A large body of research suggests that physical tapping has various benefits for physical and mental health symptoms — including anxiety.

Person tapping on the chin for anxiety reliefShare on Pinterest
Stevica Mrdja/EyeEm/Getty Images

Anxiety can be a very overwhelming mental health condition that affects many people each year worldwide.

Some people with anxiety have debilitating anxiety, where excessive fear and dread cause difficulties with:

  • work
  • school
  • relationships
  • other areas of daily functioning

Many treatments are available for anxiety, but figuring out what works for you may take some time. Some treatments may take a bit to work effectively and require some routine or treatment changes and mental bandwidth. Other methods of coping may offer subtle relief.

Perhaps you’ve subconsciously repeated something physical or audible to quell anxiety for as long as you remember, like:

You may not know the science behind such a self-soothing technique. Tapping for anxiety has shown various benefits for both restoring calm and alleviating physical pain.

Tapping for anxiety utilizes bilateral stimulation to be effective. Bilateral stimulation delivers stimuli to both sides of the body activating the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Research indicates activation of both sides of the brain helps increase emotional processing and regulation.

There are many techniques and types of therapy that use bilateral stimulation to help reduce stress and anxiety such as:

  • eye movement desensitization therapy (EMDR) uses bilateral stimulation in the form of finger movements, light, or sound. EMDR is an evidence-based treatment for trauma and not something you can do on your own. EMDR is a type of therapy rather than a technique.
  • the emotional freedom technique uses five steps targeting several acupressure points on your body to reduce mental health symptoms and pain. According to 2019 research, this therapy combines
    • EMDR
    • Western psychotherapy techniques
    • traditions from Chinese medicine
    • kinesiology
  • thought field therapy also uses acupressure points on the body to alleviate symptoms through bilateral stimulation and imaginal exposure (exposure to the problem through verbalizing it)

The research authors of the 2019 study note that you can complete tapping on your own after a professional guides you through the process. If you like tapping and see the positive benefits of tapping, you can do it at home and on your own as a self-help technique.

There is a large body of evidence to suggest that tapping does work for anxiety.

For example, one research study of 203 participants across six different emotional freedom technique workshops found significant reductions after emotional freedom technique interventions in:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • PTSD symptoms
  • cravings
  • chronic pain

The same authors suggest that there have been over 100 studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of the emotional freedom technique.

Additional 2021 research found that when the emotional freedom technique was used with nurses during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, one online session of the emotional freedom technique for the nurses was enough to show lower levels of anxiety, stress, and burnout.

Among university students, research suggests reduced anxiety when exposed to a threat. The study authors also note any residual anxiety you may experience after implementing tapping techniques could be a personality characteristic.

Numerous studies show that the emotional freedom technique can be helpful for anxiety and other mental health and physical conditions.

There are various steps to tapping depending on the technique. Many use meridian points (pathways on the body connecting acupuncture points) to alleviate:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • pain

Once you learn how to do it, this technique can be used at home when experiencing psychological or physical symptoms.

What are the 5 steps to emotional freedom technique tapping?

According to the emotional freedom therapy manual, there are five steps to the tapping protocol, which involve many different acupressure points on your body and tapping for about 7 repetitions.

You might try: The emotional freedom technique

  1. Assess your subjective units of distress (i.e., rate your stress level) from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest level of distress.
  2. Develop a setup statement (i.e., identify emotion and use an affirmation), such as “Even though I’m feeling anxious, I accept myself completely.”
  3. Tap the “karate chop point” and repeat your statement. This area is on your hand between the top of the wrist and the base of your pinkie finger (the impact point where someone would deliver a karate chop).
  4. Try a reminder phrase (e.g., “The anxiety.”) while you tap any of 7 other pressure points for anxiety:
    • the start of the eyebrow at the top of your nose
    • the outside of your eye socket
    • under your pupils
    • under your nose
    • under your lip but above your chin
    • the deep hollow below your collarbone
    • under the arm about four inches below your armpit
  5. Reassess your distress level and use a new statement if necessary, e.g., “Even though I’m still experiencing anxiety, I completely accept myself.”
Was this helpful?

For a demonstration of emotional freedom technique tapping, you can check out this beginner’s guide by UK-based emotional freedom technique enthusiast Alexandra Rose:

Thought field therapy

Thought field therapy is a tapping technique that was developed by Roger Callahan. Thought field therapy is similar to the emotional freedom technique as it also uses tapping points on the body to alleviate emotional distress.

The difference with thought field therapy is that it uses many more tapping points on the body. The sequence in thought field therapy is chosen according to the problem you’re dealing with.

You might try: The Thought field therapy technique

According to the thought field therapy manual, you would try the technique like this:

  1. Identify an upsetting event from the past or present.
  2. Rate the event on a scale of 1–10 with 10 being the highest level of stress.
  3. Tap the points that are associated with the problem being presented (A therapist can guide you through this).

For anxiety, the manual suggests that you should tap 5-7 times:

  • on the point where the eyebrow begins at the bridge of the nose
  • under the eye
  • under the arm
  • collarbone

4. Reassess subjective units of distress on a scale of 1-10 and follow the
protocol outlined in the manual according to the rating.

Was this helpful?

Eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy (EMDR)

EMDR is a type of psychotherapy that works to treat trauma and other adverse life experiences through bilateral stimulation. Research indicates that there is a large amount of evidence to support that EMDR is effective in the treatment of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

You might try: EMDR therapy

EMDR therapy is not something you can try on your own. A licensed mental health professional who is trained in EMDR must administer this form of treatment.

If you’re interested in trying EMDR, you can use this resource to find an EMDR-trained therapist near you.

Was this helpful?

Tapping for anxiety has a variety of benefits for those who use it to find fast relief from overwhelming feelings. You can try different methods of tapping techniques to determine what works for you.

If you’ve already been using self-regulation techniques such as stimming or tapping you can take advantage of the benefits it provides for alleviating symptoms.

The bilateral stimulation of both brain hemispheres while tapping can help you process and regulate your emotions better, which is helpful if you’re experiencing anxiety.

You can also find an EMDR therapist if you’re interested in working through and processing trauma.