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Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Anxiety is a common issue that can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, data from the National Comorbidity Study Replication (NCS-R) suggests that an estimated 31.1 percent of all US adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in life.
Most of the time, anxiety disorders are treated with medication, psychotherapy and changes that you can make to your daily life. However, many people with anxiety find that alternative forms of treatment can also help to provide relief from their symptoms.
One popular form of alternative therapy for anxiety is the use of Emotional Freedom Techniques — commonly referred to as EFT tapping.
EFT tapping involves a mix of conventional therapeutic techniques and tapping on certain parts of your body, referred to as meridian points. While research is mixed on its effectiveness, many people claim that tapping has helped them to deal with anxiety and emotional distress.
Below, we’ve explained what EFT tapping is in more detail, as well as its background in certain forms of traditional medicine. We’ve also looked at the scientific research to see if EFT tapping techniques for anxiety can offer any real, meaningful benefits.
Finally, we’ve shared some evidence-based treatment options that you may want to consider if you’re prone to anxiety or have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
EFT tapping is a therapeutic technique that involves tapping on meridian points — areas of your body from which energy circulates.
The theory behind EFT tapping is that negative emotions, such as anxiety, tend to develop when the body’s energy is disrupted. By restoring balance to the body’s energy, it’s possible to prevent these negative emotions — as well as the negative symptoms they can cause — from occurring.
In practice, EFT tapping involves a mix of physical tapping and mental concentration. Most EFT tapping techniques involve focusing on the acceptance and resolution of a specific emotional or behavioral problem while tapping on the body’s meridian points to restore energy balance.
The core theories behind EFT tapping — the idea of meridians that channel energy — are rooted in traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the human body contains a network called the meridian system, through which a vital life force called Qi flows. Imbalances to Qi can contribute to diseases and other conditions that affect a person’s health and wellbeing.
Many forms of traditional Chinese medicine are designed to target energy meridians and regain energy throughout the body. Common forms of TCM include acupuncture, massage, movement exercises such as tai chi and herbal remedies.
Traditional Chinese medicine, as well as treatments that build off its core principles such as EFT tapping, have been a controversial area of medicine for decades. Many TCM practitioners claim that it’s safe and helpful, although research is mixed on the efficacy of many treatments.
Others, including a large percentage of the scientific community, claim that TCM and techniques built around its principles are simply a form of pseudoscience — beliefs and practices that largely aren’t supported by high-quality scientific principles or evidence.
So, does EFT tapping for anxiety actually offer any benefits? Over the years, a variety of studies have been conducted to assess the effectiveness of EFT tapping for anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other studies have looked into the potential benefits of EFT tapping techniques for physical pain and conditions that cause a mix of emotional and physical symptoms.
Although the quality of research on EFT tapping as a mental health intervention is mixed, some studies have produced positive results.
For example, a randomized, controlled trial published in the journal Integrative Medicine in 2016 compared the effects of Emotional Freedom Technique therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, in people with major depression and anxiety.
The researchers found that both forms of therapy produced reductions in the symptoms of major depression, with the EFT group reporting improvements three and six months after the end of the treatment period.
The study concluded that EFT may be an effective form of alternative treatment, and that further investigation into its effects is warranted.
While this study certainly looks promising, it’s important to note that only 10 people participated in the intervention groups.
In a large systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease in 2016, an expert in mental health reviewed 14 studies of EFT that featured more than 600 people.
They concluded that EFT demonstrated a “significant decrease” in anxiety scores in the people that participated in the studies. However, they also noted that very little data directly comparing EFT to other standard-of-care treatments is currently available.
A more recent article published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine in 2019 also noted that EFT tapping is associated with improvements in chronic pain (part of somatic symptom disorder), anxiety, cravings and other markers of psychological distress.
In general, although the total amount of research is limited, there is some evidence that people experience improvements in the symptoms of anxiety and other common mental health issues from EFT therapy.
However, expert opinion remains mixed overall on the validity of EFT as a treatment for anxiety and other mental health disorders. Like with other energy-based techniques, many researchers believe that its effects are primarily the result of the placebo effect.
In a report published in 2013, clinical psychologist Gary M Bakker described energy psychology techniques such as EFT therapy as depending on an “unsupported and implausible theoretical basis” and noting that further research isn’t likely to be scientifically productive.
Overall, like with many other aspects of integrative psychology, EFT is controversial. While it is supported by some research, findings are mixed overall, and mental health experts haven’t yet been able to identify how it may fit alongside more conventional forms of anxiety treatment.
If you occasionally feel stressed, anxious or have a specific issue that’s making your life difficult, you may want to try EFT tapping as part of your daily self-care routine.
You can try EFT tapping by following the steps below:
Focus on a negative emotion. Start by focusing on the specific emotion that’s affecting you. This could mean a feeling of anxiety, stress or a troubling event or memory, such as a situation in which you felt hopeless or uncomfortable.
Measure how the issue makes you feel. As you think about the specific emotion, give it a score from 0 to 10 based on how bad it makes you feel. A score of 10 means that an issue causes you immense distress, whereas a 0 means you don’t feel bad at all.
After you give the problem a score, write it down so that you can remember how you felt about it after you’ve completed the tapping process.
Describe your issue, then follow up with a self-acceptance statement. Describe why you’re feeling anxious or uncomfortable, then explain how you can accept these feelings and prevent them from harming you.
For example, you might say to yourself, “even though I feel anxious about my exam next week, I completely accept myself.” This is a reminder phrase that you can repeat during the tapping process.
Tap repeatedly on your palm, followed by specific points of your body. You should start by tapping on the edge of your palm three times, below your smallest finger. Next, tap once on specific points on your head and body.
Tap once on the top of your head, then on the inside edge of one eyebrow, then next to the outside edge of one eye. Then, tap the bone underneath the eye, the area between your nose and upper lip, then between your lower lip and chin.
Finish by tapping in the notch beneath one of your collarbones, then around four inches under one armpit.
Throughout the process, repeat your self-acceptance statement. Continue to repeat your statement while you’re tapping on your body. After you finish, take a break and see how you feel.
It’s okay to repeat this process as many times as you feel is necessary. Keep repeating the EFT tapping process until your issue no longer dominates your thoughts and you feel more confident and relaxed.
Keep in mind that EFT tapping shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for medication, therapy or other treatments for anxiety disorders. If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, make sure to talk to your mental health provider before starting EFT tapping.
Self-treatment with EFT tapping may help to ease the symptoms of anxiety, chronic stress and other common mental health concerns. However, if you think you have an anxiety disorder, it’s also important to talk to a professional about conventional treatments.
Common treatments for anxiety include the use of anti-anxiety medication and psychotherapy, or talk therapy.
You can access these treatments by talking to your primary care provider about a mental health referral, scheduling a meeting with a mental health professional in your area, or from your home with our online mental health services.
Many anxiety disorders improve with the use of anxiety medication. Although medication can’t cure anxiety, it can reduce the severity of many symptoms and help you to live a healthier and more balanced life.
Several types of medication are used to treat anxiety disorders, including benzodiazepines and antidepressants. Some forms of anxiety are also treated with beta-blockers — medications for controlling physical symptoms such as shaking and a fast heartbeat.
Our guide to medications for anxiety goes into more detail about how these medications work, as well as the key advantages and disadvantages of different types of anxiety medication.
You’ll need to talk with a licensed healthcare provider to use anxiety medication. Our psychiatry service allows you to take part in a private online consultation with a mental health provider and, if appropriate, receive medication and ongoing care to control your anxiety symptoms.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves working with a mental health provider to learn how you can better deal with your thoughts and feelings, including anxiety.
Several forms of psychotherapy are used to treat anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy.
CBT involves learning new ways to think and respond in situations that cause you to experience anxiety, while exposure therapy involves confronting your fears directly in an environment that’s controlled and secure.
Your mental health professional may suggest taking part in therapy on its own or in combination with medication to control your anxiety symptoms.
In addition to EFT tapping, other habits, relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes may help to ease anxiety and improve your quality of life.
These include exercising on a regular basis, practicing mindfulness and avoiding alcohol, drugs and other substances that might worsen your anxiety. Sometimes, even small changes to your habits can have a noticeable positive impact on how you think and feel.
Our guide to lifestyle choices for calming down anxiety goes into more detail about how making changes to your habits and daily life may help with the treatment of anxiety.
Currently, the science is mixed when it comes to EFT tapping. While some studies suggest that it might offer real benefits for anxiety and other psychological disorders, many experts view it as a pseudoscience that’s no more effective than a placebo.
Since EFT tapping is something you can easily do at home, you may want to give it a try to see if it relieves your anxiety symptoms. Just make sure not to think of it as a complete replacement for psychotherapy, medication or other more proven forms of treatment for anxiety.
If you’re feeling anxious and want help, you can connect with a licensed provider online with our online mental health services.
You can also learn more about fostering resilience, caring for yourself and successfully dealing with anxiety, depression and other common mental health problems with our free mental health resources and content.
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