What Is Tapping For Anxiety?

By Steven Finkelstein|Updated September 7, 2022

Have you ever heard of “tapping for anxiety?” If you’re not familiar with this term, it might just sound like a way of describing an activity— kind of like “drilling for oil” or “fishing for sea bass,” with the implication that you’re tapping to get anxiety! Fortunately, however, nothing could be further from the truth! Tapping for anxiety is not an attempt to produce more anxiety but a therapeutic method designed to help you alleviate anxiety. So, in this article, we’ll take a closer look at tapping and how it treats anxiety.

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What is Anxiety?

Before we dive in and learn more about tapping, it’s important to begin with a baseline definition of what anxiety is and how it impacts your mental health. So, for starters, let’s identify the difference between anxiety and nervousness. Everyone has felt nervous at one time or another; those feelings usually come when we’re about to do something that scares us a little or when we’re waiting on the outcome of something stressful, like a big meeting with your boss or the final grade on a test. But even though these situations may cause a great deal of anxiety in the moment, the key difference is the fact that this anxiety is circumstantial; as a general rule, when your circumstances change, your anxiety will fade away.

But that’s not the case for someone who lives with chronic anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety, your brain may spam you with unsettling intrusive thoughts that feel hard to shake. There are many common misconceptions about anxiety— including the belief that having anxiety is the same as being a bit nervous— but, in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Anxiety is a very real mental health condition that can have a detrimental impact on your mental health.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America asserts that “generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent and excessive worry about a number of different things. People with GAD may anticipate disaster and may be overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues. Individuals with GAD find it difficult to control their worry. They may worry more than seems warranted about actual events or may expect the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.

GAD is diagnosed when a person finds it difficult to control worry on more days than not for at least six months and has three or more symptoms. This differentiates GAD from worry that may be specific to a set stressor or for a more limited period of time.

GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, in any given year. Women are twice as likely to be affected. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin across the life cycle, though the risk is highest between childhood and middle age. Although the exact cause of GAD is unknown, there is evidence that biological factors, family background, and life experiences, particularly stressful ones, play a role.”

Anxiety can affect both your mental and physical health in a wide variety of ways, with common symptoms including:

  • Avoiding public places
  • Serious fear of being judged
  • Extreme self-consciousness
  • Agitation and anger
  • Fear of meeting new people
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Afraid of speaking in public
  • Nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Isolating yourself even from family and friends
  • Sweating or shaking
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Believing that others are laughing at you
  • Misusing alcohol or drugs to cope with stress, especially in social situations
  • Panic attacks (hyperventilating, chest pain, sweating, fear of something bad happening to you)

All of these symptoms can affect your life in a profoundly negative way, especially when anxiety attaches itself to your social life. In fact, many people also experience social anxiety as a subset of Generalized Anxiety Disorder; as a result, people who experience social anxiety may feel especially nervous and uncomfortable in social situations. So, if you’re struggling with any of these symptoms on a regular basis, getting through the day may feel like a substantial challenge. And that’s why seeking treatment for anxiety is absolutely vital.

Common Treatments For Anxiety

If you’re experiencing any of the anxiety symptoms described above, it’s best to connect with a therapist who specialises in the treatment of anxiety. Your therapist will be able to help you unpack your thoughts and feelings, learn more about your symptoms, and develop a treatment plan that’s uniquely designed to help you combat your symptoms. The type of treatment that works best for you will depend on your personalised treatment plan but there are a few common forms of treatment that are often used to alleviate symptoms of anxiety.

For example, your therapist may recommend stress and anxiety worksheets to help you identify your symptoms and their causes in addition to using a therapeutic technique such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help you manage your symptoms and combat them using positive coping mechanisms. If you’re not familiar with Cognitive Therapy (commonly abbreviated as CBT), the simplest definition is that CBT is a type of talk therapy. This form of therapy is designed to reduce anxiety by reframing our thoughts and providing a positive alternative to the stories we tell ourselves.

For example, if you are someone who experiences high levels of anxiety on a daily basis, you may often think, “I’m so nervous” or “Everyone is staring at me” or “Everything is going to go wrong!” These are common fears that people with anxiety experience and these fears inform our behavior and, consequently, our perceptions of situations. But CBT aims to alter this internal monologue by reframing your thoughts in a more positive and rational context so you can go through life without being paralysed by these fears.

For example, CBT often encourages people to avoid a practice known as “black and white thinking.” This type of thought process is common for people who live with anxiety because the anxious brain tends to think in extremes as a result of the fear signals that are flooding the brain. In practice, this might cause someone to think, “Everything is going to go wrong!” But CBT encourages people to reframe that thought by making a conscious effort to tell yourself something like, “I’m experiencing feelings of anxiety right now. My brain is causing me to worry that the worst possible outcome will occur.”

This might sound quite simplistic but, in reality, reframing your thought processes can be extremely beneficial! When we re-write our internal script, we can remember that thoughts and feelings are not facts; our brains may send us these signals but that doesn’t mean that these signals are accurate representations of reality. Re-training your brain in this manner can be incredibly beneficial for someone who is struggling with stress and feeling constantly overwhelmed by fear signals in the brain.

Your therapist can work with you as you unpack your feelings and, together, understand your specific experience with anxiety and it’s impact on your life. From there, you can work together to develop a treatment plan and assemble an arsenal of positive tools and coping mechanisms that will help you address your symptoms. Whether this includes CBT, medication, or a combination of both, your therapeutic treatment plan can empower you to fight back, reclaim your peace of mind, and begin your healing journey.

What is Tapping For Anxiety?

Now that we’ve explored some of the more common treatments for anxiety, it’s time to take a closer look at tapping. Put simply, tapping is an alternative treatment for anxiety that some people have found to be effective. Although tapping is not grounded in any sort of medical or therapeutic background, this non-traditional method can provide some relief for people who prefer a more natural or organic form of therapy.

Gary Craig, the man who created the practice of tapping, explains this form of treatment on his website by asserting that:

“Emotional Freedom Technique, or EFT (often known as Tapping or EFT Tapping), is a universal healing tool that can provide impressive results for physical, emotional, and performance issues. EFT tapping operates on the premise that no matter what part of your life needs improvement, there are unresolved emotional issues in the way. Even for physical issues, chronic pain, or diagnosed conditions, it is common knowledge that any kind of emotional stress can impede the natural healing potential of the human body.”

In many cases, EFT can be applied directly to physical symptoms for relief without exploring any emotional contributors. However, for the most powerful, longest lasting results with EFT, we do expect to identify and target related emotional issues. EFT tapping breathes fresh air into the healing process by borrowing from Chinese medicine’s meridian system. While acupuncture, acupressure and the like have been primarily focused on physical ailments, EFT stands back from this ancient process and points it also at emotional issues. These, in turn, often provide benefits for performance and physical issues.

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EFT tapping combines elements and the physical benefits of acupuncture with the cognitive benefits of conventional therapy for a much faster, more complete treatment of emotional issues, and the physical and performance issues that often result. While related to acupuncture, EFT does not use needles. Instead, we use a simple two pronged process wherein we (1) mentally "tune in" to specific issues while (2) stimulate certain meridian points on the body by tapping on them with our fingertips. Properly done, EFT tapping appears to balance disturbances in the meridian system and thus often reduces the conventional therapy procedures from months or years down to minutes or hours.”

Unlike traditional, proven methods for treating for anxiety, tapping does not require the support of a licensed mental health professional, nor does it require the use of anti-anxiety medications. Instead, proponents of tapping posit that this method can be practiced at home and that anyone can benefit from it. So, how does tapping for anxiety work? People who practice tapping have developed a step-by-step process which includes the following steps:

  • Step One: Pinpointing the issue

This is a crucial preliminary step whether you’re practicing tapping, traditional therapy, or both; you can’t solve a problem until you’ve identified that problem so it’s important to begin by pinpointing the issue you’re struggling with. People who use tapping for anxiety suggest that, in practice, this step might like something like this:

  • Identify the issue by saying it out loud to yourself
  • Using that issue as the central focus for your tapping session
  • Remaining focused on that issue throughout your tapping session

 

  • Step Two: Establish the Level of Intensity

Have you ever attended a doctor’s appointment where the doctor asked you to rate your pain level on a scale of 1-10? The idea behind this concept is that 1 is the lowest level of pain while 10 is the highest; establishing this baseline is a crucial for your doctor because understanding your pain level will help them treat you. The same is true for tapping; identifying your anxiety levels of a scale of 1-10 is a vital aspect of your tapping session because it will help you figure out how painful your core issue is.

For example, let’s imagine that you feel very anxious about a problem in your relationship; perhaps your core fear is that this problem will never be resolved and that your partner will leave you as a result. Whenever you think about that fear, your anxiety spikes and you experience intense thoughts and feelings of distress. So, if this fear is deeply distressing for you, your anxiety levels might be in quite a high range— perhaps somewhere between 8-10.

As a result, the goal of your tapping session would be to reduce the level of anxiety you experience by relieving your symptoms and replacing your anxiety with healing positive thoughts.

  • Step Three: Find Your Affirmation Phrase

Once you’ve laid the groundwork for your tapping session, you can really dive in. So, after you’ve identified the core issue and established the intensity of your anxiety, you can get started on the real work: addressing your anxiety through the help of your affirmation phrase. Your affirmation phrase is something you’ll say during your tapping session to keep yourself focused on the issue at hand.

There are many variations of phrases that people use during EFT sessions, and often revolve around the theme of self-acceptance. However, the most common one is: “Even though I have this [fear or problem], I deeply and completely accept myself.” However, proponents of tapping caution that this phrase needs to be specific to you and you alone. For example, if you’re worried about someone else, this phrase is considered unhelpful and, therefore, unwise to use.

In practice, this means that you should not use a phrase to address someone else’s concerns; rather, you should focus on your feelings about the situation. For example, if someone you love is sick or making a choice that causes you anxiety, you could amend your phrase to say something like, “Even though I’m sad that my sister made [insert choice here], I deeply and completely accept myself.” Or, “Even though I’m worried that my best friend may have cancer, I deeply and completely accept myself.”

This type of affirmation phrase can help you stay focused on the issue at hand as you implement your tapping session.

Step Four: Begin Your Tapping Sequence

Now that you’ve taken all these steps, you can actually begin the “tapping” aspect of tapping for anxiety. In his analysis of this practice, psychiatrist Timothy Legg observes that:

The EFT tapping sequence is the methodic tapping on the ends of nine meridian points.There are 12 major meridians that mirror each side of the body and correspond to an internal organ. However, EFT mainly focuses on these nine:

karate chop (KC): small intestine meridian

top of head (TH): governing vessel

eyebrow (EB): bladder meridian

side of the eye (SE): gallbladder meridian

under the eye (UE): stomach meridian

under the nose/above the upper lip (UN): governing vessel

chin (Ch): central vessel

beginning of the collarbone (CB): kidney meridian

under the arm (UA): spleen meridian

Begin by tapping the karate chop point while simultaneously reciting your setup phrase three times. Then, tap each following point seven times, moving down the body in this ascending order:

eyebrow

side of the eye

under the eye

under the nose

chin

beginning of the collarbone

under the arm

After tapping the underarm point, finish the sequence at the top of the head point.

While tapping the ascending points, recite a reminder phrase to maintain focus on your problem area. If your setup phrase is, “Even though I’m sad my mother is sick, I deeply and completely accept myself,” your reminder phrase can be, “The sadness I feel that my mother is sick.” Recite this phrase at each tapping point. Repeat this sequence two or three times.”

Does Tapping For Anxiety Work?

In the previous sections, we’ve explored tapping for anxiety and the steps that are necessary to initiate a tapping sequence if you want to try it for yourself. But does tapping for anxiety really work? The short answer is that we can’t really say for sure. Tapping is an alternative therapy method for treating anxiety and, as such, is not subject to the same tests and screening processes that are required for traditional therapeutic treatments.

However, that doesn’t necessarily prove that tapping is ineffective. In fact, some cases have shown that tapping has been an effective form of treatment for veterans experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This study is not comprehensive and cannot be read as proof that everyone who experiences PTSD will benefit from tapping; likewise, this study cannot be interpreted as being representative of everyone who lives with anxiety. But what we can infer from this study is that tapping has been effective for some people in some cases.

Other Research On EFT Tapping

Overall, the research around clinical Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) is a bit mixed. For example, this study from the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine shows that clinical EFT improves multiple physiological markers and therefore makes it a good treatment option for multiple mental health conditions. And this study shows that veterans who used emotional freedom techniques in a randomized controlled trial experienced significant psychological trauma symptom improvement.

Unfortunately, many other studies have mixed results, especially when compared to other treatment options, such as cognitive therapy and thought field therapy. Nevertheless, many experts point out that it is an effective alternative treatment that at least activates a calming signal in the body’s energy and temporarily reduces symptoms without causing any emotional or physical danger. So even if it doesn’t cure a condition, it can at least restore balance in a patient’s emotional system for a short bit of time.

So, will tapping be effective for you personally? Only you can answer that question because you are a unique individual with symptoms that are specific to you. But if you want to try tapping for anxiety, you can follow the steps mentioned above to see if this treatment works for you. However, it is important to know that in order to get the most out of any tapping technique, you should follow the proposed clinical guidelines.

How Therapy Can Help

However, it’s important to remember that tapping and therapy are not necessarily opposites; you don’t have to pick one or the other as your method for treating anxiety. If you want to try both and see which method gives you the best results, that’s a great idea! But choosing a therapist can be a daunting and overwhelming practice if you don’t have the right information to make an informed decision. So, if you’re trying to decide which therapist would be right for you, you may want to consider BetterHelp!

In today’s ever-evolving digital world, many people have gravitated toward online therapy because it’s simply easier to access therapeutic resources from the ease and comfort of your phone. Therapy providers like BetterHelp have arisen in response to this trend and become pioneers in the field of mental health care with the aim of making online therapy accessible to everyone.

Rather than expecting you to fit your schedule around therapy, BetterHelp offers you the opportunity to fit therapy sessions around your schedule. So, if you feel unable to attend an in-person therapy appointment, you should know that traditional therapy is not your only option for mental health care; online therapy is literally right at your fingertips; you can chat with your therapist from the comfort of your own phone any time you want!

So, if you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety that are holding you back in life, the first and most important thing you should know is that help is within reach. It can be difficult to live with undiagnosed and untreated anxiety but you don’t have to fight this battle on your own. So, if you want to try tapping for anxiety, traditional therapy, or both, the licensed mental health professionals at BetterHelp are passionate about making therapy accessible for anyone and they’re here to chat with you in the format that’s most convenient for you, whether that’s via text, FaceTime, or phone call.

Other Commonly Asked Questions

How do I practice tapping for anxiety?

How long does it take for tapping to work?

What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety?

What are the 5 steps to tapping?

How do you do emotional tapping?

How many times a day should you do tapping?

What are the 9 EFT tapping points?

Frequently Asked Questions

Does tapping work for anxiety?

Yes, EFT tapping work can help ease anxiety. According to this systematic review and meta-analysis, there can be a significant decrease in anxiety scores and symptoms with repeated EFT tapping sessions conducted over the span of at least a few weeks. Throughout the tapping process, you tap out anxious energy in your body’s energy system and relieve stress until you feel calm and relaxed. The process also helps incorporate more positive thoughts so that you develop a more positive mindset to combat anxious and negative emotions.

EFT treatment has also been known to help with other psychological disorders and even physical pain. For example, EFT can help treat posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, chronic stress, and phobias.

How do I start tapping?

Using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or “tapping” is very easy to start. It is a self-help technique, so it is designed for you to pick up easily and do it yourself. Below is the basic recipe to conduct this form of psychological acupressure.

The first thing you need to do is identify the issue that you want to tap. Do you have a specific phobia? A trauma? Anxiety over work? Whatever it is, choose one topic/emotion to focus on. Once you’ve chosen it, you need to test the initial intensity of the emotions you’re experiencing. From 0 to 10, rank your initial intensity. After you have your rank, you need to come up with a phrase that explains the problem you’re addressing. The most common form of this phrase is as such:

  • Even though I have this [fear, problem, or situation, I deeply and completely love and accept myself.

Now that the setup is complete, you are ready to tap. Emotional Freedom Techniques consist of tapping over nine specific points:

  • Karate chop
  • Top of head
  • Eyebrow
  • Side of the eye
  • Under the eye
  • Under the nose
  • Chin
  • Beginning of the collarbone
  • Under the arm

Start off by tapping the karate chop while stating your phrase three times. Then cycle through the other acupressure points while saying your phrase or similar phrases to keep you focused on the problem.

Once you go through these acupuncture points a few times and are beginning to feel better, you can stop. When finished, rank your intensity level and see if it is lower than your initial intensity level. If not, you may want to continue tapping again in the near future to lower that level.

If you need the help of a professional or just want to see how it is supposed to be done, you can either check out some videos on EFT tapping online, use an EFT tapping solution app, or contact a local EFT practitioner.

Does tapping help with panic attacks?

Yes, Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) does seem to help with panic attacks. EFT tapping helps calm feelings of anxiety and panic, which can reduce panic attacks or even prevent them.

There are multiple randomized and nonrandomized trials that have shown that tapping can be an effective alternative treatment. But it’s important to know that EFT works best when paired with conventional treatments such as therapy. Also, you should also know that some of the research is mixed when discussing the effectiveness of EFT on other mental diseases, so further research is needed to fully understand the effectiveness of this treatment.

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