Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Teens: 5 Alternatives to Self-Harming
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Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Teens: 5 Alternatives to Self-Harming

A range of negative emotions like pain, anger and sadness are normal parts of the human experience. Coping mechanisms are a natural part of how people respond to stress, challenges and difficult emotions. Coping mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how they are used and your relationship with them. 

For some people, self-harm serves as a coping mechanism for managing difficult emotions or situations. While self-harm may temporarily alleviate emotional pain or provide a sense of control, it is not a healthy or effective long-term coping strategy. While breaking this pattern can be difficult, there are healthier alternatives that can provide relief and help manage emotions in a more constructive way. 

Self-harm isn’t a healthy way to cope. This article will cover some alternatives you can try that are less dangerous and less, well, harmful. 

Symptoms that can lead to self-harm

People self-harm for many different reasons, but most of them have to do with emotions. There may be a situation in life that you can’t change, like grief from losing a loved one. It could be pain another person is causing you, the aftereffects of traumatic experiences, or pressure you’re putting on yourself. 

If you’re considering self-harm right now, you may be experiencing the following:

  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to keep going
  • Feeling like you’ve messed something up permanently
  • Losing a close friend, loved one or anything significant in your life
  • Feeling insecure about yourself
  • Feeling judged by society or important people in your life
  • Dealing with constant bullying
  • Being so angry you’re afraid you might hurt someone else
  • Feeling rage and having no way to express it

5 things to do instead of self-harming

If you’re so distressed that you’re considering self-harm, you should talk with a therapist or seek a higher level of treatment. In the meantime, journal or think about the feelings that are overwhelming you and the kind of relief you’re looking for. That can give you some clues as to what kinds of alternatives might help you feel better in the moment.

Take a look through this list and experiment with different things to see what works best — without putting yourself at risk for an injury you can’t undo.

Here are five different ways to redirect your urge to self-harm:

  • Replace the sensation

Some people want to self-harm because they’re feeling empty or not feeling anything at all. In that case, you can replace the pain of self-harm with another physical sensation. 

  • Snap rubber bands on your wrist.
  • Pinch yourself.
  • Taste hot sauce or sour candy.
  • Hold an ice cube.


  • Reconsider the “self” in self-harm

Are you wanting to self-harm as a type of punishment or to act on negative feelings about yourself? Try more symbolic ways to accomplish the same thing. 

  • Draw or paint red lines on your skin.
  • Find a picture of yourself to draw on or cut up.
  • Make a list of things you like about yourself.
  • Pamper the part of you that you want to harm.

  • Get your destructive feelings out safely

Are you tempted to hurt yourself out of fear that you might do something worse? Look for ways you can take that destructive urge out on things that would otherwise be thrown away or things that have little value. 

  • Tear up old papers or notebooks.
  • Slice into an empty soda bottle.
  • Crush empty soda cans.
  • Find a safe place to scream.
  • Throw ice cubes at a brick or cement wall.
  • Do something physical

Is there a physical feeling pent up inside you that you want to satiate or drown out? See if moving your body in a more constructive way will help.

  • Hit a punching bag.
  • Go for a run.
  • Lift weights.
  • Ride a bike.
  • Practice yoga.
  • Find a kickboxing video on YouTube.

  • Engage in some self-care

Sometimes you might need some distraction to get your mind off what’s bothering you. If you’re feeling bad about yourself or stressed about a situation you can’t change, try focusing your attention on something that makes you feel better.

  • Take a hot bath or a cold shower.
  • Love on your pet.
  • Practice mindfulness, e.g., focus on your breath or list things that are purple.
  • Organize something.
  • Do some journaling.

Lightfully can help you change the pattern of self-harm

At Lightfully, we help teens get to the reasons why they want to self-harm and find healthier, safer ways to cope with overwhelming emotions. Our process-based therapy (PBT) model can help you get through whatever you’re facing now and build strong foundational skills for a better relationship with yourself. Healthy coping mechanisms are an important aspect of good mental health.

Lightfully is a place where you can develop the skills and resilience you need to cope with overwhelming emotions in healthy, sustainable, self-compassionate ways. You’ll be encouraged to be your authentic self and participate in peer support groups with other teens. 

We offer structured outpatient programs so you can get a high level of treatment during the day and go home at night. We also have Residential Treatment Centers (RTCs) for teens who need support at night too. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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