Self harm affects thousands of people in the UK and can have a huge impact on day to day life for many. Recovering from self harming is a difficult journey and as it becomes an addiction, it can be almost impossible to stop. I have struggled with self harm since the age of 12 and only in the past year have I been able to start moving forward in a positive direction with minimal relapses.
I wanted to write a post speaking about some of the things which have helped me take control over my actions and resist harmful thoughts. This advice may not work for everyone and I speak only from personal experience – I just hope that I am able to offer support to some of my readers!
1) Keep yourself distracted
This is one of the most important things to bear in mind when it comes to self harm. Although it can be really difficult, keeping yourself distracted can significantly lower your chances of harming yourself when feeling low or out of control of your actions. There are a wide range of apps which you can download which aim to distract you from harmful thoughts (I speak about ‘Calm Harm’ in this post where I review mental health & wellbeing apps). Meditation and breathing exercises can also be beneficial for a lot of people. Personally, I found that distracting myself doing things I enjoy is most helpful, which includes drawing, reading and writing poetry. Focusing your energy into something you love to do can move your mind away from harmful thoughts which is especially important during times where you feel out of control.
2) Write down your thoughts in that moment
This one is probably the most difficult but certainly the most beneficial. When you have harmful urges it can be difficult to think of anything else, especially to go and grab pen and paper and start writing down what you’re thinking! Try and keep a note taking device near you at all times, whether this be a pen and pad, your phone or the back of your hand – as long as you have somewhere to scribble down your thoughts in that moment. You don’t have to write coherent sentences or a diary entry – I would often write down single words which were in my head at that moment, such as anger, frustration or jealousy. Keep writing until you feel calmer. Seeing the words flood out of you onto something else relieves a lot of stress, taking harmful thoughts with it.
3) Keep someone that you care about in your thoughts
This is something which has been really helpful in keeping me healthy and calm. I have been fortunate enough to have people come into my life over the past 18 months who have helped me to drive my energy in a positive direction. Remember that the people around you (family & friends) care about you and wouldn’t want to see you hurt yourself. Hurting yourself hurts them too, and I think that it’s important to bear this in mind when you are having harmful thoughts.
4) Use a stress colouring book
Working in a similar way to distracting yourself with things you enjoy, stress colouring books allow you to destress and focus closely on something specific, which in turn helps to keep your mind on something else. It almost feels like a brain detox whilst you colour; all of your negative, harmful thoughts spilling out onto the page in different shades of blues, pinks and yellows. I could spend hours doing this as it’s such a relaxing activity and works especially well when you are feeling very low.
5) Keep people around you
Keep your friends and family in the loop. I’ve spoken about this 1000 times but I can’t reiterate how important it is! Make sure people around you know what’s going on so that they can see the warning signs and help to keep you safe. Being around people you love and care about also creates positive energy and that in itself can help you to feel better. Being around others can also distract you from harmful thoughts; especially when there’s a good conversation flowing and positivity in the room!
6) Stay safe
Most important of all is to stay safe. Self harm is something which is scarcely spoken about and so it can be really difficult to open up and find the right support. A lot of people who self harm don’t really know how to keep themselves safe whilst doing it and this can sometimes have tragic consequences. Self harm comes in many forms and isn’t restricted to cutting, so it can also be difficult to spot warning signs for yourself and/or others.
If you think someone you know may be hurting themselves in some way, speak to them about it or someone you trust who can help if you think the person may take it the wrong way. The most unhelpful thing you can do is approach someone with hostility and anger as this can make matters much worse. Instead of being ignorant, educate yourself on what could be going on! (see NHS Self Harm page) If you think that your’s or someone else’s life is in danger you need to call 111 or 999 depending on the severity of the situation. There are also some useful resources here.
The UK has the highest self harm rate in Europe* and many incidences are unreported due to the nature of the topic. It is now more important than ever to raise awareness and offer support to those suffering.
As usual, I am not a GP and everything mentioned in this post is based on my own advice and experiences. For more information on the topic of self harm and support servuces, here are some useful resources: