You know the feeling well. It’s a pressure that grows inside of you, and you just want to make it stop. You get antsy, and nervous, and your anxiety just builds and builds and builds. It seems unbearable, and you only know of one way to make it stop.
You may not understand why self harmful behaviors make you feel better, but they do. You also know that it’s not something that you want to do anymore. Afterwards, you are embarrassed, ashamed- you may cover up the damage to your body, or you may display it openly, wanting someone to finally see your pain.
You know that this behavior is not healthy, but it is the only thing you have. You want to stop, but you just don’t know how.
If you are in one of those moments when it seems like the only thing that will make you feel better is to injure yourself, you need some emergency tools. You only need to survive this urge, because the powerful emotion will come down…eventually. You need to practice other ways to hold on. Here are a few things you can try.
- Put on headphones (or not) and listen to loud music. Choose upbeat music that you like, but try to avoid angry or sad lyrics. Scream along with the words. Dance like no one is watching. Throw all of your energy into that music and movement. Focus on the words that you are hearing. The idea is to listen words that are the OPPOSITE of how you feel, and this will encourage your thoughts and feelings to move toward a less negative, less painful place. Pouring that energy into physical movement will help wear down that pressure you feel inside.
- Get a notebook and write down all of the reasons that you want to self-harm. It doesn’t have to be in complete sentences or grammatically correct. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. When you’ve written down everything you can think of, turn the page. Now write down everything you are grateful for, no matter how small – the taste of your favorite food, the smell of fresh rain. Now read that list, and read it again. Keep adding to it. Focus on the things you are most thankful for. Keep reading and re-reading.
- Leave the environment. Go for a walk or a drive, go outside or even just to a different room – one where you have never self-harmed. Have you ever walked into a dentist’s office and that “dentist office smell?” For most people, that triggers some sort of feeling – sometimes anxiety or fear. Our brains learn to associate places with feelings, and this is completely out of our awareness. If you have engaged in self-harm in your bedroom, your brain will learn to associate that room with the urge to self-harm and the feelings behind it. Getting out of that room will let your brain focus on something else.
- Take a really cold shower. You won’t be able to focus on anything but the cold water hitting your skin. Stay there until you feel like you just can’t take it anymore, then wait thirty seconds longer.
- Call someone. You don’t have to tell them about what you’re feeling or why you’re calling, unless you want to. Call a friend, or a family member. Call the Suicide Crisis Lifeline (1-800-274-8255; for deaf or hard of hearing, 1-800-799-4889) or get online and chat with them (www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org).
Remember that these are things you can try to just get through this moment – they will not solve any of your problems. Get through this moment without self-harming, survive this impulse until the urge subsides or until you can get help. Some of them may work, some of them may not- the important things are that you try and that you put all of your energy into your efforts. These things may help, they may not – but try.
The good news is that there are available treatments that can help. There are skills that you can learn to increase your ability to cope. The not so good news is that treating the underlying problems that are feeding the behaviors can take quite some time to address.
If you are experiencing emotions that feel out of control, if you are engaging in self injury, I can help you……
* This Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.