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Can tapping help with anxiety?

BY Annabel Lee

16th Feb 2023 Wellbeing

Can tapping help with anxiety?

The alternative therapy EFT tapping might be able to help you feel more in control of your mental health and reduce anxiety and stress

Tapping, also known as Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT, is an alternative therapy that’s gaining a lot of interest as a low-cost, non-invasive way to help manage stress and anxiety.

Origins and case study

Tapping involves tapping on various points of your body while saying a phrase out loud. It draws on the idea of energy meridian lines from Chinese medicine, teaching that tapping on these can rebalance energy in the body and help manage negative emotions. 

"It's sometimes known as “psychological acupuncture”, as it combines stimulating acupressure by tapping with talking"

While there is limited research about tapping, some studies have shown it can help with anxiety and many people like Caroline Fitzgerald from Galway in Ireland are using the technique to help them manage their mental health.

Since she started tapping three years ago Caroline feels like a different person. “I’ve never felt more supported in terms of my own mental health and my emotional well-being,” she says. Tapping has helped Caroline overcome over 20 years of anxiety and insomnia. “After exhausting so many other paths—CBT, counselling, medication, talk therapy and more, EFT tapping has allowed me to process so many limiting beliefs and memories—it has allowed me to change my thinking,” she says.

What is tapping?

Emotional Freedom Technique was developed by American engineering graduate Gary Craig, who wrote a book called The EFT Manual in the 1990s, based on the belief that all discomfort is caused by imbalance of energy in the body.

The practice is sometimes known as psychological acupuncture”, as it combines stimulating acupressure by tapping on various points in the body with talking. In practice this means tapping on various points on the body which are connected with energy meridian lines with your fingers while also saying out loud a certain phrase repeatedly. Often you first identify a negative emotion you are feeling before following this with a validating phrase for how you want to feel.

Can tapping help with anxiety—woman tapping on the eye brow pointTapping on the eye brow point. Photo: humonia

“By physically tapping on 14 key easy-to-reach points on the body while talking about how you are feeling signals are sent to the amygdala in the brain which governs the fight, flight, freeze stress response,” says Sarah Tobin, EFT practitioner and trainer, and founder of Tapping for Mums. This can help tell the brain you are safe and tun off the stress response in the body.

“Tapping is the hack that tells your brain you are safe, so by tapping in moments of stress or anxiety you are able to calm your nervous system, reduce the cortisol and adrenaline and start to feel safe again,” Sarah says.  

"It's thought by some that tapping can help tell the brain you are safe and turn off the stress response in the body"

While it can look slightly unusual, “the act of talking about how we are feeling while we are tapping effectively releases the negative emotion, making us feel lighter and the emotional intensity itself lessens,” says Sarah, who has been tapping since 2014 and now teaches other people how to use the technique.

Is tapping safe?

Tapping is a safe and non-evasive practice. It has a low cost of entry and can be easy and quick to try.

Some critics of EFT say it can prevent people from seeking more traditional forms of help for physical or mental health problems, but as long as it’s practiced with care and as a complementary practice the risks are very low.

Woman EFT tapping on the top head pointEFT on the top of head point. Photo: humonia

Does it work?

There is some debate over how exactly tapping works in the scientific community, as is often the case with alternative forms of therapy. The practice is still being researched but it has been used to treat people with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some studies have found EFT improved multiple physiological markers of health and it has been found to be an evidence-based practice for anxiety, depression, phobias and PTSD, based on standards set by the American Psychological Association.

A useful tool

Tapping could be a useful tool to add to your wellbeing toolkit—it’s easy and low cost to do and can help many people feel more in control of their mental and physical health. If you want to try tapping, you can find many tutorials online and copy along, or find a therapist for a private session. “It's so easy to give it a try by finding someone to watch on YouTube to see if you like the modality and want to explore it further,” says Sarah.

"If you want to try tapping, you can find many tutorials online and copy along, or find a therapist for a private session"

“It is good to remember that the more specific the tapping is to your personalised and individual situation the more effective the tapping will be. Therefore, if you tap along with a video and you are not resonating with the topic or theme at the time, then you won't feel a benefit, so it is best to be focused with your search,” she advises.

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