The Relationship Between Teen Anxiety and Self-Harm

When your teenager experiences anxiety, self-harm is one way he or she copes with intense anxious feelings. Although there are a variety of reasons why your child might be cutting or participating in other forms of self-harm, you might see that anxiety tends to drive this unhealthy pattern.

Anxiety that causes self harm is often excessive and ongoing. The anxiety frequently builds to the point where a teen needs to release that tension. And he or she does that through cutting. Although it sounds odd, harming oneself is a way to cope with those intense emotions. In addition to cutting, a teen might harm him or herself by head banging, pulling hair, burning or bruising the body, stabbing, hitting, or excessive rubbing of the skin. Harming oneself is the act of deliberately inflicting injury on the body without the intent of suicide.

If you and your teenager are not already working with a mental health professional that would be the first place to begin. Individual therapy for your adolescent is an excellent way to provide professional mental health support. Additionally, you can search for a therapist or psychologist that specializes working with teens. Having another adult your trusts can be the key to facilitating an easier transition to adulthood. Since your teenager might be breaking away from you as the parent in order to establish his or her independence and sense of self, a therapist can be a role model and even mentor. Meanwhile, and perhaps more importantly, therapeutic sessions can explore the underlying causes for the anxiety as well as any other intense feelings that tend to lead to self-harm. Furthermore, a therapist can help a teen learn new coping tools so that he or she is not using self-harm, but rather other ways to relieve anxiety.

Apart from therapy, you might also help your child learn relaxation techniques. For example, yoga, meditation, and breathing consciously and slowly can be tools to use on a regular basis. Yoga is a practice, a form of exercise, which invites an integrated experience of body and mind. Its effects can be experienced immediately as well as over time. Meditation is also a very calming practice that can also produce healing experiences. Although meditation might be difficult at first, the challenge at the beginning is worth the rewards. Finally, deep breathing can be an essential tool, particularly right in those intense moments that might otherwise lead to cutting or self-harm. Helping your child develop the habit of breathing instead of cutting can be the practice that eliminates self-harm altogether.

Lastly, helping your teenager examine his or her self-talk can also be particularly effective. Often, if not always, the thoughts and inner dialogue are what lead to self-harm. The thoughts that take place in response to the stress of school, peer pressure, and other forms of psychological tension is worth thorough exploration.

Of course, your teen may not be willing to divulge his or her inner thoughts with you, but you might simply invite your child to write down those thoughts. You might also purchase a journal or sketchpad for them to use. Of course, as a parent, you might also work closely with your child’s therapist who will be very familiar with how to not only explore those thoughts but also replace them with those that are positive and life affirming. A therapist will likely be familiar with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is a form of therapy that examines negative thoughts and feelings. It is common for a CBT therapist to use a tool called a Thought Diary, which is a way to document anxious thoughts and the result of those thoughts.

Tools that help reduce anxiety as well as explore the underlying causes of that anxiety can promote mental health and wellbeing.

Related Articles

A Guide to Teen Self-Injury: Prevention, Signs, and Treatment

6 Teen Cutting Myths Debunked

Self Harm is More Than Just Cutting

Signs of a Teen Who is Cutting: What Parents Should Look For

Further Reading

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