How to Relieve Anxiety With “Tapping”

Emotional Freedom Technique, aka “tapping,” has been proven to alleviate stress, anxiety, chronic pain and more. Could it help you?

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Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), the therapeutic practice of “tapping,” is rooted in both traditional Chinese medicine and cognitive behavioral therapy. The idea is to acknowledge and verbalize your negative thoughts, fears and worries as you simultaneously deliver calming feedback to your body. This is done by using your fingertips to gently tap nine acupressure points on the hands, head and torso, which are located on meridians, energy pathways reputed to impact emotion.

Skeptical? You’re not alone. “People may feel like it’s a little too woo-woo,” says Emily Capuria, LISW-S, CHHC, psychotherapist, life coach and author of Happiness Happens: A 10-Week Guide to Reconnect With Who You Are, Dream a New Dream & Make Magic Happen! (Balance & Thrive, 2019) who teaches tapping workshops.

However, research shows that EFT has helped people manage a variety of conditions that range from anxiety to chronic pain to obesity. According to research published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, most acupressure points are located on or adjacent to nerve branches or receptors, blood and lymph vessels, and mast cells. Tapping on these specific areas creates a physical stimulus that impacts brain activity and physiological markers while helping activate your parasympathetic nervous system, reducing heart rate and blood pressure.

EFT can be used as a short-term tool to help treat trauma and specific issues or as a regular practice to manage daily stress and anxiety: In a 2020 study published by the American Psychological Association, cortisol levels in study participants dropped by 43 percent after 60 minutes of EFT. And research published in The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease found that 90 percent of veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder who received six hourlong sessions per week with an EFT practitioner were no longer diagnosable with PTSD at the end of six weeks. In comparison, only 4 percent of veterans in the control group achieved remission with standard care.

Tapping How-To

Anyone can learn to tap, and you can do it with or without a trained professional. While you can tap in response to a stressful or triggering situation, you also can tap regularly to reduce or maintain your emotional baseline. Use these tips and tap into your inner calm.

Identify your stressor. This might be a painful memory, a frustrating experience or an ongoing worry. “Call up that specific memory so you can really feel the experience and the full emotional response,” Capuria says. Assess your level of emotional intensity as it relates to this stressor from 1 to 10.

Determine a setup statement about your stressor. For example, you might say, Even though my boss dismissed my ideas today, I still totally and completely love and accept myself. Say your setup statement out loud a total of three times while using the fingertips of either hand to tap on the “karate-chop point” of the other hand.

Next, talk about your thoughts and feelings as they relate to your setup statement. “Just kind of free-flow,” Capuria says. For example, you might say, My boss doesn’t take me seriously. How will I ever get a promotion? I don’t want this to negatively impact my career. With each thought, gently tap on each of the following acupressure points five to seven times in this order, either using one hand on one side of the body or both hands on both sides of the body:

  1. Eyebrow
  2. Side of eye
  3. Under eye
  4. Under nose
  5. Under mouth
  6. Collarbone
  7. Under arm
  8. Top of head

Cycle through these points, beginning each new round with the eyebrow point.

After a couple of rounds, take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, and reassess your level of emotional intensity; ideally, your rating should be lower than your initial number.

You may want or need to do a few more rounds, or you may even want to modify your setup statement if a new trigger came to light. An example might be, Even though I am feeling uncertain about my career, I still totally and completely love and accept myself.