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Alcohol and Mental Health

EFT Tapping: What Is It and Can It Relieve Anxiety?

October 29, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
October 29, 2023
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
October 29, 2023
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Reframe Content Team
October 29, 2023
9 min read

You have an upcoming job interview, you’re facing unexpected financial uncertainty, or you’re overwhelmed by having to make an important life decision. You feel the stress and anxiety building in your body; your thoughts race, and your pulse starts to quicken. How can you get your body and mind back on track without going into a full-blown panic? 

You might want to consider the emotional freedom technique (EFT), commonly referred to as EFT tapping — an alternative treatment for physical pain and emotional distress. What is EFT tapping all about? How can we use tapping for anxiety? And what about head tapping and tapping meditation techniques? Below, we’ll explore this practice, how it works, and how we can use it to help relieve stress and anxiety. Let’s dive in!

What Is EFT Tapping? 

A lady performing EFT tapping

Emotional freedom technique is a self-help therapeutic technique that combines elements from ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. It involves tapping key acupressure points (acupoints) on the hands, face, and body with our fingertips while focusing on uncomfortable feelings or concerns. 

It was developed in 1995 by Gary Craig, an engineer who believed that a disruption in energy causes all negative emotions and pain. The idea is that tapping the body rebalances our energy system and provides relief. When we begin to feel overwhelming physical symptoms of emotional distress (rapid heart rate, stomach pain, shakiness, etc.), EFT tapping can alleviate these physical symptoms so we can better address the larger problem at hand. 

EFT tapping is used to ease common conditions such as anxiety and depression, as well as more severe mental health concerns, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

How Does EFT Tapping Work?

Similar to acupuncture, EFT tapping focuses on the meridian points — our energy hot spots — to restore balance to our body’s energy. These meridian points are believed to be areas of the body through which energy flows. While acupuncture uses needles to stimulate these energy points, EFT applies pressure via fingertip tapping.  

Experts in the technique say the tapping helps us access our body’s energy and send signals to the part of our brain that controls stress. They claim that stimulating the meridian points through EFT tapping can reduce the stress or negative emotions we’re experiencing, ultimately restoring balance to disrupted energy. 

In a typical EFT tapping session, we use our fingertips to quickly and lightly tap on nine specific acupressure points on the face, hands, and body five to seven times each, starting with head tapping:

  • Eyebrow (EB): Where the eyebrows start at the bridge of the nose
  • Side of the eye (SE): On the bone along the outside of either eye
  • Under the eye (UE): On the top of the cheekbone under either eye
  • Under the nose (UN): The area beneath the nose and above the upper lip
  • Chin point (CH): The crease between your bottom lip and chin
  • Collarbone point (CB): About two inches below and to the side of where your collarbones meet
  • Under the arm (UA): On each side, about four inches beneath the armpits
  • Top of the head (TOH): Directly on the crown of your head
  • Karate chop (KC): The outer edge of the hand, on the opposite side from the thumb

The entire tapping sequence should take roughly a minute. However, EFT tapping involves more than stimulating these acupoints — it also incorporates mental focus. 

One of the first steps is to identify a feeling or situation that’s bothering us and create a statement that acknowledges the feeling or problem, followed by a phrase of acceptance. For instance, we might say, “Even though I’m overwhelmed with work, I deeply and completely accept myself.” 

This is what’s known as a setup statement, laying the groundwork for what’s called the “disconfirming experience.” It helps us see our issue for what it really is, instead of being caught up in our emotional response to the issue. Countering a negative thought with a positive affirmation also helps neutralize it. When we calm our brain and body through tapping, we may be more apt to accept these neutral statements as true. 

Is EFT Tapping Actually Effective?: What the Research Says

So, tapping away our worries … does it really work? While still being researched, studies thus far indicate that EFT tapping can help relieve stress and anxiety, treat symptoms of PTSD, soothe depression and pain, improve athletic performance, and even diminish cravings.

One study noted that war veterans and active military with PTSD significantly reduced their psychological stress within a month of receiving EFT coaching sessions. In fact, more than half of them no longer fit the criteria for PTSD. 

More recently, a 2023 study showed that EFT reduced anxiety and stress for healthcare professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, another five and a half year study of 5,000 participants found that 90% of patients who received EFT tapping therapy had reduced anxiety levels, with 76% experiencing a complete relief of symptoms. 

Part of this is due to the quieting effect that EFT can have on the amygdala — our brain’s stress center. Researchers have found that people who practice EFT tapping experience a significant decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone) compared to people who simply received information about how to cope with anxiety. 

Furthermore, research suggests that there’s an actual physiological response to the stimulation of these acupoints. After examining acupoints under a microscope, researchers discovered that they contain a high density of nerve endings, nerve fibers that control heat and cold, and a high concentration of white blood cells. 

Other research found that stimulating acupoints provides a variety of important brain chemicals, including opioids (pain-relieving chemicals), serotonin (which helps regulate sleep, mood, and memory), and GABA (which has a calming effect on the body). 

Interestingly, one of the biggest benefits of EFT tapping is how quickly it seems to work. In one study, participants’ anxiety levels dropped in just three EFT tapping sessions, compared to 15 sessions for those who received cognitive behavioral therapy. Many others have reported experiencing relief from stress and anxiety in just one session. 

EFT Tapping Points

Who Benefits From EFT Tapping?

EFT tapping is considered a safe and effective tool for many people, particularly those with heightened stress or general anxiety. One benefit of EFT tapping is that we can practice it anytime, anywhere. It’s simple to learn, and standard EFT sessions take only a few minutes. 

EFT tapping can also be used in a clinical setting, led by a healthcare professional who has been certified in the method. While it’s okay to practice on our own for everyday stress, experts recommend that people suffering from trauma or PTSD seek the guidance of a trained professional. This is because these are complex situations, and practicing EFT tapping alone (or even following along with a tutorial) may lead to an exacerbation of symptoms. 

There are very few, if any, risks associated with standard EFT tapping for most healthy people who turn to this approach to manage everyday stressors. However, if we’re tapping on our own and we begin to feel overwhelmed by our feelings or thoughts, we might want to consult an experienced EFT practitioner or professional therapist. 

How To Practice EFT Tapping Techniques

There are several steps to practicing EFT tapping techniques in our very own tapping meditation session. While we can use EFT tapping when we’re feeling stressed or anxious, it can also be helpful before an event that we expect to cause increased stress or anxiety, like a big event or work presentation. Here’s how to practice it: 

Step 1: Identify the Issue

For this technique to be effective, we must first identify our issue or problem. This will be our focal point while we’re tapping. It’s important to only focus on one issue at a time, as it increases the likelihood of experiencing relief. 

Example of an issue: “I’m stressed about work deadlines.”

Step 2: Test the Initial Intensity

After identifying our problem area, we need to set a benchmark level of intensity. We can rank the intensity of the issue we’re experiencing on a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the worst or most difficult. Establishing a benchmark helps us monitor our progress after performing a complete EFT sequence. 

Example of intensity: “My stress about work deadlines is about an 8 right now.”

Step 3: The Setup

Prior to tapping, we need to establish a phrase that explains what we’re trying to address. It should focus on two main goals: acknowledging the issue and accepting yourself despite the problem. We’ll repeat this phrase while tapping. A common formula for this phrase is: “Even though I [have this fear/problem/worry], I deeply and completely accept myself.”

Example of set up phrase: “Even though I’m stressed about work deadlines, I’m doing my best and fully love and accept myself.”

Step 4: The Sequence

During this step, we tap on the meridian points — the acupoints — with our fingertips while repeating the phrase we’ve chosen above. We can shorten the phrase if necessary. For instance, using the example above, we might say, “Even though I’m stressed with work, I fully love and accept myself.” 

When tapping, use two or more fingertips and repeat the tap approximately five times on each point. While some points — such as EB, SE, and UE — have a “twin point” on the other side of the body, we don’t have to tap both sides. Follow the tapping points in the following sequence:

  • Top of the head (TOH) — directly in the center of the top of the head
  • Beginning of the eyebrow (EB) — the beginning of the brow, just above and to the side of the nose
  • Side of the eye (SE) — on the bone at the outside corner of the eye
  • Under the eye (UE) — on the bone under the eye, approximately 1 inch (in) below the pupil
  • Under the nose (UN) — the point between the nose and upper lip
  • Chin point (CH) — halfway between the underside of the lower lip and the bottom of the chin
  • Beginning of the collarbone (CB) — the point where the breastbone (sternum), collarbone, and first rib intersect
  • Under the arm (UA) — at the side of the body, approximately 4 in below the armpit

Step 5: Test the Intensity Again

At the end of the tapping sequence, rate your intensity level again on a scale of 0-10. Compare your results with your initial intensity level. Ideally, this will have improved. For instance, maybe we started with an 8, but ended with a 3. We can repeat this process as many times as we like until we feel better. We might even reach 0 on the intensity scale!

The Bottom Line

Emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping is an alternative acupressure therapy treatment used to restore balance to disrupted energy. While more research is needed, studies indicate that it can be a particularly effective tool for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. We can practice this technique on our own or do it in a clinical setting under the guidance of a trained EFT professional.

If you’re using alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety, consider trying Reframe. We’re a neuroscience-backed app that has helped millions of people cut back on their alcohol consumption and develop healthier habits for managing stress. 

Summary FAQs

1. What is EFT tapping? 

Emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping is a self-help therapeutic technique that combines elements from ancient Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. It can be used to help relieve stress, anxiety, or other conditions like PTSD. 

2. How does EFT tapping work? 

EFT works by tapping key acupressure points (acupoints) on the hands, face, and body with our fingertips while focusing on uncomfortable feelings or concerns. The idea is that tapping these points helps rebalance our body’s energy system and reduce stress or relieve pain.

3. What are the EFT tapping acupressure points? 

There are nine specific acupressure points on the face, hands, and body: eyebrow, side of the eye, under thine eye, under the nose, chin point, collarbone point, under the arm, top of the head, karate chop (outer edge of hand).

4. What does the research say about EFT tapping?

While more research needs to be done, studies suggest that EFT tapping can help relieve stress and anxiety, treat symptoms of PTSD, soothe depression and pain, improve performance, and even diminish cravings.

5. Who benefits from EFT tapping?

EFT tapping is generally considered a safe and effective tool for many people, particularly those with heightened stress or general anxiety. It can be practiced on our own. For those with trauma or PTSD, experts advise practicing EFT in a clinical setting under the supervision of a trained EFT provider.

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