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Teen Health

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Teens, Cutting, and Self-Injury

Stress and Self-Injury continued...

Some people naturally feel higher levels of stress than others. For examples, two performers in a school play might feel drastically different about performing. One might be excited; the other might feel dizzy and nauseous.

This difference may be due to a person's biological makeup, or it might be due to a traumatic experience at a very young age. While these feelings may be triggered by a certain event or by many bad things happening in a short period of time, intense feelings of frustration could also be related to a person's upbringing. Children of abusive parents might lack good role models for dealing with stress in a healthy way.

Just as everyone experiences stress in unique ways, everyone deals with stress in different ways. These ways of lessening bad feelings are called "coping mechanisms." There are healthy coping mechanisms, like:

  • Exercising
  • Playing the piano or drums
  • Meditating or praying
  • Talking with someone you trust

There are also unhealthy coping mechanisms, like:

Psychologists have found that self-injury can rapidly get rid of tension and other bad feelings. But, like drugs and alcohol, self-injury provides only a quick fix. Besides the physical consequences, one danger of self-injury is that the habit can last into adulthood. That's why it's crucial that teens learn safe, healthy, effective coping strategies so they can deal with anxiety and stress appropriately into adulthood.

Are Body Piercing and Tattooing Forms of Self-Injury?

Not necessarily.

Imagine a boy about 13 years old who accepts a friend's challenge to play "bloody knuckles" (punching each other's fists until they bleed). Then consider a girl around 15, who lies about her age at a booth in the mall and gets her eyebrow pierced. Or perhaps you've known a teen couple who got matching tattoos with each other's names.

The thing that distinguishes self-injury from other forms of physical harm is the elevated mood a teen experiences after self-injury. So the above examples -- although potentially dangerous in their own right -- are typically not acts of self-injury.

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