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If you find yourself experiencing a bit more stress than normal, why not consider Tapping? Before you find yourself under a cascade of shoes in your closet searching for your old tap shoes, hang tight. This type of Tapping only requires your fingers, and it won’t wake your neighbors downstairs (bonus!). The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is commonly referred to as “Tapping,” is based on the same concepts underlying acupuncture.
What is "Tapping"?
Tapping is a self-applied emotional regulation technique that involves using your fingers to tap on an established sequence of specific acupressure points while verbalizing thoughts, emotions, and feelings in order to release them. Tapping is used to lower stress and anxiety, reduce pain and cravings, and alleviate feelings of depression by acknowledging the thoughts contributing to the discomfort and then shifting the energy away from the negative and toward the positive.
If this is starting to sound a little out there, or if “snake oil” alarm bells are going off in your head, you’re not alone. However, Tapping doesn’t just subjectively alleviate feelings of stress, anxiety, and pain. Research indicates that it can effectively lower the body’s levels of circulating cortisol—a hormone secreted in response to stress—by over 24 percent. In fact, EFT Tapping is considered "evidence-based" practice for helping with anxiety, PTSD, phobias, and depression.
Intrigued? We spoke to experts to get the scoop on Tapping, including how to do it and what you can use it for. Keep reading to learn more about this stress-reducing technique.
Meet the Expert
Robin Bilazarian is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), master EFT trainer, Diplomate in Comprehensive Energy Psychology, and the author of Tapping the Mighty Mind: Simple Solutions for Stress, Conflict, and Pain.
Yelena Senia is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) who specializes in trauma and uses EFT in her practice in Connecticut.
What Does Tapping Do?
Bilazarian says that Tapping is a fast and effective alternative medicine tool used to rebalance emotional dysregulation. “Tapping quiets the body and the mind, quite fast, often in minutes, [so] we can think again and find solutions.”
How Does Tapping Work?
Tapping works by sending signals to the parts of the brain (mainly the amygdala and hippocampus) that control stress to release the stress and relax. When the brain and body have reduced the perceived stress, the person is better able to access and process other emotions and use their frontal cortex to engage in rational thought. Senia says this allows the person to think about what has contributed to the emotional distress, physical pain, and/or mental confusion, so that they can take action and improve. "When you think of something that causes you anxiety, or stress, or other uncomfortable feelings, the thought sets off the amygdala fire alarm. Tapping, as you trigger your fight/flight response, sends a message that the amygdala can deactivate, even though the threatening thought is still present," explains Senia. "With repetition, the hippocampus gets the message: this thing that was previously filed as “dangerous” is not, in reality, a threat. Through tapping, painful memories, and your focus on a specific part of them, can change."
What Issues Can Tapping Therapy Help With?
Tapping therapy can be useful for a wide range of issues. “I like it a lot for the anxiety spectrum of disorders, which includes stress, worry, social anxiety, generalized anxiety, panic, OCD, and new and old trauma. I also use it to release physical pain,” says Bilazarian. Tapping has been effective in alleviating anxiety, stress-related disorders such as PTSD and fibromyalgia, depression, physical pain, addictions, phobias, and weight issues, among other problems. As Bilazarian says, “Try it on everything is the motto.”
How Often is it Recommended?
Senia shares that the recommended frequency for Tapping sessions “depends on the problem and body’s ability to work through that problem.” In general, someone can self-employ Tapping as a mental health tool as often as they want to or feel they need to without negative repercussions. For more serious issues, like PTSD and trauma, working with a EFT-certified therapist is recommended.
Are There Negative Side Effects From Tapping?
As someone who almost always experiences at least half of the common side effects listed for a medication, I had to ask our experts about the possible adverse effects of Tapping. “Sometimes people can experience a negative reaction after (or during) an EFT session. These reactions are usually emotional, such as anger, anxiety, uneasiness, sadness, or even a temporary worsening of the issue,” says Senia. “I find that if I am tapping on anger or anxiety, once the immediate symptoms release, underneath we may find sadness or irritability that emerge, and the goal would be to continue tapping on what emerges in order to release the underlying layers of the problem.”
Bilazarian adds that side effects are minimal. “People will yawn and sigh as they tap, which is considered an energy release and a sign you are moving from the sympathetic nervous system into the parasympathetic nervous system.” If you’re like most people and your high school anatomy class knowledge is stored in inaccessible brain archives, this basically means your brain shifts from its “fight or flight” panic mode to one of “relax and digest,“ a state where Bilazarian reminds us “your immune system and other human organs work the best.”
Does Tapping Therapy Work?
More than 100 research studies have shown positive benefits and the efficacy of Tapping. For example, in a 2019 EFT Tapping intervention study, Tapping resulted in significant reductions of cravings (−74 percent), pain (−57 percent), anxiety (−40 percent), depression (−35 percent), and post-traumatic stress disorder (−32 percent), and an increase in happiness (+31 percent). In addition to these psychological improvements, participants experienced physical health benefits such as a 37 percent reduction in cortisol levels, and a decrease in both resting heart rate and blood pressure.
Anecdotally, it works, too. Senia shares an impressive pain-relief result from her practice: “I was tapping with a male client on his anger problems, and after a couple of tapping cycles, he noted that his neck pain that had been bothering him for weeks had immediately disappeared and did not return,” says Senia. “He was literally holding stress in his neck and Tapping allowed his body to experience a sense of safety in order to release the physical pain.”
So, How Do You Tap?
One of the benefits of Tapping is that it is easy to perform on your own, and, according to Bilazarian, positive results can be seen in as little as three to 10 minutes.“This technique can be [implemented] anywhere, anytime, without any need for an appointment, as all you need is your own two fingers and the knowledge [of] where to tap.”
So, thanks to our experts, we have Tapping 101 instructions to get you tapping your way to better mental health.
- Begin by noting any physical pain, negative emotions, or stress you want to get rid of. For example, you might have a headache or you might be stressed about an upcoming work deadline. Rate the intensity of this discomfort, or how much the issue is bothering you, on a scale from zero to 10, with zero meaning you’re completely fine and 10 indicating that you are severely distressed.
- Tap on the side of either hand by using two fingers from the other hand. You should be tapping on the fleshy part on the outside of the hand, halfway between the base of the pinky and where the hand meets the wrist. Recite your setup statement three times, either silently in your mind, or, more effectively, verbalized aloud. The statement should be something like, “Even though I am stressed about my work deadline and meeting expectations, I love and accept myself.” Bilazarian shares, “If saying, ‘I love and accept myself’ does not resonate with you, it is acceptable to change those words to ‘I'm okay,’ or ‘I am a good person and accept this is how i feel right now.’”
- Tap through the following sequence of points until the sensation or feeling you rated is zero (or closer to it). Tap gently five to seven times on each site before moving to the next point. While you are on the points, repeat a reminder statement, such as: “This stress I feel about work is safe to let go.”
- Tap on the inner corner of your eyebrow, near the bridge of the nose.
- Tap at the side of either or both eyes at the edge of your face.
- Tap just under the eyes on the cheekbones on one or both sides.
- Tap on the space between the bottom of the nose and the top lip.
- Tap in the crease in the center of the chin.
- Tap just under your collarbone, on one or both sides, just to either side of the sternum.
- Tap on either or both sides of the rib cage, about four inches below the armpit.
- Tap on the very top of the head with two fingers or a flat palm.
Church D, Yount G, Brooks AJ. The Effect of Emotional Freedom Technique on Stress Biochemistry: a Randomized Controlled Trial. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2012 Oct;200(10):891-6.
Church, D. (2013). Clinical EFT as an Evidence-Based Practice for the Treatment of Psychological and Physiological Conditions. Psychology, 4, 645-654.
Bach, D., Groesbeck, G., Stapleton, P., Sims, R., Blickheuser, K., & Church, D. (2019). Clinical EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Improves Multiple Physiological Markers of Health. Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine, 24, 2515690X18823691.