Ah, Xanax. I still daydream about it sometimes, especially on those days when Baby Bear fights his naps. Back when I was suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression, I had a tiny prescription for Xanax—just 6 pills at a time—and because I was terrified of becoming addicted, I rationed them carefully.
But they were awesome, and I kind of want some more. Except I don’t have anxiety disorders anymore. Darn?
I share this to emphasize that I know personally what clinical anxiety feels like, so when I say that tapping works for anxiety, I mean it.
I wish I’d had this technique back then to help me! I can think of specific situations when I could have tapped instead of taking prescription drugs.
(Of course, if you have a serious anxiety disorder, please work with a qualified professional. I’m not suggesting you simply stop taking medications! This is a holistic wellness blog, not a radical all-natural-only blog. Include this technique as part of your toolbox and work toward correcting underlying causes from a long-term, whole-person perspective.)
What Is Tapping?
Like the TAT, it’s an emotional acupressure technique used to calm and process emotions. You use your fingers to tap or rub acupuncture points on your body while repeating a clearing statement. It can help relieve generalized anxiety or a feeling of tension, phobias, and strong emotions linked to specific events (e.g., your newborn baby is crying nonstop or you just found out your co-worker got promoted into the position you wanted).
Wikipedia may deem it pseudoscience, but many of us would beg to differ. I don’t pretend to know exactly why it works. I just know that it does. We’re talking huge before-and-after differences 90% of the time.
And I speak as someone who majored in psychology and was extremely skeptical of things like this. I also spent years in psychotherapy for trauma, so when Wikipedia says that the positive results from tapping are “likely due to well recognized conventional psychological techniques often used with the tapping,” I laugh a little inside. As if.
Just a few reasons:
- No side effects. Unlike Xanax, tapping produces no complications, unforeseen consequences, drug interactions (like that time I took Xanax and Ambien together, oh baby!), or organ toxicity concerns. It certainly won’t make you bliss out like Xanax or Valium. As much as I miss that feeling some days, the truth is that I appreciate that after tapping, my mind is clearer, not foggier.
- It’s totally portable. You need nothing by your own two hands. I tap in public restroom stalls, in the car (passenger seat), on the floor of Swiss cable lifts, in any room of my house at any time of day or night. (It’s really good for insomnia-induced temper tantrums!)
- It’s quick. It takes 6-10 minutes to do. Yay!
- It’s effective. I have to say it again. I have really strong emotions, and they’re really uncomfortable for me. Tapping helps a lot. Obviously, it doesn’t make emotions go away, but it makes them more manageable. I can then work on what’s underneath them.
When to Tap?
We tap a lot around here—alone, together, with friends. One day our son will realize how weird it all is, but for now, he’s unfazed. (Or, it may become mainstream by the time he’s reached the Age of Embarrassment. A grad student I know was recently taught tapping in her traditional psychotherapy masters program.)
Here are some of the situations where I whip out my tapping fingers.
I am very afraid of heights, yet in a fit of enthusiasm after reading about the wonders of a cliff-top Swiss village, I booked a two-night stay there. Soooo smart. I ignored the implications of a cable car being the only way to access this village from the valley. On the day of, reality struck when I encountered the cliff.
I was stuck. I had to get up that cliff somehow. So I cried and tapped while huddled on the floor, and I made it to the top. Two days later, I tapped the whole way down. I didn’t wet my pants, I didn’t need a half day to recover. Oh, and Gimmelwald was worth it.
Stressful Relationship Moments
We all have them. Many times I’ve tapped before talking to my husband when I’m upset about something. The rest of the time I only wish I’d tapped first! It helps discharge some of the heightened emotions and allows me to think more clearly and be more factual.
I’ve also tapped after stressful conversations or interactions with friends and family. Rather than lie away in bed replaying it over and over in my mind, I tap.
One time I experienced great anxiety while visiting a church, and I slipped away to the ladies’ restroom to tap in a stall.
I used to tap before parties and, often, again afterwards. As I’ve grown in self-confidence, I don’t do this as often now, but there are still occasionally those days when it’s a real lifesaver.
I do still tap regularly before facilitating book studies or other groups.
Let’s just say I feel challenged a lot with raising Baby Bear. Whether it’s guilt over his eczema or frustration with his poor sleep or the constant whining, I wouldn’t be without tapping! My husband and I did our first post-baby tap less than 24 hours after the birth. He cried all night long, and we didn’t know what to do. (It turns out he was just trying to bring in my milk.) We felt helpless, and when I feel helpless, it triggers profound fear, which I often experience as anger (it’s easier to blame something or someone “out there” than to experience the reality of my own very human limitations).
Tapping makes me a better parent. Some nights, when I feel like I really might lose control, I go to another part of the house and tap. Then I’m able to come back and work with the baby with greater compassion, peace, and patience.
Traumas—Both Old and New
Painful memories are a great opportunity for tapping, as are fresh traumas. I tapped a lot during my struggle with pelvic floor dysfunction and severe postpartum sexual pain.
How to Tap
Now, I don’t know the exact origins of this particular tapping methods. An energy worker taught it to me. It’s not quite the same as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), which is the system that’s gained the most public exposure. I have limited experience with EFT and, at least the way I was taught it, found EFT less effective. But if it works for you, go with it!
I did a really scary and possibly stupid thing by recording a video of myself demonstrating the technique, since word descriptions of the acupressure points are next to impossible. (I may have nightmares about this tonight. Google is FOREVER, people. F.O.R.E.V.E.R.)
But, you know, you don’t have to watch it. Which is probably a really good idea. Then we can still be friends.
Edited 1/9/2016: I’ve created two new videos that are more useful than the first, and I’ve added them here.
Here’s a 3 minute rundown of the tapping hand positions and acupressure points. Use it to get a quick visual for the written instructions below, or to refresh your memory.
And here is a tap-along-with-me video. I guide you through the whole tap step-by-step. All you need is a glass of water and your clearing statement (see below).
Written Tapping Instructions
So, here’s the rundown:
1. Choose a Healing Statement
Write it down if you can. You can use a couple of formulas to guide you. (It can also be called a “clearing statement.”)
- My problem is that __________, and when I think of that I feel __________.
- I am releasing the trauma of/feeling of/need to_________.
- My problem is that my baby is fussing and screeching all day long, and when I think of that I feel frustration, anger, unfair, and resentful. Hypothetically. (Please note that statements do not need to be grammatically correct, as in this example. It drives me crazy as an English major, but I’ve learned to go with it.)
- My problem is that my mom is sick, and when I think of that I feel helpless, responsible, afraid, and anxious.
- My problem is that I compulsively ate too much today, and when I think of that I feel shame, resentment, and rebellious.
- A variation on formula #2 that I sometimes use nightly is, “I am circulating or releasing any energy that is stuck in my body.” I find this daily practice really helpful during times of stress; it’s good maintenance/prevention work.
2. Rate Your Discomfort
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, determine your level of discomfort with this problem. Take a moment to check in with yourself and your body. Write down the number.
*Check the video above for a visual demonstration of the following steps.*
Take a sip of plain water.
If possible, sit up straight with your feet on the floor.
Rub your chest in a circular motion and, while breathing deeply, repeat this statement 3 times: “I fully and completely accept myself, the good and the bad.” (Or, “I fully and completely accept myself as I am today” or “as I am right now”)
I had a hard time with this statement in the beginning. I did NOT accept myself and did NOT want to say it. I also wasn’t sure God accepted “the good and the bad” in me. Fortunately, I was willing to try it anyway. It is an important part of the overall protocol, and as a side note, I am now quite sure that God accepts me as I am, even as He sees lots of room for growth.
4. Tapping Sequence 1
For each acupressure point, say your healing statement out loud while tapping (or rubbing) and breathing. Tap for 20 seconds or more. If I don’t have a clock handy, I say my statement, then take a deep breath in and all the way out, then move on to the next point.
Again, for exact placement instructions, please check out the video above.
- Under the eyes
- Under your dominant arm
- Under collarbones at shoulders
- Chest, 2-3 finger widths below collarbone on each side of sternum
- Inside of left pinky finger, including fingernail
5. Tapping Sequence 2
Take a sip of water.
With your right hand, tap between the hand bones that lead to your ring and pinky fingers on the left hand. Continue tapping and breathing during the follow sequence
- Say your healing statement once.
- Eyes open straight ahead (7 seconds)
- Eyes closed (7 seconds)
- Eyes open (7 seconds)
- Repeat 3 times: eyes sharply down to the right (7 seconds) then left (7 seconds)
- Roll your eyes in a circle, 3 times in one direction, then 3 times in the other
- Eyes straight ahead and hum Happy Birthday or Row, Row, Row Your Boat (it needs to be a simple song you’ve known your whole life)
- Count out loud to 15
- Repeat the song
6. Tapping Sequence 3
Take a sip of water and repeat Sequence 1.
Check in with yourself again and determine your comfort level from 1-10.
If you like, pat the top of your head with your palm for 5 seconds, then tap over your heart. Feel thankful.
Limitations of Tapping
Tapping is fantastic, but it does have some limitations.
The biggest is simply this: tapping is primarily symptom management. I do think that repeatedly tapping about the same issue can help unwind some of the “stuckness,” but for deep healing, I’d choose the TAT for self-help, and an excellent energy worker who specializes in emotional and soul healing for thorough healing. (I don’t mean Reiki-type stuff, but rather much more systematic, in-depth techniques).
(I’ll write some time about my experiences with “energy workers,” both Christian and not. While the whole idea freaked me out initially and seemed ridiculous, I’ve found such freedom from old trauma—trauma I’d gone to years of counseling for—as well as many inner blocks, some that had crippled my prayer life and others that contributed to my hatred of being a woman. To say it’s changed my life for the better is an understatement.)
Finally, I think that tapping and other emotional acupressure/energy techniques are best used alongside personal growth work. For example, I often tap after doing a worksheet from Karis Fellowships, a personal growth training program for Christians. The worksheet helps me find the deeper issues and pray about them, and the tap helps me unload my body. It’s a powerful combination. I’ve also found it helpful in conjunction with my Bowen work and other counseling.
So, have you ever tapped? What do you tap about? I hope you’ll share your experiences!
This October, I’m writing (nearly) every day about holistic healing, but you know, I’ve got a baby and life is unpredictable. I’m just doing my best!