Distraction Techniques and Alternative Coping Strategies (page 2)

— Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults
Updated on Mar 14, 2011

Craving sensation/Feeling empty or unreal:

  • List the many uses for a random object. (For example, what are all the things you can do with a twist-tie?)
  • Interact with other people. 
  • Bite into a hot pepper or chew a piece of ginger root. 
  • Rub liniment under your nose. 
  • Take a cold bath. 
  • Stomp your feet on the ground. 
  • Focus on how it feels to breathe. Notice the way your chest and stomach move with each breath.

Wanting focus:

  • Do a task that is exacting and requires focus and concentration. 
  • Eat a raisin mindfully. Notice how it looks and feels. Try to describe the texture.How does a raisin smell? Chew slowly, noticing how the texture and even the taste of the raisin change as you chew it. 
  • Choose an object in the room. Examine it carefully and then write as detailed a description of it as you can. 
  • Choose a random object, like a twist-tie, and try to list 30 different uses for it. 
  • Pick a subject and research it on the web.

Feeling guilty or like a bad person:

  • List as many good things about yourself as you can.
  • Read something good that someone has written about you. 
  • Talk to someone that cares about you. 
  • Do something nice for someone else. 
  • Remember when you’ve done something good. 
  • Think about why you feel guilty and how you might be able to change it. PAGE

“… I made a mix of 10 happy songs I would listen to sometimes when I was rollerblading to put myself in a good mood… It was uplifting music. It was good. It was like ‘Walking on Sunshine’ and ‘It’s Raining Men’ and stuff like that. I was like, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t listen to depressing, abusive music when I’m feeling like this. Maybe I should try to get in a better mood.’” — Interviewee

Other General Distraction and Substitution Techniques:

Reach Out to Others

  • Phone a friend. 
  • Call 1-800-DONT-CUT. 
  • Go out and be around people.

Express Yourself

  • Write down your feelings in a diary. 
  • Cry – crying is a healthy and normal way to express your sadness or frustration. 
  • Draw or color.

Keep Busy

  • Play a game.
  • Listen to music. 
  • Read. 
  • Take a shower. 
  • Open a dictionary and learn new words. 
  • Do homework. 
  • Cook. 
  • Dig in the garden. 
  • Clean. 
  • Watch a feel-good movie.

Do Something Mindful

  • Count down slowly from 10 to 0.
  • Breathe slowly, in through the nose and out through the mouth. 
  • Focus on objects around you and thinking about how they look, sound, smell, taste and feel. 
  • Do yoga. 
  • Meditate. 
  • Learn some breathing exercises to aid relaxation. 
  • Talk to someone you trust and care about. It doesn’t matter what you talk about, just talk. 
  • Find a child to play with. Ask to play a game. 
  • Do something kind for someone. 
  • Think about all the details of a time or place that made you happy – remember how all of your senses felt. 
  • Punch pillows. 
  • Scream into a pillow. 
  • Yell or sing at the top of your lungs. 
  • Exercise.

Useful Links:

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