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Could there be a drug-free solution to anxiety?

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Anyone who has ever felt the rising, queasy onset of an anxiety episode – or worse yet, the total blackout terror of a panic attack – will tell you that there’s just about nothing worse, and you’d do almost anything to make the horrible feelings go away.

Which is why ‘tapping therapy’ is so appealing. Tapping therapy, or EFT (emotional freedom therapy) is a self-help practice which claims to reduce in-the-moment feelings of anxiety.

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It looks a little like this…

Anxiety sufferers simply tap on various pressure points on the body, and this repeated motion is meant to quell feelings of anxiousness and panic.

In the United Kingdom, proponents are calling for EFT to be added to the NHS (their version of Medicare) after a study of 39 patients at Staffordshire University showed positive results.

Because the treatment is drug-free and once taught, can be self administered, you can understand the appeal.

However, if you’ve gone through years of therapy, or a currently taking medication for anxiety, you might think tapping the pain away sounds a little bit too good to be true.

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And unfortunately, you would be right. Aside from the Staffordshire study, published in the Journal of Psychological Therapies, most other research into EFT has found it to be ‘pseudo-science’ that works no better than a placebo effect.

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EFT is loosely based around ideas drawn from traditional Chinese medicine. The pressure points one is meant to tap are the body’s ‘meridians’, and by repeatedly striking them, one is meant to free up blocked ‘chi’ (one’s life force or energy). The blocked chi is what is causing the strong negative feelings, or so the thinking goes.

Most psychologists are pretty skeptical of this mechanism, and a 2003 Delphi poll found that on average, psychologists found the therapy to be “probably discredited.”

But, just because the specifics of EFT aren’t based on science, doesn’t mean the therapy doesn’t work. A 2003 study of 119 university students found that, while EFT was no more effective than a placebo when it comes to reducing fear, both EFT andplacebos are actually pretty effective. The students tested didn’t have to tap on their meridians to experience a reduction in anxiety… they just had to tap.

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Tapping therapy combines two well-worn therapeutic techniques that psychologists do agree are effective, deep breathing and distraction. By concentrating on the tapping, rather than the situation that’s causing anxiety, and slowing the down their breathing, patients do manage their fear better. They’re just not freeing up blocked chi in order to do it.

So next time you’re caught on the tracks with a freight train of anxiety headed straight for you, try to tap it out. It just might help.

But then call your doctor, or Beyond Blue, or even a friend. Because tapping is no substitute for a good therapist.

What techniques do you use to manage anxiety?

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