Truth About The Connection Between Anxiety & Self-Harm

While many people are much more aware of anxiety recently than in the past, some details and symptoms still are not as commonly discussed.
One lesser-known indication of anxiety is the urge to self-harm. Not all or even most people who experience anxiety will have these urges, and there are people who do self-harm yet not struggle with anxiety. Hitherto, the moment when anxiety and self-harm co-occur, it might be important to a person’s well-being and safety to identify the problem in order to connect with help.

Can anxiety cause self-harm?
It’s quite possible for anxiety to spark urges to self-harm. Self-harm is often associated with a sense of release from overwhelming emotions or situations in those who engage in the behavior. As anxiety is characterized by a sense of feeling overwhelmed or concerned about not being able to handle life situations, self-harm acts can get relief from anxious feelings. While anxiety does not always lead to self-harm, researches have shown people who engage in self-harm are more likely to experience anxiety and vice-versa.

Types of anxiety that may lead to self-harm
Some types of anxiety can be more likely to lead to self-harm than others:

  • Social anxiety: This kind of anxiety is characterized by a powerful fear or worry of being judged by others. Research have shown that this type of anxiety has a high likelihood of leading to self-harm behaviors.
  • Generalized anxiety: General anxiety is a constant sense of worry or stress in the long-term that doesn’t seem to have one particular cause. This type of anxiety has also been shown to have a greater chance of leading to self-harm behaviors.

As obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was once listed as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the DSM-5 lists it as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Even though OCD is now technically in a different category than anxiety, it can frequently co-occur with anxiety and has been known to cause self-harm.
One type of OCD, known as harm OCD, can be reason intense fear of hurting oneself or others. While this anxiety about harming oneself may be severe as well as vivid, those with harm OCD are thought to be no more likely to act on their thoughts of self-harm as compared to that with someone without harm OCD.

Why is anxiety connected to self-harm?
Anxiety is often accompanied by overwhelming feelings of worry, racing thoughts, as well as sometimes panics attacks. This can make people with anxiety feel they’ve completely lost control of their minds as well as bodies. They might turn to self-harm in order to focus their mind outside of their racing thoughts or worries, or they may use it as a way to regain emotions if they’ve started to feel numb from long-term anxiety.
On the other hand, self-harm is sometimes used out of anger. People with anxiety may feel frustrated or even mad at themselves for not being able to keep their anxious thoughts under control or that they can’t “fix” themselves. In such case, self-harm might not be done for the purpose of relief, but as self-inflicted punishment. Self-harm used in anger can be particularly damaging, as it isn’t a coping mechanism, but a sign of deep emotional struggle.
Self-harming thoughts many a times lead to self-harming behaviors in an effort to feel relief, feel pain, or punish oneself.