Stress as a Precursor to Self-Harm
People self-harm for many different reasons and self-harm in and of itself is not a symptom of bipolar disorder. But like many people with extreme pain in their lives, many people with bipolar disorder do self-harm. I have been one of them. And as sure as I’m sitting here I can tell you, stress precipitated most of the self-harm.
Stress Doesn't Always Lead to Self-Harm
We all get stressed. Stress is simply indicative that something is wrong in our environment. Maybe we couldn’t pay a bill, maybe we had a fight with a friend maybe there is a big presentation due at work. Stress, we all have it.
And when you’re under stress your body releases all sort of chemicals like cortisol creating an interruption in the homeostasis (even level) of the body. Your nervous system literally changes in response to stress.
Dealing with Stress
So we have to deal with that stress in order to get our nervous system back to normal. We do this in lots of ways: taking hot baths, ranting with a friend, dealing with the problem and yes, self-harming. Why would self-harming be on the list? Well, it seemed like the best idea at the time.
Sometimes Stress and Self-Harm Urges Won’t Go Away
Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we can’t get our nervous system to calm the heck down. We try every coping mechanism we know, and yet still, the stress, anxiety, worry and fear remain (Stress Leads to Anxiety which leads to Self-Harm).
This is when self-harm tends to take place. The stress tends to build up over time and with no functioning coping techniques the person harms themselves.
Why Would You Self-Harm Under Stress?
That’s easy. You self-harm because you have no other functioning coping techniques. You are in pain, your nervous system is screaming, and you need to rid yourself of this and the only way you know to do it is through self-harm.
It not really as crazy as it sounds. As water will always seek to be level in a glass, the human body seeks to be level also and one extreme problem (your nervous system out of whack) needs one extreme solution (self-harm) to bring back the equilibrium.
Avoiding Self-Harm Under Stress
Knowing that self-harm tends to happen during times of stress, you can try to use that knowledge to avoid self-harm. Stop the cycle before the urge to self-harm even emerges. You can:
- Learn new techniques for coping with stress
- Stay away from self-harm triggers when you’re feeling stress
- Try to nip stress in the bud and deal with it before it becomes out of control
- Put a health stress action plan into place that you agree to follow when you’re feeling stressed out
- Reach out to others in times of stress; don’t spend time alone
- See a professional that specializes in treating self-harm
And know this: you are not alone. Thousands of people across the country self-harm. It is not uncommon, but it is treatable. You don’t have to live that way.
Tracy, N. (2012, March 22). Stress as a Precursor to Self-Harm, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/03/stress-as-a-precursor-to-self-harm
Author: Natasha Tracy
Thank you for leaving that comment. I'm sure it must have been hard to write.
Self-harm is a coping technique some people use but it's what's known as a negative coping technique because it ultimately harms you. Many people who self-harm need help to stop. Self-harm does not have to be part of your life and there are resources that can help you stop.
SAFE (Self-Abuse Finally Ends)
There are many other hotline numbers here: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources
You might feel like there is no one to help you with this now, but it doesn't have to stay that way. Reach out.
- Natasha Tracy
Stress has been known to lower the immune system. This might be why humans feel a need to self-harm when stressed - to reactivate the immune system again. When there's open wounds, burns or other kinds of injury or even just pain, your immune system is going to have to get activated to repair the damage and keep infections away.
Self-harming is not a human-only trait. Animals are known to do it too when experiencing prolonged periods of high amounts of stress.
That being said, there are many, many reasons for people to self-harm, and only few are ever mentioned. It's important to realize though that it does not always happen due to stress, even though it might be the most common sort.
I would not use the word indecency because it is invalidating for people who already suffer from countless instances of invalidation. Self-harm is a coping mechanism that is not effective in the long run and doesn't support personal growth. Thought this was very helpful info.
Nice to see you here :)
You're absolutely right, you need not have a bipolar diagnosis (or any diagnosis) for self-harm to be a problem.
Thanks for sharing that. That's a very graceful and enlightened way of looking at it, I think.
One strategy I use to prevent hurting myself is I try to picture that the body part I will be doing harm to is that of someone else. Would I take a knife to someone I love's wrist? No. Most of the time, that makes me stop.
I think that's a great thing to do. That sounds like cognitive behavioral therapy at work to me. And if it works for you, that sounds great to me.
Thanks for sharing your technique.
I'm sorry to hear you're still self-harming. That's a pretty negative thing to have to live with.
But you're right, you're not alone and you _can_ get better. Every day just a little bit. People are there for you.
Yes, correct diagnosis and treatment can certainly stop self-harming behaviors. When you're in more pain, you have more to harm about. Pretty simple there.
I don't generally advise a medication solution to stress because, well, that's a very contentious issue in the community, but that being said, that can be very effective for people. Congrats on finding a way that works for you.
I have found, though, that when I am stressed and want to injure myself (since then) the best remedy for me is to stop, think about what the injury will do for me (temporary relief), and plot out what will really give me the relief I need... My ways for that are unconventional but they have worked thus far.