There are a lot of stress-busting approaches out there, and some are quite effective. I’ve taught clients breathing exercises, visualization techniques, and physical movements. I’ve recommended changes in diet, exercising to get their heart rates up, and yoga to bring their heart rates down. I’ve heard about some strange sounding techniques, too — most recently I read about listening to two tones, one in each ear, which is supposed to lead to relaxation. I admit I’ve never tried that approach.
But, hands down, the best, most deeply effective and most long-lasting technique for relieving stress that I’ve ever come across is tapping. It’s basically a kind of acupuncture for emotions, but without the needles. All you have to do is tap with your fingers on specific points on your face and body while thinking about what is causing you stress. That’s it!*
Here’s a simple version of it you can try on your own.
Step One — Choose a Specific Problem to Work On
Decide on one thing that is bothering you. It may be the weight on your chest when you think about making a cold call, or your mind going blank when you talk to your boss, or the ping pong balls that start bouncing around in your stomach when they close the door to the airplane before take-off. The more specific you are, the faster you’ll bring down the stress. So instead of saying “I’m afraid of public speaking,” say something like “I’m afraid everyone will think I’m an idiot when I talk to a group of more than three people.”
Limit yourself to one thing at a time. Maybe you are feeling so stressed that it is causing you three reactions: (1) you can’t seem to focus on what is in front of you, (2) you are having trouble prioritizing what you have to do, and (3) you’re afraid that you will screw something up and lose your job. Pick the one reaction that is bothering you the most right now and tap on that first until either that reaction goes away or you reach a plateau and can’t get any more improvement on it. Only then move on to the next reaction. If you try to do everything at once, tapping just won’t work.
Step Two — Estimate How Bad It Is
Estimate how bad it is right now just thinking about what is bothering you on a scale of 0 (no problem at all) to 10 (it’s too stressful to think about). Write your number down.
Step Three — Come Up With a Set-Up Phrase
Come up with a set-up phrase using this pattern: “Even though [I have this problem], I deeply and completely accept myself.” Replace “I have this problem” with the thing that is bothering you. For example, if you get frustrated whenever a coworker interrupts you, you might say something like: “Even though every time Phil stops at my desk I get so mad I want to throw my computer through the window, I deeply and completely accept myself.” (Some people prefer to write this down at first so they don’t forget it. If that helps you, go right ahead.)
By the way, you will need to say “I deeply and completely accept myself” in your set-up phrase, even if you don’t deeply and completely accept yourself at that moment. In fact, if you don’t want to say this that means you should say it louder. It’s a critical part of the process.
Step Four — Decide on a Reminder Phrase
The reminder phrase is just a short phrase to remind you of what is bothering you — something like “mad at Phil.”
Now you are ready to start the actual tapping.
Step Five — Tap While Using Your Phrases
Karate Chop Point Start by saying your set-up phrase three times while tapping with two fingers of one hand on the side of the other hand on the fleshy part under your pinkie finger.
Then say your reminder phrase as you tap with two fingers (except where noted) on each of the following tapping points:
Top of Head – Use all five fingers on top of your head above your ears. You can tap in a small circle to cover more area.
Eyebrow – The spot where your eyebrow starts.
Side of Eye – On the edge of the bone ridge on the outside of your eye.
Under Eye – About one inch below the pupil of your eye.
Under Nose – Half way between the base of your nose and the top of your lip.
Chin – Below your lip where your chin starts to curve out.
Collar Bone – Make a fist and tap your knuckles across the place where a man knots his tie.
Under Arm – Use four fingers on your side about four inches down from your armpit. For men, this spot is parallel to the nipple. For women, this spot falls in the middle of the bra strap.
After one or two rounds of tapping the points from the top of your head to under your arm, check to see where you are on the 0 to 10 scale. Repeat as many times as you need to until the negative emotion (like fear or anger) or physical reaction (like butterflies in the stomach or not being able to catch your breath) has gone down to a 0. Then, if you wish, go back to step one and pick another problem to work on.
- The tapping points are very forgiving. Tapping anywhere near the point should be effective, so don’t worry about getting the location just right.
- Tap about seven times on each point. Anywhere between 5 and 9 taps should be enough.
- Use enough pressure to feel it without leaving a bruise. It’s like dialing a sticky button on a push button phone (if you remember those).
- You can use either side of your body or switch sides; it doesn’t matter.
- You don’t have to follow the points in any particular order. They are listed in this order to make it easy to remember since, after the Karate Chop Point, you start at the top of your body and move lower with each point.
- Tapping will usually work even if you miss a point or two.
- Sometimes tapping on just one point is enough. So if you are getting stressed in a meeting and don’t want anyone to see what you are doing, you could try just tapping on your Karate Chop Point under the table while thinking the set-up phrase and reminder phrases. Or tap on your Eyebrow Point while sitting in your airline seat if you don’t mind people thinking you have a headache.
- If you don’t seem to be getting better after a few rounds of tapping, there are a few fixes you might try. The first is the easiest — drink a glass of water. Tapping will not work if you are dehydrated.
- Next, check to see if you are working on only one reaction (e.g., sweaty palms, not sweaty palms and nausea).
- Be sure the problem you are tapping on is specific (e.g., afraid of talking in front of my department, not afraid of speaking).
- Say your set-up phrase loudly, with great conviction.
- Check that you haven’t switched from the reaction you started with to something new (e.g., switching from being afraid of your boss when she criticizes your report to being angry at her). If you have switched from your initial reaction, that means you probably took care of your first reaction (fear) and are now working on a different reaction to the problem (anger), which means the tapping is actually working.
- If when you go back and Estimate How Bad It Is (Step Two), your numbers on the 0 to 10 scale are going up instead of down (which doesn’t happen often, but can sometimes occur), that also probably means that the tapping is working and you are now starting to get at the underlying problem you have been trying to avoid. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can just keep tapping away until the numbers go back down. If it is too intense, or even frightening, just stop. You might want to go to the experts at that point for help working on the issue.
When Tapping On Your Own Isn’t Enough
Sometimes just following the technique described here is all it takes to eliminate the particular stress you are working on, or at least bring it down significantly. However, almost everyone has at least one problem that they can’t shift on their own with tapping because they are too close to see it objectively or it is too upsetting to work on directly. In such cases, working with a specialist in this technique who knows additional approaches to getting at the heart of a problem can bring success, often quite rapidly.
* I owe a big thank you to Gary Craig for developing and sharing tapping techniques with the world.
If you would like to schedule one-on-one stress coaching by telephone or Skype contact me.