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Distractions and delay techniques

Distractions from self harm urges work the best when the thing you distract yourself with is absorbing and interesting to you. Doing this thing should either require your full attention, or be so absorbing of your attention that you will forget yourself. 

Here’s a list of possible ones. They won’t all work for you and you may find some different ones which work better, but this is a start....

         Use a countdown timer on your phone (or an alarm clock) to delay self harm.  Start by setting a time you feel comfortable with and tell yourself you won’t self harm until the time has passed. You can use other distraction techniques to pass the time. Try increasing the length of time each time. Check how you feel after the time has passed; has the urge reduced or gone?


         Keep a log of times when you resisted the urge to self harm; list how you felt, what stopped you.  Was it you (something you did or said), or someone else or something in your surroundings which stopped you?  Look back on this regularly, it will remind you how well you have done and give you tips to try when you feel compelled by an urge.


         Cuddle a pet (or a soft toy).


         Wrap things you harm with “pass the parcel” style or keep them in a locked cupboard, or box wrapped excessively with sticky tape....all these give you time to think between wanting to self-harm and doing it.


         Remember, you may not be able to control the urges starting (at least at first) but any actions you take are a choice-make them positive ones.

  • Colour your hair
  • Count up to ten getting louder until you are screaming
  • Play free online games which keep you occupied; those repetitive games which you just can’t stop playing are great
  • Complete something you’ve been putting off
  • Take up a new hobby
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Tell and laugh at jokes
  • Play solitaire
  • Count up to 500 or 1000
  • Surf the net
  • Make as many words out of your full name as possible
  • Count ceiling tiles or lights
  • Search ridiculous things on the web
  • Colour coordinate your wardrobe
  • Play with toys, such as a slinky
  • Go to the park and play on the swings
  • Call up an old friend
  • Go "people watching"
  • Carry safe, rather than sharp, things in your pockets
  • Do school work
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Watch TV or a movie
  • Paint your nails
  • Alphabetize your CDs or books
  • Cook
  • Make origami to occupy your hands
  • Doodle on sheets of paper
  • Dress up or try on old clothes
  • Play computer games or painting programs, such as Photoshop
  • Write out lyrics to your favourite song
  • Play a sport
  • Read a book/magazine
  • Do a crossword
  • Draw a comic strip
  • Make a chain link out of paper counting the hours or days you've been self harm free using pretty coluored paper
  • Knit, sew, or make a necklace
  • Make 'scoobies' - braid pieces of plastic or lace, to keep your hands busy
  • Buy a plant and take care of it
  • Hunt for things on eBay or Amazon
  • Browse the forums
  • Go shopping
  • Memorize a poem with meaning
  • Learn to swear in another language
  • Look up words in a dictionary
  • Play hide-and-seek with your siblings
  • Go outside and watch the clouds roll by
  • Plan a party
  • Find out if any concerts will be in your area
  • Make your own dance routine
  • Trace your hand on a piece of paper; on your thumb, write something you like to look at; on your index finger, write something you like to touch; on your middle finger, write your favourite scent; on your ring finger, write something you like the taste of; on your pinkie finger, write something you like to listen to; on your palm, write something you like about yourself
  • Plan regular activities for your most difficult time of day
  • Finish homework before it's due
  • Take a break from mental processing
  • Notice black and white thinking
  • Get out on your own, get away from the stress
  • Go on YouTube
  • Make a scrapbook
  • Colour in a picture or colouring book.
  • Make a phone list of people you can call for support. Allow yourself to use it.
  • Pay attention to your breathing (breath slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth)
  • Pay attention to the rhythmic motions of your body (walking, stretching, etc.)
  • Choose a random object, like a paper clip, and try to list 30 different uses for it
  • Pick a subject and research it on the web - alternatively, pick something to research and then keep clicking on links, trying to get as far away from the original topic as you can.
  • Take a small step towards a goal you have.
  • Re-organize your room
  • Name all of your soft toys
  • Play the A-Z game (Pick a category ie. Animals, and think of an animal for every letter of the alphabet
  • Have a lush warm bubble bath with candles!
  • Do some knitting
  • Do some house hold chores

Alternatives which may make you think before harming yourself:

  • Go through your “ritual” doing everything but harming yourself.  Go through each stage of preparing to self-harm; getting the implements, the first aid kit, the right music or whatever it is you find yourself doing while you hurt yourself, and then, at the moment when you would normally start, pack it all away. You can do this again (and again) whilst thinking about why you want to stop, until the urge leaves you
  • Think about how you don’t want scars
  • Remember that you don’t have to hurt yourself just because you're thinking about self harm
  • Repeat to yourself “I don’t deserve to be hurt” even if you don’t believe it
  • Remember that you always have the choice not to harm: it’s up to you what you do
  • Remind yourself that the urge to self harm is impulsive: you will only feel the urge to harm yourself for short bursts of time
  • Plan to be with other people at vulnerable times (real life or virtually) where possible
  • Recognise and acknowledge the choices you have NOW, in the moment when the urge comes
  • Pay attention to the changes needed to make you feel safe. Choose your way of thinking, try to resist following old thinking patterns
  • Lose the "should-could-have to" words. Try... "What if"
  • Think about what you would say to a friend who was struggling with the same things you are and try to be a good friend to yourself.
  • Kiss the places you want to SH or kiss the places you have healing wounds. It can be a reminder that you care about myself and that you don't want this
  • The Butterfly Project- draw a butterfly on the place(s) that you would self harm and if the butterfly fades without self-harming, it means it has lived and flown away, giving a sense of achievement. Whereas if you do self-harm with the butterfly there; you will have to wash it off. If that does happen, you can start again by drawing a new one on. You can name the butterfly after someone you love, or have a loved one draw it for you.
  • Write the name of a loved one [a friend, family member, or anyone else who cares about you] and write their name where you want to self harm. When you go to self harm remember how much they care and wouldn't want you to harm yourself.
  • Make a bracelet out of masking tape and put a line on it every day (or any period of time) you go without self harm. When it's full of lines, take it off and make a chain out of all the bracelets and hang it up somewhere where you can be reminded of your great progress.

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