Whether you are relatively new to managing anxiety and emotional distress, or it’s a lifelong project for you, finding what works can be overwhelming. There are many great self-help techniques out there – from meditation to physical exercise – which many find useful, particularly if you cannot currently access therapy. Not every technique works for everyone – if you struggle with solely mental techniques or purely physical ones, neither meditation nor exercise will fit, and may even add to your distress. However, there is a technique growing in popularity that directly links a more physical approach with mental exercise. It’s called emotional freedom techniques (EFT).
What is EFT tapping?
EFT (also known as EFT tapping or 'tapping') is a practice where you tap different points on your body. Tamara Donn, an accredited expert EFT practitioner, describes it as "an empowering DIY self-help technique to help you release negative beliefs or emotions". Originating from the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, it combines acupuncture (without the needles) with a focused affirmation practice and can better help individuals ground in the present and release difficult and distressing thoughts and feelings. Though it’s still being researched, EFT has been used to treat anxiety, depression and PTSD. It can be done either on your own or with a practitioner to support you in releasing the root causes of your challenges. In this environment it is like talk therapy but with a physical component.
How does it work?
As with acupuncture, EFT focuses on the meridian points (in Chinese medicine, these are the points where chi or energy flow gets trapped). Proponents say that tapping on these points helps release the energy. Paired with affirmations based on what is most resonant for you (e.g. anxious thoughts, a troubling memory or depressive feelings), the tapping can help to break ruminative thought patterns and change the emotions you have attached to memories and triggers.
As a self-help therapeutic technique, there are several studies to support its effectiveness for PTSD, anxiety and depression. In particular, tapping can help to calm people, sending signals to the parts of the brain that control stress. Doing EFT tapping in a group was found to reduce cortisol (stress) levels by 43%.
Who would it work for?
EFT is particularly effective in people dealing with depression, anxiety and PTSD. It might not be right for you if you struggle with compulsions or obsessive behaviours. If that’s the case, Tamara advises that you should only explore EFT if you are working with a qualified practitioner who has experience in that area.
Can I do it at home? If so, how?
If trying EFT as a self-help technique sounds within your remit, Tamara says you can absolutely do it yourself but as with everything it takes practice. "There are several levels of how EFT works. It’s like playing the piano – anyone can learn to play 'Happy Birthday' but it takes a lot of skill and talent to perform a complicated piano concerto." The easiest way to do EFT at home is to watch a tapping video on the theme that you are working on. Most people get great results. Tamara recommends this playlist of instructional EFT videos as a starting point.
For longer lasting results, Tamara says it’s best to either attend an EFT training or work with a practitioner. This is because, she says, EFT works best when the wording you use matches exactly how you feel. By contrast, "videos on the internet use general wording".
How to use the technique at home
Below is Tamara’s quick guide for how to use the technique.
1. Choose a problem to work on (e.g. stress).
2. Rate the level of intensity of the problem on a scale from 0 (least) to 10 (most).
3. Optional step for better result: Notice where you feel the problem in your body and what the sensation is there (e.g. achy shoulders, tightness in my stomach etc.).
4. Tap on the side of your hand while repeating the setup statement one to three times (e.g. "Even though I have this stress and tightness in my stomach, I deeply and completely accept myself").
5. Tap through each of the points repeating a reminder phrase (e.g. "stress and tightness in my stomach"):
- Top of the head - Eyebrow (start of the eyebrow closest to nose) - Side of eye (end of eyebrow) - Under eye - Under nose - Chin - Collarbone (one inch below and one inch across from the dip in your throat) - Under arm (on your bra strap)
6. Repeat the above step.
7. Rate the intensity of the problem on a scale from 0 to 10.
8. If the level has gone down – great, repeat the process to reduce it further.
9. If the level has gone up, don’t worry! It is probably because this problem has been suppressed and is not coming to your conscious awareness. DON’T STOP TAPPING. Do another round to start bringing the intensity down.
10. If the level has stayed the same, bring in more details, so for example: "Even though I am stressed about making this deadline and I can feel it on the right side of my stomach which feels like a tight knot the size of an orange, I deeply and completely accept myself." If this doesn’t help, read this troubleshooting page for more tips.
11. Keep going until the intensity has gone.