photo by Phil Hollenback
Recently I was working with “Kelly.” We had been working every week or two for 30 minutes at a time on the issue of anxiety she was feeling at work. When we started working she described the anxiety as being present from the moment she walked in the door until she left. There were moments that she just wanted to run from the room screaming.
In the last eight weeks we have had six 30-minute sessions. We have not completely taken care of the issue, but a lot of progress has been achieved. Here are the steps that we have taken and the lessons that can be learned from our process.
Thinking About The Day And Not Feeling The Stress
In the beginning the anxiety that Kelly felt lasted well beyond just the work day. As the weekend would come to an end the feeling would start to grow. She would wake up in the morning with that gross feeling in the pit in her stomach. Just thinking of the office would bring the feeling on.
To begin with we started very simple. I had her imagine a very specific day she was at work and to start describing how she felt. I had her explain, in very specific detail, how she felt physically in conjunction with the emotion. Each time it was a little different. It would manifest itself as wanting to run away, a sinking feeling in the stomach, her heart quickly beating, or fidgety hands.
With each of these symptoms I would have Kelly thank the symptom for trying to get her attention and ask the symptom why it felt the way it felt. The system would provide information like it is not safe, I don’t know what to do if too much comes up quickly, or I might say something foolish to the clients.
We took each of these issues one at a time and tapped on them like we would for any other issue. After clearing the particular issue I would have Kelly once again imagine that she was at work. We did this until she would feel no more anxiety while thinking she was at work.
When we chatted a week later she reported that she still felt the same level of anxiety at work.
Lesson 1: Just because we are able to clear an issue imagining that it is happening to us, it does not mean that we have cleared the issue. At the same time this does not mean that the tapping we have done is useless. There are many more triggers to anxiety when we are in the working environment versus just thinking of the working environment. It simply means that we are not done.
Lesson 2: We can get a great deal of information from a physical sensation. Many times all we need to do is ask what it is about. If you haven’t done this type of work before this might seem very odd. All you have to do is pretend the tight chest has a voice to speak and ask, “Why are you so scared?” You will be surprised. Treat this newly found voice as a friend that you are tapping with. Keep providing it information like, “I know you think you are not safe at work, but you know intellectually no one is going to hurt you at work.” As you do this you will continue to get more and more specific information about the issue at hand which will give you more specific tappable issues.
Thinking About Going To Work
We continued the same pattern in the next sessions. Kelly would tune-in to something happening at work. We would tap on the issue. We got to the point where we were quickly knocking out the anxiety around the past moments and they weren’t revealing any new information in regards to the core issues.
We then moved to having Kelly imagine future moments at work. Each time we did this we would add more and more details that we knew would make her more anxious. Kelly would imagine that more than one person would be approaching the desk at once, that the phone was ringing, that a co-worker came up from behind to ask for something, and we had her imagine that one of the people she didn’t know who was approaching her desk was particularly handsome. We didn’t add all of these details at once, but instead one at a time. As we added new details we would see where the anxiety was and why it was there. Once Kelly was able to tap it away we would add another detail.
We did this until she could imagine every detail at work and not feel any anxiety. Once we got to this point Kelly reported that she felt anxious at work, but no longer felt anxious heading into work in the morning. Many mornings she even felt a little calm, but the feeling of anxiety would slowly creep in. Before long it was at full bore.
Lesson 3: Once we have worked through past memories it is very helpful to place ourselves in future situations where we are experiencing the thing that is giving us trouble. The nice thing about EFT is we are able to creep up on an issue and not have to deal with everything all at once. I have found it to be most effective to add one new detail at a time so we make sure we are clearing as much as we can about one aspect before we move on to the next aspect. The nice thing about doing work in this fashion is we can create extreme scenarios without having to place ourselves in any sort of danger. Kelly may never experience everything going wrong at once, but we can pretend that that is what it is going to be like. As we saw above, this doesn’t mean that we are going to be symptom-free when we step into the situation, but we are going to deal with it in a better way.
Being Calm At Work
As more time passed it became easier and easier for Kelly at work. In addition to the weekly tapping we were doing, she was also tapping daily before going into work. She wasn’t spending a great deal of time, but just 10 minutes at the beginning of each day. At this point she was very familiar with the different aspects so she knew what to tap on. She reported that the calm now lasted through most of the morning. Most days as the afternoon got busy at the office the feeling of anxiety would come back. Some days it came back as strong as it did when we first started.
Lesson 4: Issues that have taken a lifetime to build are not going to change over night. Yes, we are making progress. Yes, things are better. An issue like general anxiety can knit itself into many parts of our life and isn’t going to be neutralized over night. That doesn’t mean that if we have taken 10 years for an issue to develop that it is going to take 10 years to remove it, but we need to be patient with ourselves and patient with the problem. Healing is a process and a process that we need to give time.
Lesson 5: Persistence pays off! The sessions we were doing weren’t my traditional full one hour sessions and Kelly wasn’t doing tapping work for hours a day. Instead, together and on her own, were doing a little work at a time, just chipping away at the issue. Thirty minutes of more intense tapping with me plus 10 minutes a day was being much more successful than if we just tapped once a week for those same 80 minutes. If you are going after a persistent issue, then being persistent with your tapping is the best way to go.
Naming What Is Going On As It Happens
In a recent session Kelly said, “This week at work when I was feeling really anxious, I decided to write down everything I was feeling in that moment so we could work on it.” This made me so happy because not only was she giving us information that would be helpful in our tapping, but it was also a sign of great progress. She was no longer so overwhelmed by the anxiety. Sure she felt it, but instead just being overwhelmed she was able to think, “Hey, it is happening again. I know what is going on.” When we do this it allows us to do work in the moment, not just after the fact.
Lesson 6: One of the real goals of this type of work is to become observers of our own lives. When we are able to notice our own thoughts and reactions we are able to change them. It is because of the persistence that Kelly had been working with that got her to this moment. She went from only noticing why things were happening at a great distance with the help of a practitioner, to being able to notice what was happening on her own after the fact, and finally to noticing important details in the moment.
Lesson 7: Getting things out of our head is a great way to defuse some of their power. I asked Kelly what it was like to write the symptoms down as she was feeling them. She said that is made some of the anxiety go away. Our minds often act as an echo chamber. As the thought bounces around it gets louder and slightly distorted. This is how we can work ourselves up about some feared event that hasn’t happened. When we get these thoughts out of our mind and observe them in the warm light of day we see they are silly and they lose their power. In Kelly’s case she wrote down that, “It is not safe at work and I need to escape.” The moment she saw that on her note pad she realized that this distorted thought wasn’t true, and so writing it down took some of the power out of the anxiety. Writing down what we are feeling is a great tool. You can take what you have written down and throw it away or you can use it for tapping phrases and then get rid of it. [Tapping and journaling]
Being Frustrated With Not Getting The Tapping To Work Every Time
Right now Kelly is getting through most mornings without a problem. There are still issues most afternoons and she reported that some of the time when she tapped in the afternoon it had little effect and this has hurt her enthusiasm for tapping at work.
Lesson 8: It is very easy to be frustrated with the new normal when we have lost touch with the old normal. In the beginning, for Kelly it was painful just to think about being at work. She is not at the point where most mornings are fine and some afternoons are good. But in the moment of her current frustration she is no longer thinking about the progress. She is only thinking about the feeling she has right now. This is what we all do. We are so engrossed in the emotion of the moment that we forget how far we have come. It is good from time to time to take a step back and see how much progress we have made. This will make it easier for us to move forward.
Lesson 9: Just because something doesn’t work every time doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try it. I wish tapping worked every time for every issue, but that is not the case. But consider this: I have something that is going to work half the time for that feeling of anxiety, it isn’t going to cost you anything, there are no negative side effects, and it will only take 10 minutes. Would you give it a try? When I framed it that way to Kelly she said of course she would. She even conceded that if it only worked one day a week it would be more than worth giving it a try.
Being Frustrated With Progress
This is one thing that Kelly hasn’t experienced. She has kept a very even head all the way through the process. She has recognized how much better her life is and excited to keep working toward more progress. But not everyone does this during the healing process. (I am one of those people who struggle with this!)
Lesson 10: Just because you don’t have total success doesn’t mean that you don’t have success. My friend Dan Cleary [Podcast interview with Dan Cleary] introduced me to the concept of the 10% solution. In a nut shell the 10% solution states that changing an issue 10% to the better can dramatically improve the quality of life. For example, someone who has 10% relief in chronic pain might now be able to sit through a full movie or now go out to dinner with a loved one. Sure they still have pain, but by reducing the pain just 10%, their life is noticeably better.
So often we look at an issue as we either have it or we don’t have it and we fail to realize that by changing the degree we experience something, that this can change our life. If you asked Kelly, “Do you still have anxiety at work?” the answer is obviously yes. This might look like a failure. But she has gone from feeling it every moment of every day to feeling it some afternoons, often to a lesser degree. Is it perfect? Not at all, but it is a major improvement and her life is much better because of it.
It is important that we don’t turn our issues into “we have it or we don’t,” but it is much more important to understand how the issue impacts our life and how we can move to reduce its impact.
Any issue that has knit its way into many parts of our lives is very often going to take time and persistence to knock it out. When we know this, it is possible to stay focused on the task at hand and create a reasonable plan for making the change.