by Desiree Coffey

Anyone who knows me, knows my life is anything but simple, smooth, or stress-free.  Everyday, I am faced with super high expectations, deadlines, rehearsals, practice, homework…the list goes on and on.  Then we can add a spoon full of family illness, aging grandparents, and personal limitations.  Seems like a lot?  Not done just yet, now add an overflowing cup full of social and peer issues….How does my skin look?  Is my outfit right?  Who likes me?  Who doesn’t?  Most days I manage to navigate through it all without any issues or anxiety.  But there are days when I find myself feeling like I could pull my hair out, breakdown in tears, and just run until I hear absolute silence.  Sometimes coping with problems can be tough.

So, what do I do when I feel like I’m losing it?  Well, to be honest, my first go-to emotion is anger and immediate shut-down.  It’s a temporary outlet for what’s building up inside of me; it’s kind of like my pause button.  Then once I think I’m alone and away from prying eyes; then come the tears and isolation.  Isolation is not the best way to go (it’s basically hiding), but releasing the tears can really help reduce the anger.  Then finally, my family, who are so in tune to my emotions and behaviors, rally beside me until I’m comfortable with what I’m feeling and understand why.

Now don’t get the wrong idea, the fix isn’t always easy or the problem isn’t always obvious.  In fact, sometimes we spend hours or days trying to figure out the reason and try to identify triggers.  Sounds like a perfect recipe for chicken noodle soup or a show on lifetime right?  Well, it’s not that easy and it’s extra hard when you have to share feeling that you’re afraid or ashamed of.  But in the end, the relief is so rewarding.  That weight or pressure is gone and the people around you seem to have a better idea of who you are.  Which is awesome because you feel like they are really seeing and understand you.

I’m sure I’m not alone.  In fact, I have to admit I’m writing this article because I am concerned about the number of students I see suffering daily.  It can be hard to deal with strong emotions. We are going through so many changes right now.  So many that it may seem like nothing is the same anymore and we experience fear, embarrassment, loneliness, shame, guilt, sadness, and anger.  Holding these feelings in or trying to ignore them can be very destructive to your emotional and physical well-being.  These pinned up emotions to can lead to dangerous outlets for relief; especially self-harm, self-medicating or suicide.  Instead of focusing on the details of self-harm, medicating or suicide, focus on the feelings or events that lead you to this point.  This will help you understand why you self-harm and will make it easier for you to express them to someone else.  Most importantly find someone to talk too.  A friend, a counselor, or a parent.  If you’re too nervous about talking to someone face to face, write them a note, send an email, or text.  You many think everyone is too busy to deal with your issues or no one care, but the truth is you’re not alone.  So please reach out for help and talk to someone.  Slip a note in my locker or send me a message.  I promise I will stand by you and help you decide where to get help.  In the meantime, here are some coping methods that are less destructive:

If you self-harm to express pain and intense emotions

  • Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
  • Express your feelings in a journal
  • Compose a poem or song to say what you feel
  • Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
  • Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling

If you self-harm to calm and soothe yourself

  • Take a bath or hot shower
  • Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
  • Massage your neck, hands, and feet
  • Listen to calming music

If you self-harm because you feel disconnected and numb

  • Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
  • Take a cold shower
  • Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg
  • Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint, or                       a grapefruit peel

If you self-harm to release tension or vent anger

  • Exercise vigorously—run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
  • Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
  • Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
  • Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
  • Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans)

Substitutes for the cutting sensation


  • Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
  • Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
  • Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs, and snap instead of cutting

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