I’ve just been reading and article by Stuart Sorensen on how to train to care for people that self harm. Some of the main points are:
Self harm is not about us Self harm isn’t suicide – but people who harm themselves are at higher risk of suicide Self harm is about coping Most self harm (coping) is done in private and kept secret When coping fails people behave in more and more extreme ways We all use particular coping strategies to feel better when distressed The most effective coping strategies change brain/body chemistry (endorphins) Deliberate self harm stimulates endorphins People generally use the best coping strategies they know Our job is to enhance coping strategies – not to remove the only effective coping strategy a person has. Developing alternative coping strategies Looking after ourselves
The bit that really interests me, which I’ve put in Bold, is about coping strategies and the release of endorphins. This is something I can really relate to. I’ve never resorted to what would be considered ‘Self harm’ … However, I can completely get the need for endorphins and particular brain chemistry to help you to feel ‘OK’.
I’ve made no secret that I’m a keen cyclist and that I now know that cycling has always been one of my coping mechanisms… specifically high intensity cycling and endurance. There’s something about pushing yourself into, and past, a pain barrier that makes you (well, me) feel better. The worse I feel to start with, the harder I need to push myself. This can sometimes end badly though, if not staying aware of energy levels and eating properly. It could certainly be said that extreme endurance exercise could be considered as a form of self harm in that it puts your body into a state that it would not normally be comfortable with. The big key here though is that release of endorphines – which people can get from any exercise.
I consider myself lucky that I found exercise and cycling early on and, unaware to myself at the time, used this to self medicate. I could have easily reached for something different to get that endorphin hit, or something else to alter brain chemistry in an aim to feel better. People are often creatures of habit though, and once you find something that works, you’ll stick with it and it’ll be hard to break that routine. I don’t see it as an easy thing for those who have self-destructive coping mechanisms to change to something more constructive… but regular exercise is such an important benefit for mental health – for everyone. It should be encouraged.