Can tapping help anxiety?
As soon as my alarm goes off, I get a familiar feeling in my chest. It’s Monday morning, the week ahead is going to be busy, and I’m feeling anxious. Fast-forward a couple of hours, I’m feeling a little calmer and ready to join my Zoom call with Charlie O-Brien (clinical hypnotherapist, life coach and EFT practitioner) for my first ever emotional freedom technique (EFT) session.
Having written about EFT before, I already had an idea of what to expect – tapping acupuncture points on your body while repeating statements about a problem you’re encountering. But experiencing it first hand (quite literally) is another matter.
What makes it so powerful is the way it ‘updates the brain’s learning’ as outlined in Dr Peta Stapleton’s TEDx talk, ‘Is therapy facing a revolution?’ In this talk, Dr Stapleton explains that the combination of accessing a difficult memory or feeling while in a ‘contrary’ state (relaxed) and repeating the process updates our brain’s learning. The secret to getting into that relaxed state is in the tapping.
A 10-year research trial by Harvard University has revealed that stimulating these acupuncture points sends a signal to the amygdala in our brain to calm down. With just one hour of tapping, our stress hormone levels can be reduced by 24%. For comparison, if we were to lie down and rest for an hour, our stress hormone levels would only reduce by 14%.
Before our session, Charlie told me about her own tapping experience as she was training to be an EFT practitioner.
I tapped on a ‘feeling’ I got in my stomach if anyone ever mentioned my abusive ex’s name.
“Over the years I’d worked on the trauma, but this horrible feeling still clung on and I decided it was time to completely release myself from the past trauma.
“It worked. That’s all I can say. Ever since that day I’ve not been able to recall that nasty feeling in my stomach. That person no longer has control over me, and it’s liberating.”
The idea of being able to tap away a problem is an enticing one, and I knew the quest to be free of anxiety is my white whale.
We began our session by talking about anxiety, and specifically how I was feeling there and then. Charlie asked me where I could feel anxiety in my body (in my torso, mainly my chest), how it felt (fluttery, like butterflies), and where my anxiety levels were on a scale from 0 to 10 (about a four).
Charlie then showed me the first tapping point, the ‘karate chop’ on the outside edge of my palm. We tapped this and repeated a ‘set-up statement’ to get us in the right headspace. We repeated it three times before our first round of tapping.
Starting at the inner eyebrow we tapped, moving to the outside of my eye, under my eye, under my nose, my chin, under my collarbone, under my arm and finishing at the top of my head. Following Charlie’s lead, I repeated simple phrases about feeling anxiety while I tapped.
After this, we paused and did a quick breathing exercise. Charlie asked me where I was on the scale (down to a three) and where I could feel the anxiety in my body. To my surprise, it had moved. I could now feel the ‘fluttery’ feeling in my throat, ears and head. With a nod and a smile, Charlie explained that tapping moves sensations around the body and this was a good sign – it was on its way out.
We did another round, and this time I felt like I was going into a meditative state, feeling utterly relaxed by the end of it. I wondered if this would be the end of the session but no, Charlie wanted to take things deeper to truly unpick whatever it was my anxiety was clinging on to.
As we talked, I explained some deep-rooted fears relating to anxiety, stress and its relation to work. And so, we tapped on this. Stating the problem so clearly feels counterintuitive, but by repeating the statements I became almost desensitised to them. By the end, I wasn’t totally released of anxiety, but Charlie said the deeper issues often took more work.
Before bed that night, I did another round of tapping myself. When the alarm went off the following morning I waited for the inevitable anxious feeling in my chest to rise… but it didn’t.
So, do I think tapping has taken away my anxiety completely? Not yet. I don’t believe my journey with anxiety is over, but I’m excited to add tapping to my anti-anxiety toolbox and see where it takes me.
Try this at home
If you haven’t got time for a full round of tapping or you’re in public and want to be discreet, use a couple of fingers to tap the inside of your wrist, moving to the inside edge of each finger (where the nail meets the skin). Say the problem you want to tap on with each point out loud or in your head. Repeat until you feel calmer.
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