Could tapping my chest cure my post-lockdown nerves?

·4 min read

Re-entering the world ought to be simple. I’ve missed it. So why do I feel anxious about it? There’s a bar on my road that encapsulates everything I loved about normality: those bench tables for six, perfectly engineered so that no one gets left out; charred meat of indeterminate origin; drinks that could quite easily take an umbrella accessory. But I imagine myself running out of chat, saying “please” when I meant “thank you”, ordering a caipirinha when what I wanted was a mojito. I foresee disappointment from an unknown source. It feels exogenous rather than internal – so I don’t want therapy, I want a quick fix.

Enter Rapid Tapping, and one of its pioneers, coach and energy psychologist Poppy Delbridge. It’s a kind of psychological acupressure, also known as EFT (emotional freedom technique) that you do to yourself; huge in LA, unknown (by me, at least) in the UK. Delbridge, who is British, has a very happy face, which is a good sign, like when you meet a nutritionist with lovely skin.

Start by figuring out what’s bothering you and saying it out loud. Try to be specific. “The outside world is giving me the frights” is a bit loose, but it’s the best I’ve got. Put your hands over your heart and breathe deeply in and out for a minute so you calm down and concentrate. Now, find the two spots just beneath your collarbones that are a bit sore when you rub them. Massage them quite firmly until they stop being sore; some people find that, rather than the soreness dissipating, their mind calms instead. Either is fine.

Begin tapping the same spot, and do this for seven to 10 seconds. Then tap vertically between your eyes, for the same amount of time; then the socket bones at the sides of your eyes, then underneath your eyes, then underneath your nose and, finally, your chin. You don’t have to stick rigidly to 10 seconds. If you’re feeling really panicky, you can keep going until you’ve calmed down. “You’re tapping on to these meridian points, and it disrupts the emotional pattern you’ve wedged yourself into,” Delbridge says.

Is it that easy to manipulate the brain? I do feel quite positive, but I am more and more convinced that just sitting still and concentrating on a small, manageable, physical task – breathing, tapping, staring – has untold benefits to health. There is also data on rapid tapping: peer-reviewed research and clinical trials show reductions in anxiety, signs of depression and blood cortisol.

Related: Can exercise really release trauma stored in your body? | Zoe Williams

Right: now think of something positive to say to your anxious self, such as: “It doesn’t need to be a disaster, going back into the world. It could be really exciting.” I don’t feel anxious at all any more, so I feel a bit stupid for having brought it up. Now you have to go through the process again, starting at the collarbones, this time with your affirmative message at the front of your mind, not the negative one. I realise this is exactly what I was after: grounding, undramatic, low effort, more or less impossible to screw up. A quick fix.

What I learned
Tapping traces some of the same pressure points as acupuncture but doesn’t involve anything sharp, so it is quicker and easier to teach yourself.

Calm it down: three more ways to combat anxiety

Move more
Runners’ high is well-known, but recent research into endorphins has focused on myokines – psychologist Kelly McGonigal calls them “hope molecules”. You secrete these stress-busting chemicals when you contract your muscles in movement. While euphoria is normally associated with a very intense workout, any exercise will reduce stress, she argues.

Take three moments
Bodyworker Steve Haines’s graphic pamphlet Anxiety Is Really Strange looks at disorders from intrusive thoughts to panic attacks, and offers three tactics. Orient: slowly turn your head to take in the space around you; notice something; do it again more slowly. Move: push your feet into the floor and go into a simple squat; hold it until it hurts. Ground: exhale with a long, slow “voo”.

Read some poetry
Spurred by the pandemic, medical sociologists David Haosen Xiang and Alisha Moon Yi investigated the benefits of reading poetry for managing anxiety – it is already documented to help with loneliness, for obvious reasons. You might think the nature of the poem matters; I can’t imagine TS Eliot calming anyone down. But apparently that is quite wrong, and you can read anything, so long as it rhymes (or doesn’t).

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