SI Alternatives


Before the urge hits:

Make a plan and reduce triggers:

  • Make a list of reasons you want to stop self-harming. Keep a copy with your tools, and/or any other place you think it might be useful to have a copy.
  • Throw out your tools
  • If you choose to keep your tools, make them harder to access: put them in a box, and wrap the box in a bunch of layers of tape, or hide them someplace that takes several steps to access.
  • Make a rule that you will never self-harm in the bathroom, and stick to it. At some point when you’re trying to stop, you will want to self-harm and need to use the bathroom. If you associate your bathroom with self-harm, it will make that much more difficult.
  • Designate a safe spot: one that you will not self-harm in, or keep anything dangerous in, no matter what. This might be your bed, bedroom, a favorite chair, etc.
  • Try to figure out times of the day or events that are especially difficult for you and come up with a plan to deal with them
  • Keep a calendar especially for your SI. Put a sticker or star on each day that you are SI-free. At the end of each week look back at which days you hurt yourself. Try to beat that next week. If you get a month full of stickers, buy yourself a treat, like a new book or movie or something
  • Plan out some sort of rewards system for milestones – like one day without self-injury, one week without self-injury, etc.
  • Carry “safe” objects in your pockets or purse when entering a stressful situation. These might be stones, crystals, small stuffed animals, squishy stress relievers, etc. Whatever feels right to you

Work on changing your perspective:

  • Whenever anyone pays you a compliment, thanks you, or says something nice about you, write that down. Reread them all when you feel down or bad about yourself.
  • Give yourself permission to not be perfect (Afterall, no one is!)
  • Try to focus more on the positive things in life – at the end of the day, write down good things that happened or things you did well at.
  • Find a place to volunteer or way to help others
  • Be kind to yourself. You don’t deserve to be bullied, even by yourself
  • Remember that the only person’s actions you can control are you own

Make a crisis box:

A crisis box contains things to help you when you want to self-harm or are feeling panicky/low. It doesn’t have to be a box, it can be a bag or drawer or whatever works for you. Ultimately what you put in your box is a highly personal matter, but here are some ideas that others have found helpful:

  • Strong tasting candies, like altoid mints
  • A list of phone numbers you can call (friends, family, your therapist, crisis lines, etc.)
  • A comforting smelling perfume or lotion
  • A favorite dvd/cd
  • A stuffed animal
  • Pictures with friends/family of good memories
  • Notes or letters from loved ones that make you feel valued and loved (or print outs of text conversations/emails/facebook messages, etc.)
  • Your list of reasons not to self harm
  • A personalized list of alternatives to self-harm that have worked for you in the past
  • A coloring book and crayons/colored pencils
  • A puzzle book
  • A craft kit
  • Nail polish

Take care of your health

  • Exercise regularly – It decreases stress and anxiety and increases energy
  • Meditate and/or do deep breathing exercises on a regular basis
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet. Your body has a basic need for nutrients. A poor or inadequate diet keeps your body and brain from functioning at their best, and may increase stress, anxiety, irritability, or a number of other issues that could lead to wanting to self-harm.
  • Drink enough water
  • Get enough sleep, and if possible go to sleep and wake at the same times each day
  • Go outside in the sun for 15 minutes every day. If 15 minutes is too daunting, start with 30 seconds, or whatever seems doable to you, and try to work up
  • Talk to a doctor, even if you don’t bring up the self-harm right away. Getting treatment for any underlying issues such as depression or anxiety can, for many people, reduce the urge to self-harm. Of course, it’s best to tell the doctor about everything (including the self-injury) as doctors can help you best when they understand the whole problem
  • Avoid alcohol and mood altering drugs (aside from prescription medication taken as your doctor instructs)

When the urge hits:

The urge to self-harm is often is often a symptom of another problem. Try to identify the problem and see if you can come up with a different solution.

  • H.A.L.T. Some common things can be found in the HALT acronym – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. If you’re struggling with one of these, try to address that.

Redirect your thinking:

  • Make a containment box. A containment box is something that can be done mentally or physically. The goal is to create a place where you can store uncomfortable memories until you are better able to deal with them. Some people like to visualize the box in their mind and see the memory go in there. Other people prefer to make an actual container out of a shoe-box or something and write their memories down on a piece of paper and put it away in the box. Do whichever appeals most to you. All you’re really trying to do is set aside what is overwhelming until you are equipped to deal with it.
  • Act happy. Smile, deliberately put a jauntiness into your step, put on an alert, interested expression, make yourself talk cheerfully to people, hum or whistle a cheerful tune – often, when we ACT like we feel good, we start FEELING good.
  • Visualize a “stop” sign and symbolically disallow those thoughts to continue. And then actively choose to start thinking about something else. This takes practice, but the more you do it the better you’ll get.
  • Practice positive thinking. Repeat positive things such as “I am a good person who doesn’t deserve to be hurt.” When you start thinking negative things about yourself, say the positive equivalent to yourself, even if you don’t believe it. Those negative thoughts can become habitual, so can positive ones.

General Distraction Ideas

  • Make a list of everything you’ve ever done that you’ve enjoyed: things that were adventurous, uplifting, fun. Don’t allow yourself to censor it with thoughts like “oh, that’s silly”. If it pops into your head, write it down. They can be big or small, from any point in your life. Add subpoints if applicable.
  • Brainstorm all the options and choices you have right now, even if they’re silly. For example: I could watch tv. I could do a handstand. I could wear a box as a hat. I could get all dressed up, go to McDonalds, and order a filet mignon, just to see what they say.
  • Play a video game
  • Change your environment (go to another room, for a walk, to a coffee house, etc.)
  • Play solitaire
  • Play the 15 minute game: Tell yourself, “If I still want to self-harm in 15 minutes, I will” When the 15 minutes are up, repeat.
  • Journal
  • Watch a movie or tv show
  • Cook or bake something
  • Organize or reorganize your closet or dresser
  • Rearrange your room/a room
  • Paint your nails
  • Go shopping
  • Read a book
  • Knit or crochet
  • Learn origami
  • Clean
  • Do a word search, crossword puzzle, sudoku puzzle, etc.
  • Write out your full name. Make as many words as you can from the letters in your name. Then pick a new name or a phrase.
  • Draw, paint, or color
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Alphabetize your books or movies
  • Look up inspirational quotes or poems. Pick one and memorize it. Write it out repeatedly
  • Make up a dance routine
  • Go outside and watch the clouds or the stars. Pick shapes out of the clouds, or make up your own constellations in the stars
  • Go to a park and play on the swings
  • Spend time with a pet
  • Blow bubbles
  • Go somewhere where there are people around
  • Write a poem or short story
  • Figure out how to put 8 queens on a chessboard without any of them being able to kill another
  • Build an elaborate design out of dominoes. Knock them down
  • Build something with Lego
  • Build a pillow/blanket fort. Designate it a safe place
  • Plan your dream vacation

Ideas based on specific emotional states:

Feeling angry or anxious:

  • Go for a walk or run
  • Have a pillow fight with a wall or bed
  • Throw a pair of socks as hard as you can
  • Turn on some loud music and dance until you’re worn out
  • Stomp around in heavy shoes
  • Tear cardboard, newspapers, magazines, etc. into small pieces
  • Scribble on a piece of paper until the whole page is covered
  • Write out all the things that are bothering you on a piece of paper. Crumple it up as tightly as you can into a ball. Throw the “ball” against a wall as hard as you can, pick it up and repeat until you’re exhausted
  • Scream into a pillow
  • Set a stuffed animal in front of you, and pretend its the person you’re angry with (A picture of the person would also work). Tell it all the reasons you’re angry at them. It’s ok to yell or cry or whatever you want to do.
  • Play a sport, like basketball, soccer, tennis, or go to some batting cages.
  • Do push-ups or sit-ups as fast as you can until you’re too exhausted to continue
  • Try a deep breathing exercise – inhale while counting to 4, hold your breath to the count of 7, exhale over a count of 8. Repeat until you’re feeling calmer
  • Choose to forgive, and let it go

Needing focus:

  • Play the 54321 game: Name 5 things you can see 4 things you can touch three things you can hear two things you can smell 1 think you can taste
  • Build a house of cards
  • Try to balance an egg on its end on your desk/table or other flat surface. When you get one balanced, add another.
  • Drink a glass of ice water, focus on the coldness of it.
  • Choose an object in the room. Examine it carefully and then write as detailed a description of it as you can. Include everything: color, size, weight, texture, shape, any dents or imperfections, uses, etc.

Feeling sad, melancholy, or lonely

  • Take a bubble bath
  • Curl up under blankets with a cup of tea or cocoa and a good book or favorite movie
  • Call or visit a friend
  • Hug a friend or family member
  • Give yourself a mini-spa treatment: Paint your nails, do a face mask, take a bubble bath, put on some good smelling lotion, etc.
  • Spend time with a pet
  • Come chat with us! (
  • Tell someone something you’ve never told anyone before
  • Reach out to someone and tell them how you’re feeling

Feeling helpless/ Needing to feel in control:

Choose to complete simple activities; these things are totally within your control. Some examples: