Immediate Coping Mechanisms for Self-Harm

November 28, 2018 Kayla Chang

Coping with self-harm urges in the immediate short-term is important to recovery. Find out how to deal with immediate self-harm urges at HealthyPlace.

Some coping mechanisms for self-harm act immediately to help stop the urge. In fact, sometimes all we need to get us committed to stop engaging in self-harm is knowing that there are alternative ways of coping with distress and satisfying self-harm compulsions. An important step toward self-harm recovery involves familiarizing ourselves with these alternative coping mechanisms for self-harm, figuring out what works for us, and creating a toolbox (whether that be a mental toolbox or a literal collection of physical objects) of things that we can turn to in our more vulnerable moments. 

This can all sound a little intimidating if you are not familiar with the language of talk therapists or the increasingly active community on the Internet advocating for self-care. It might also just simply feel overwhelming — just "too much" to deal with when you are already under immense amounts of stress and/or weighed down by depression

While you can choose to get fancy/regimented with coping mechanisms for self-harm, especially if you find that having those kinds of structures and routines helps you in some way, all you really need is one or two things that feel accessible and doable for you. 

The following list of coping mechanisms for self-harm focuses on skills you can use in times of acute need, when the urge to engage in self-harm strikes. These skills are loosely based on the guidelines used in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a type of psychotherapy shown to be effective in treating self-harm, minus all the terminology and acronyms that can make the skills seem inaccessible for those without professional guidance. 

Ways to Cope with Immediate Self-Harm Urges

  • Remove yourself from your immediate environment. If you are inside, go outside. If you are outside, go inside. Take a walk, a drive, a bike ride, etc. 
  • Do not let yourself be alone. Go to a nearby coffee shop or mall — anywhere busy with people all around. If you live with family or roommates, stay around them. Just sitting on a couch with another person next to you can help. 
  • Distract yourself. Turn on a movie or TV show. Turn on some music and sing along. Play video games. Write or draw. Do a puzzle. Fill your brain with unchallenging yet distracting thoughts: song lyrics, errands to do, etc.
  • Engage your senses. Decorate, organize, or go somewhere you find aesthetically pleasing. Listen to music or nature sounds. Burn a candle or load a diffuser up with your favorite essential oil. Give yourself a massage, put on comfortable clothes, or wrap yourself with a soft blanket. Have a soothing cup of tea, maybe along with something to eat.
  • Change your physical state. Run around, walk, or stretch. Do yoga. Hold some ice in your hand, or take a cold shower. Try some simple breathing exercises. 

These are just a few examples of coping skills you can use when you have the urge to self-harm. Again, just try one or two things that interest you, or use this list as a guide to come up with coping skills of your own. It might take some time and a bit of trial and error before you find what works for you, but when you do, you will have gained an invaluable tool and taken a big step towards a life free from self-harm.

APA Reference
Chang, K. (2018, November 28). Immediate Coping Mechanisms for Self-Harm, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Kayla Chang

You can find Kayla on Google+.

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