The fight or flight response is a very useful tool when you meet a bear in the woods. A little less so, in our everyday life.
Fact is, a part of our brain doesn’t make the distinction between a real life threat (the bear) and a negative emotional state (public speaking anxiety, for instance).
The fight or flight response is immediate – adrenaline pumps, muscles tense, and blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugars all go up. We were designed that way because, back in the cave days, it could have saved our life. In front of the real bear, we couldn’t afford to waste any time – we either fought the beast, if we were too close to run away from it, or we flew in the opposite direction. In modern day life, and in the case of the fear of public speaking (as with many other phobias, stresses and pains) the fight or flight response doesn’t help much.
I discovered Tapping (or Emotional Freedom Technique, as it is also known) by accident, last year. Curiosity took me to a course, and even though it sounded all very nice and natural, it wasn’t until the day I tried it on my own pain all by myself that I saw how deep an impact it can have.
That day, I was having a headache I could not ignore any more. It was now paralyzing and I didn’t want to recur to painkillers.
My little girl was asking me to play with her, using her doll as a flag and patting the rug where she wanted me to sit, next to her. But all I could think of was the throbbing pain in my head.
Desperate for a solution, I remembered the course, and started to tap on my headache. On a scale of one to ten, ten being the highest, I rated my headache at nine. I first tapped on the karate chop point (see picture above for exact location), saying “this headache that is paralyzing me…” and then I tapped on the other points and then again, for three rounds. It was gone.
Ten minutes of tapping and my headache was down to a three or two on the scale of discomfort and pain.
Sounds too good to be true, right?
As human beings, we are very complex creatures. More often than not, we attach emotional pain to our physical pain. This is exactly when the fight or flight response kicks in. We feel pain, our brain goes on alert, the amygdala* reacts and our body suffers even more. This is one of the areas where EFT works at its best – releasing the emotional stress or negative feelings that we ourselves add to the discomfort of the pain, locking our inner ability to heal our body.
Tapping is a fusion of acupressure and positive psychology. I see it as the meeting point between ancient Chinese acupressure and modern western psychology.
In a nutshell, this is how EFT works:
- Talking or thinking about something that causes you anxiety, is usually enough to set off the amygdala’s stress response.
- By stimulating the EFT points (see where they are in the picture below) as soon as your thoughts and words trigger your stress response, you allow the amygdala to deactivate. The amygdala then sends the message to the hippocampus (responsible for comparing past and present threats) that even thought the scary thoughts are still present, it is safe now.
- Because nothing dangerous is really happening, just uncomfortable feelings, the amygdala can switch off the stress, even in the presence of the uncomfortable feelings.
With repetition, the hippocampus reprogrammes itself, categorizing the thoughts as not dangerous. And thanks to tapping, next time, you will most likely have less of a stress response, because you have trained your brain not to attach strong emotions to a specific pain or uncomfortable thought.
Here are the very basic steps of Tapping:
- Visualize your Most Pressing Issue (MPI), the single thing that is a problem for you right now. Be specific. “Headache on the back of my head” is better that “Feeling unwell”;
- Rate your MPI on a scale from one to ten, ten being the highest;
- Start tapping with your fingertips on the karate-chop point of your opposite hand, saying “Even though I have this headache (or whatever you are tapping on), I deeply and completely love and accept myself”. If this sentence does not resonate with you, you can say for instance “Even though I have this terrible headache, this where I am at now”. Repeat three times in total, using the same sentence;
- Tap through the eight EFT points, in the same order as shown in the picture, repeating at the same time your MPI out loud (“This headache”, for instance). Follow the sequence from the first point on the eyebrow to the last one on the top of the head, tapping slightly with your index and middle finger three to five times on each point. It doesn’t matter which side of the body you tap on; I use my right hand so I usually tap on my left side.
- Stop and take a deep breath;
- Rate again the intensity of your MPI;
- Continue until you feel much better. Usually three to five rounds are enough to have a visible results.
This is a very quick, simplified way to start EFT. There would be many things to add, but for now I want you to see that with just these very simple seven steps, you can start EFT right now, experiencing the first benefits by yourself.
That first time I tapped by myself on my own headache, I was so surprised of the results that I couldn’t believe it. A part of my rational brain was still skeptic and it took me months of consistent results in order to surrender to the evidence – EFT works! By now, I have tested it so many times and on so many different discomforts and pains that I consider EFT one of the first and best tools in my personal self-help box.
EFT is in itself a huge subject and it would be impossible to teach how to do it properly in a single blog post, but stay tuned for more about this topic – including scripts that can be easily used in different circumstances. There is a vast amount of studies about how EFT works, and I will write about it soon. If in the meantime you want to go deeper, I would suggest Nick Ortner’s book (Amazon UK or Amazon US). It is practical and contains many examples on how to use EFT, ranging from childhood trauma to weight loss, from anxiety to procrastination or sleep problems.
Tapping is fantastic for children too! But that is another blog post for the near future.
In the meantime, I hope this serves you.
*The Amygdala is a part of the midbrain or limbic system. Here is where the stress response begins.
Disclaimer: I am obviously not a trained medical doctor and the information on this website is presented for educational purposes only. I am just sharing what worked for myself, I don’t give medical advice.
Photo credit: Alexa Roche Photography