Rubber bands — Alternative to self-injury?


In the past I have self-mutilated and recently there has been a lot of added stress to my life. I've heard about wearing a rubber band on your wrist as an alternative. I was just curious are there any downsides to this method, as an example I have been doing this for a week now and I have gotten a bruise on my hand, it probably isn't from me snapping the rubber band but I was just wondering if there is anything I should know about this method? Thanks

Dear Reader,

Kudos to you for recognizing the stress in your life that may be negatively affecting your behavior and for being brave enough to reach out and seek guidance. Inflicting pain on yourself can take the form of cutting or burning yourself to punching a wall or other hard objects. These behaviors may become addictive over time and may be very difficult to stop. While wearing a rubber band and snapping it is often suggested as an alternative, it frequently acts as another form of self-harm. However, there are several resources available for you if the urge continues to get worse (more on this later). 

In order to curb the desire to self-harm, some mental health professionals suggest using alternative coping mechanisms, such as snapping a rubber band on your wrist to mimic the sensation of cutting. In many cases, the alternatives recommended serve as ways to still cause a physical sensation while minimizing the harm to the body. However, research indicates that many of the harm reduction strategies recommended to reduce the physical damage to the body can still act as a form of self-harm. In the case of snapping rubber bands, it can cause pain and potentially leave a mark on your skin, such as the redness and bruising that you describe.

Additionally, using self-harm substitutes, like the one you described, may be a sign that the emotions or stressors contributing to your desire to hurt yourself are still bothering you. The problem with using self-harm substitutes as a coping mechanism is that these strategies don’t necessarily distract the individual during a moment of crisis but can further exacerbate someone’s desire to self-harm.  

Resisting the urge to self-injure may involve finding ways to manage the triggers that lead to self-injuring. You mention that you’re feeling stressed lately — are you also feeling angry? Depressed? Depending on the way you’re feeling, there are options you could try to help you cope with the urge to injure without hurting yourself: 

  • If you feel angry, you could try getting your emotions out by squeezing a stress ball, releasing some energy out through physical activity or dance, or making some noise by playing an instrument or singing. You may want to read the Q&A Anger management for other ways to deal with anger. 
  • If you feel numb and cutting is a way to feel deeper emotions, you could try other ways to stimulate your senses — eat flavorful foods or listen to expressive music. This could also be an opportunity to call a friend to distract you when you feel disconnected or numb. Additionally, you don’t have to talk about self-harm if you don’t feel comfortable, as this phone call could simply serve as time to catch up with your friend and chat. 
  • If you need to calm down, taking a bath, going for a walk, listening to music that soothes you, cuddling with a pet (if you have one), or meditating could all be helpful. You could check out the Meditation Q&A to learn how to meditate. 

Finally, if you continue to feel the urge to self-injure, it may be helpful to find a mental health professional to talk with about these urges. If you are a college student, you may be able to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional on your campus. In addition, the Mental Health America website has resources on finding counseling services throughout the country. While it may be difficult at first, expressing your emotions and talking about how to deal with stress in a more positive way may help you avoid self-injuring in the future. Moreover, if you’re ever in crisis and can’t reach a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional, one option for support could be the SAMHSA National Helpline (1-800-662-4357).

You deserve to find ways of coping with stress that don't also cause you harm. Here's to working towards what healthy stress management looks like for you,

Last updated Jun 18, 2021
Originally published Nov 02, 2007

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