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How Does EFT Tapping Work? Here's the Science Behind It | EFT has been proven effective for anxiety, depression and PTSD and so much more. Here’s the research behind this absurd stress relief technique.

It’s surprising how EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) or tapping can bring rapid changes.

EFT has been proven effective for anxiety, depression, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as physical pain, addiction, athletic performance and so much more.

A study shows that a 60-minute EFT group session reduced participants’ cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels by 43%. Supportive listening from a therapist reduced participants’ cortisol levels by 19%.

In another study, veterans who had PTSD benefited from 6 weekly EFT sessions with a practitioner. 90% of participants healed from PTSD, compared to 4% of participants who received standard care.

Read on to learn more about the fascinating science of EFT. You’ll see how chronic stress and trauma affect us and how EFT swiftly clears them.

Chronic stress and trauma ravage our bodies

I used to get badly hurt whenever someone criticized me. 

Growing up with an overcritical parent wasn’t easy. Others’ disapproval alerted me to the danger of being abandoned. That fear chipped at my relationships.   

At the time, I didn’t realize that chronic fear, or stress, kept my body in fight-or-flight mode. I couldn’t recover from one stressor, before another stressor jabbed at me.

Chronic stress can lead to many health problems, including:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • burnout
  • digestive problems
  • headaches
  • heart disease
  • sleep problems
  • weight gain
  • memory and concentration impairment

Our bodies can handle stress in small doses.

When a car suddenly veers toward us, we don’t have to think twice: We grip and turn the steering wheel to avoid an accident.

Thanks to the amygdala, the part of our brain that processes fear, our body reacts effectively to danger. Increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline propel us into the fight-or-flight response.

Our heart pounds. Muscles tense up. Our respiratory rate increases. The blood vessels in our digestive tract, reproductive system and all nonessential systems constrict, forcing blood to flow out to our arms and legs. 

Our immune system shuts down and the process of cell regeneration stops. 

This boosts the body, so that it fights or flees the perceived threat. (Some people may freeze or fawn.)

After the threat passes, the body returns to its unstressed state, called the “relaxation response”. Serotonin, our “happy hormone”, gets released. Our blood pressure, heart rate and hormonal levels return to normal.

The fight-or-flight response constantly gets activated for many people. Daily stressors like traffic, job demands, relationship issues and money problems aren’t necessarily life threatening, yet they strain our bodily systems.

Smaller things can also set off our nervous system, like being the brunt of a joke or getting criticized. Chronic negative thoughts and imagined threats contribute too.

This is especially true for people who have experienced neglect or abuse as children, or other traumatic events.

How does trauma affect our body?

In a nutshell: 

When we have a traumatic experience, our brain forms an unpleasant association between the event and the pain.

The limbic system encodes negative experiences with an emotional charge. It attaches an emotional “red tag” to a class of memories.

Our brain constantly looks for threats to our well-being and compares our current situation with these tagged memories of painful experiences. 

When our brain finds a match, it alerts us to a potential problem… That’s why I struggled with being vulnerable in relationships—it reminded me of the risk of being belittled by my father!

Because our bodies can only handle a limited amount of stress, trauma results when a stressor overloads the nervous system and we don’t have the resources to safely process the experience.

The energy of the trauma is stored in our bodies’ muscles, organs and connective tissues until it can be released. 

In the meantime, our brain disconnects from that part of the body to block the experience, which can eventually cause pain and illness.

EFT Tapping reprograms your brain

Tapping on certain acupuncture points sends a signal to our amygdala to relax. 

We shut off the fight-or-flight response and train our brains to react differently to the same “threat”.

Phrases like Even though I feel like a failure when xyz happened activate our usual stress response. As we tap, we expose ourselves to the stressor and stop the automatic reaction in its tracks.

We create a link between the trauma and a new cognitive input, reframing the memory with a statement of self-acceptance: I deeply and completely accept myself.

Working with the bothersome memory in this way physically soothes our body, interrupts the emotional triggering and lessens its intensity.

Tapping signals the body that we’re safe and the traumatic memory gets “untagged”. The nervous system no longer associates the memory with stress. In other words, our body no longer needs to stay in fight or flight.

Once we break the conditioned response, we can think of the memory again without any emotional intensity.

Ultimately, tapping puts the body back into the relaxation response and allows the immune system, digestive system, reproductive system and endocrine system to function correctly.

60 researchers and 20+ healthcare journals

A growing body of publications attest to the efficacy of tapping.

Research has been done in 10 countries with 60 researchers, resulting in 20+ peer-reviewed medical and psychology journal publications. 

Here are 5 more impressive research studies:

Study #1

20 studies spanning over 10 years composed this meta-analysis that prove EFT’s efficacy in reducing depression symptoms by 41%.

Study #2

In this study with 15 obese adults in total, 10 were allocated to an EFT treatment, and 5 to a control group (where they received no intervention for their cravings). They were all scanned using fMRI before and after a 4-week EFT treatment phase.

After tapping, fMRI scans prove that those parts of the brain that usually activate cravings and hunger in response to certain foods no longer did.

Study #3

Healthcare workers measured their pain levels, emotional distress, and food cravings before and after 4 hours of EFT in this study. They reported significant improvements in their pain levels, emotional distress, and food cravings.

90 days later, all participants were contacted to see if they had continued to self-apply EFT once a week, 3 times a week, or not at all. Higher use of EFT was associated with a steeper decrease in psychological symptoms. The study found EFT to be effective for immediate and prolonged relief from issues typical in burnout: pain, distress and cravings.

Study #4

This randomized controlled trial (RCT) included people with phobias of small animals like bats, spiders and snakes. After a 30-minute EFT session, the participants could walk much closer to the feared small creature than those in the group that used diaphragmatic breathing. Most of the improvement stayed after retesting 3 to 6 months later.

Study #5

In this study, 5,000 patients received either cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with medication, if needed, or tapping with no medication for 5.5 years. 90% of patients who used tapping showed improvement versus 63% of the CBT patients.

Only 3 EFT sessions reduced the patient’s anxiety, compared to 15 for CBT. 76% of the EFT people got complete relief, compared to 51% of the CBT people.

Experience it for yourself

My rational mind thirsts for logic and science.

That sense of control through a calculable understanding of the world reassures me—especially in such chaotic times.

But uncertainty can also be exciting. If I hadn’t put my judgments about EFT aside, I wouldn’t have found relief so quickly. I would’ve kept beating myself up everyday.

Fortunately, my curiosity gets the best of me. Experiencing EFT myself has transformed my life.

Want some free support?

I’m offering free EFT Tapping sessions in exchange for a short interview via Zoom.

I enjoy connecting with other women and learning about their challenges related to confidence, boundaries and relationships.

In the first 15 minutes, I’ll ask questions like “How did you discover me?” for new content ideas. In the last 15 minutes, you’ll get an EFT session to feel calm and clear. (Yes, things can shift that quickly.)

This offer isn’t a discovery call, where we discuss my paid services. It’s a fun opportunity to connect and support each other!

If you feel inspired to work with me, we can book a free call to make sure we’re a good fit.

I look forward to connecting with you!

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