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Self-harm coping techniques

Lots of feelings and emotions can make people want to self-harm. Try these coping techniques to help you or a friend. TRIGGER WARNING: This page contains information about self-harm which may be triggering.

Top 6 ways to cope

Young people have told us that some of the best ways to cope with wanting to self-harm include:

  • listening to music
  • talking to friends or family
  • writing down how you feel
  • drawing a butterfly on yourself - the aim is to keep it alive and if you self-harm you ‘kill’ the butterfly
  • exercise
  • squeezing an ice cube.

Why not go to the self-harm section of the ChildLine message boards and see what coping tips other young people have used? You could even post about your own ways of coping.

How can I cope with the emotions that make me want to self-harm?

It often helps to think about the emotion you’re feeling when you want to self-harm. This can help you come up with a way of dealing with it.

Look at the different emotions below. Use these feelings to think about ways to cope with wanting to self-harm.

Feeling alone or isolated?

Try: talking to someone, writing down how you feel, chatting on our message boards to other young people experiencing self-harm, walking the dog, wrapping a blanket around yourself, meeting up with a friend, or doing some exercise.

Feeling angry?

Try: punching something like a pillow, doing some exercise, running, screwing up paper and throwing it, snapping twigs, squeezing clay, hitting a rolled up newspaper on a door frame, screaming, crying, or having a cold shower.

Read more about anger.

Feel like you hate yourself or that you’re not good enough (low self-esteem)?

Try: listening to music, having a bath, burning incense, phoning a friend, writing, painting, or listing good things about yourself.

Get tips on building your self-esteem.

Feel like you can’t control things in your life?

Try: organising something, cleaning or tidying, solving a puzzle, playing a ChildLine game, setting a target time (for example, saying you won’t harm for 15 minutes, and then if you can last, try another 15 minutes).

Feel numb or like a ‘zombie’?

Try: focusing on something like breathing, being around people who make you feel good, craft activities, making a photo collage, playing an instrument, baking, playing computer games.

Talk to other young people on the ChildLine message boards about hobbies.

Feel like you want to escape from your life or a difficult situation?

Try: having a hot or cold shower, drawing on your body with red pen, massaging lotion into the places you would normally harm, squeezing ice cubes or biting on lemon for the “shock factor,” or painting nails.

You can talk to a ChildLine counsellor any time you feel out of control or that you might self-harm.

  • My friend is self-harming. How can I help them?

    Finding out that someone you care about is self-harming can leave you feeling worried, confused and a bit helpless. But many young people who self-harm get help by talking to someone. There are things you can do to help:

    - Remember that it may have been really difficult for them to have told you about self-harming, so try not to judge them.

    - Listen to how they feel—sometimes just being there for your friend may be what they need.

    - Encourage them to get support with how they are feeling.

    - Look after yourself and make sure that you get support as well.

    Remember that ChildLine counsellors are here to listen whenever you or your friend needs to talk.

  • Is self-harm really dangerous?

    If some people are not helped to stop self-harming, there is a risk that their self-harm could go too far and cause serious damage or accidental death.

    If you are feeling desperate or are thinking about suicide, ChildLine can help you. You can talk to a ChildLine counsellor about how you feel and we will always listen to you. We can help you to think about what you would like to change in your life so that things can get better, and support you in making those changes happen.

    You can talk to a ChildLine counsellor by calling 0800 1111.


Other sites that can help

Self-harm help and support.

Real life stories, advice and support about self-harm recovery. (Trigger warning: some stories may be triggering.)

Self-harm advice, help and support.

Help and advice on self-harm from MIND, the mental health charity.

You are not alone

Get help and support from other young people on the self-harm message board

Self harm message board

Call ChildLine

You can call ChildLine at any time on 0800 1111 to speak to a counsellor. Calls are free and confidential.

Call ChildLine

Tell us what coping techniques have worked for you

Is there anything else that has helped you cope when you want to self-harm? Let us know and we will try to add them to this page.

Self-harm coping techniques 


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