionally deadened.


Yet, engaging in self-harming behavior comes at a high cost. For example, cutting too deeply or severe burning may require immediate medical care. Self-harm tends to create feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment.

Research has found that people who engage in self-injury are at a higher risk for suicide compared with the general population. Self-injury is also associated with other psychiatric issues, particularly anxiety, and depression.

Still, even when a person knows self-harm is not a good coping method and wants to stop, it can be hard to resist in a moment of distress, like an addiction. Fortunately, there are a number of effective strategies that can help reduce self-injury. Here are 8 such techniques that are among the most helpful.


1. Remove Objects/Instruments Used to Self-Harm

One method for avoiding or reducing self-injury is to buy time between the overwhelming urge to self-harm and actually doing it. Try removing all self-harming tools from your home to create that delay. According to one survey, “removing the means/instruments typically used to self-harm from the home” was one of the most helpful actions self-harmers took to prevent future self-injury.

2. Identify Your Emotions

Emotional dysregulation is common among self-harmers. When you are overcome with the desire to self-harm, pause, take a couple of breaths, and try to identify what you might be feeling. Are you agitated? Are you sad? Are some thoughts distressing you? Are you feeling deadened inside?

Whatever emotion or thought you discover that is driving your urge will help you to identify what you actually need. If you are agitated, you may need to burn off steam with exercise. If you are sad, you may need to watch a sad movie that helps you to cry.

If even after pausing you are not sure what you are feeling, you can try calling someone you trust or writing in a journal to help you get clarity around your emotions.

3. Take to Nature

Getting out of familiar environments where you engage in self-harming behavior and experiencing the calm of nature can be an effective distraction while the urge passes. Research shows that nature can be remarkably restorative.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. You can simply walk around the block, stop at the park, near a body of water, or even open your window and let the breeze hit your face. One study showed that simply looking at awe-inspiring images of nature can calm the nervous system!

4. Talk or Meet With A Friend

Emotional support from a trusted friend can truly nourish your spirit when you feel like self-harming. Research involving a group of young people trying to recover from self-harming behaviors found that being around friends was one of the most common and successful methods they used to resist self-injurious urges.

Sharing honestly about how you are feeling with another person can be difficult. Be sure to choose someone non-judgmental that you can trust. It’s important to be able to have at least one friend you can be honest with when you feel like self-harming. There’s now a 12-step recovery program called Self-Injury Recovery Anonymous modeled after that of Alcoholics Anonymous. It may provide a place where you can find support from understanding, non-judgmental people.

5. Exercise

Physical exercise offers a great distraction that serves to boost your mood and ease the intense pressure of mounting distressing thoughts and emotions.  There’s no better way to “clear your mind.”

Interestingly, both sustained aerobic exercise and strength training exercise is associated with increased endorphin levels in the body, according to research. Getting out and getting physical may help provide the very type of endorphin release that is believed to occur with self-harming behavior.

Of course, working out may be the last thing you feel like doing. Start with baby steps. Simply dance around to some music. Do a few yoga moves. Take your dog for a walk or take a quick short jog.

6. Find Refuge in Listening to Music

Music is powerful. Listening to music can provide an escape from intense, painful feelings or help to calm them. Some find songs with relatable lyrics comforting. Others may like sad songs to help process grief. (However, in some instances, matching a sad song to a sad mood can make things worse.)

Research shows that the pathways through music listening toward an improved mood are complex and up to the individual to experiment with. Explore different types of music to determine what works best for you.

7. Use Guided Imagery

In an article in the Journal of Creative of Mental Health, mental health experts suggest guided imagery as a therapeutic intervention to be used to address self-injurious behavior.

Guided imagery is a behavioral therapy technique that incorporates the use of uplifting thoughts or images to counter negative emotional experiences. It may help to quell the mental distress that drives the impulse to self-injure.

You can find a world of resources online to help you with guided imagery. You basically use your imagination to create a safe, calming space in your mind—perhaps your favorite place in nature—where you can go to relax and imagine the scents, feelings, sounds, and tastes of this special place.

8. Engage in Art

Sometimes words cannot communicate the emotions you may be feeling—art may offer a better way. Working with paint or clay allows you to use your hands to create something from your emotion and have a record of it afterward.

Also, when you focus your attention on a creative endeavor that requires skill, you can fall into a flow state where you are so engaged you lose track of time and space. This can be very satisfying. In fact, research has found that experiencing flow is associated with feelings of accomplishment and meaningfulness, as well as a positive mood and greater well-being.

Engage in some kind of art. It can be drawing, doodling, working with crayons, watercolors, or fast-drying acrylic paint. Experiment with clay if that excites you. Start small if you need to by simply scribbling on a notepad when you are feeling agitated.

Of course, there are other activities that are considered “art.” You can make collages from magazines, bake, cook, knit, play an instrument, or build sandcastles at the beach.

Practicing these 8 strategies on a regular basis may help you resist the urge to harm yourself. However, if you’re still compelled to engage in self-injury, seek professional help to provide additional techniques that can help you overcome self-harming behaviors and the underlying emotional issues that may be causing them.

Self-injury and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. Helpfully spelled out. I will likely share this. I did not know about the 12 step program for self harm.

    Comment by Beth — May 12, 2023 @ 4:32 AM

  2. As a mom of now adult children who suffered with self harm as teenagers and into their twenties-I attest to these eight good suggestions for those struggling . Medical intervention and psychological as well as spiritual support are vital for both parent and child/loved one. There is hope and help along this very hard road. Thank you for addressing this in such a positive manner.

    Comment by Diane Palermo — May 12, 2023 @ 4:35 AM

  3. I suffer from self harm. It’s very difficult but these are great strategies. They really work. Stay strong and keep fighting the thoughts it does get better.

    Comment by Lisa — May 12, 2023 @ 9:31 AM

  4. It is amazing information regarding to health . Thank you so much for sharing that

    Comment by Ozra Hassanzadeh — May 12, 2023 @ 9:57 AM

  5. This is a great post. As a person who spent decades self injuring, I came up with skills and techniques that, eventually, allowed me to stop. Every one of these are in my list
    Many professionals tone deaf when it comes to self injuring. It is an attempt to stay alive in the face of tremendous pain.
    I was also frequently suicidal, both passively and actively. They are not the same thing.
    Thank you for such a useful kist

    Comment by Debi Adams — May 12, 2023 @ 10:54 AM

  6. wonderful information!

    Comment by douglas morris — May 16, 2023 @ 12:55 PM

  7. Same techniques could apply to self-medicating.

    Comment by Jill — May 17, 2023 @ 5:13 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us