Take control of your physiology, don’t let fear direct your path.

My body feels numb, and I can’t seem to catch a normal breath through my trembling lips, my thoughts flicker like a tiny flame between “maybe I can just swim off” and “I can’t do this!”  OMG what on earth am I doing to myself?

Oh yes that’s right, the Sabang freediving depth comp 2018 in Northern Sumatra, my first ever freediving depth competition and funnily enough, not my last!

I didn’t enjoy this fear driven primal feeling of escape hijacking my body and mind, but I was strangely fascinated by how my brain and body reacted together, creating this immense fear and negativity within this high pressure performance environment.

 I did enjoy my first competition apart from my nerves.  I decided to research alternative solutions to help combat these competition nerves.

This led me to a practice called Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which is an alternative treatment for physical pain and emotional distress.  It’s also referred to as tapping or psychological acupressure.

EFT was originally founded by the psychologist Dr Roger Callahan in 1979.  Dr Callahan was a trained traditional psychologist who used many traditional techniques including Chinese acupuncture.  Whilst treating his client for a phobia with water, he mindfully noted what physical bodily sensations his client felt whilst thinking about water, a knot in her stomach accompanied the emotion.  He used his knowledge of Chinese acupuncture to relieve her physical symptoms by getting his client to tap the end meridian point under her eye that is linked to the stomach, her symptoms and phobia were gone and tapping was born. 

This alternative therapy is commonly used with therapists to help people with their anxiety and pain, EFT has also been quietly popular for a few decades with sports coaches to help athletes with mental blocks and performance anxiety.  The technique is easy to do and free, so possibly explains why most people have not heard of it yet.

Having just signed up and paid for my next depth competition (Asian Freediving Cup 2019).  I eagerly collected all the information I could on EFT and began to experiment.

In a nutshell, we have energy meridians running through our bodies and when we tap with our fingers on the end points of these meridians (like acupuncture), our body finds this very relaxing, increasing the flow of energy and putting our body into a parasympathetic state.  With EFT you work with affirmation statements, you state what you fear and you must bring up that emotion and really feel it, then you complete the tapping sequence until the feeling is reduced or gone. 

Sounds pretty simple, but sometimes the problem that you are tapping about is not actually the real problem and you may feel like nothing has changed, the subject matter or problem could be likened to a “table top”.   You need to get detailed and specific, find out what the real problem is that are maybe the “legs” propping up the “table”, as our emotions are complex it maybe more than one issue.

What I wanted to improve was my competition nerves, but that is too broad a subject to just tap on that alone, I had to get to the root of why and what I was feeling to take the table apart.

I practiced a few deep visualizations of the whole competition scenario that I was to expect, I imagined my self-preparing in the morning and completing the whole dive start to finish.  During these visualizations I noted my physical sensations and feelings, I wanted to feel in my gut which parts of the competition and dive made me feel so anxious.

Amazingly there were some real specific feelings that showed themselves, such as:

  • Lung squeeze at depth

  • Not being good enough

  • Fear of failure

  • Hypoxia

With this information I tapped in more detail on the above thoughts and sometimes they led on to even deeper thoughts, like a table nest (table within a table) chipping away at the real fear and route of the negative emotion.  During the process I monitor on scale of 1-10 the intensity of feeling, checking in if I am disassociating the feeling of fear and anxiety with the subject.

On the run up to the competition I was using EFT before every training dive, I can genuinely say that it helped me feel more comfortable at depth and mentally prepared for the competition.  During the competition all my nerves did not completely go and  a few times I had to perform a tapping sequence whilst on the warm up buoys under the watchful eyes of the safety divers and judge, this helped me to settle my heart rate at the beginning of the countdown, so I could breathe normal and passively.

Well something worked!  I walked away with 3 white cards and 2 medals from the Asian Freediving Cup and I will continue to explore this technique for my next competition and depth progression.

EFT tapping in 5 steps

EFT tapping can be divided into five steps. If you have more than one issue or fear, you can repeat this sequence to address it and reduce or eliminate the intensity of your negative feeling.

1. Identify the issue

In order for this technique to be effective, you must first identify the issue or fear you have. This will be your focal point while you’re tapping. Focusing on only one problem at a time is purported to enhance your outcome.

2. Test the initial intensity

After you identify your problem area, you need to set a benchmark level of intensity. The intensity level is rated on a scale from 0 to 10, with 10 being the worst or most difficult. The scale assesses the emotional or physical pain and discomfort you feel from your focal issue.

Establishing a benchmark helps you monitor your progress after performing a complete EFT sequence. If your initial intensity was 10 prior to tapping and ended at 5, you’d have accomplished a 50 percent improvement level.

3. The setup

Prior to tapping, you need to establish a phrase that explains what you’re trying to address. It must focus on two main goals:

  • acknowledging the issues

  • accepting yourself despite the problem

The common setup phrase is: “Even though I have this (fear or problem), I deeply and completely accept/love myself.”

4. EFT tapping sequence

The EFT tapping sequence is the methodic tapping on the ends of nine meridian points.

There are 12 major meridians that mirror each side of the body and correspond to an internal organ. However, EFT mainly focuses on these nine:

  • karate chop (KC): small intestine meridian

  • top of head (TH): governing vessel

  • eyebrow (EB): bladder meridian

  • side of the eye (SE): gallbladder meridian

  • under the eye (UE): stomach meridian

  • under the nose (UN): governing vessel

  • chin (Ch): central vessel

  • beginning of the collarbone (CB): kidney meridian

  • under the arm (UA): spleen meridian

Begin by tapping the karate chop point (side of the hand) while simultaneously reciting your setup phrase three times. Then, tap each following point seven times, moving down the body in this ascending order:

  • eyebrow

  • side of the eye

  • under the eye

  • under the nose

  • chin

  • beginning of the collarbone

  • under the arm

After tapping the underarm point, finish the sequence at the top of the head point.

While tapping the ascending points, recite a short reminder phrase of the problem.

5. Test the final intensity

At the end of your sequence, rate your intensity level on a scale from 0 to 10. Compare your results with your initial intensity level. If you haven’t reached 0, repeat this process until you do.

Photo: Kohei Ueno AAS freediving cup