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Book Excerpt: The Tapping Solution for Parents, Children & Teenagers by Nick Ortner

CHAPTER ONE
Kids, The Brain, and Stress

Picture Jenny, a 5th grader who is standing at the front of the class about to read her writing assignment aloud. As she looks down at the page, then up at the faces of her classmates, time slows. Her heartbeat grows louder and faster.

She’s nervous, very nervous, and more than anything, she wants to escape. Jenny looks over at her teacher, who nods at her to begin reading. Jenny does as instructed but before finishing the first sentence, she stumbles and mispronounces a word. The entire class erupts in what sounds to Jenny like the whole world laughing at her. Even the teacher suppresses a giggle before standing up to ask the class to quiet down.

Jenny is shocked and bewildered, unsure what to do and unable to move. She wishes that she could run straight home but instead finishes as quickly as she can, reading very quietly for fear of getting laughed at again.

Many of us have had “Jenny” moments, big and small events from our childhood where we felt humiliated, afraid and alone. Once we become parents, a story like this may strike us very differently. We wonder and worry, What damage will an event like this do-to Jenny’s self-esteem, her feelings about school, her friends, her teacher? And what should I, as her parent or teacher, do—or not do—to help her handle experiences like this?

We feel conflicted, wanting both to protect Jenny and to give her the tools she needs to develop on her own.  At times we may also take on her emotions and feel overwhelmed by them.

ln the midst of managing our own experience, we wonder how we can best support our children. Above all, we want to make days like Jenny’s feel less challenging. We want her to experience self-esteem, joy, and excitement about her life. We want her academic, social and emotional experiences to inspire positive growth and evolution.

Yet we ourselves often feel consumed by daily life, sandwiched between pressure from work, finances, family, not to mention the endless cultural pressure to be the “perfect” parent. How can we help her when we’re struggling ourselves?  How can we best help Jenny, and perhaps also ourselves, to thrive, now and in the future?

One important place to start is by addressing one of the main issues that’s stopping our children from thriving, and that’s stress. It can seem like an unusual starting point, given that our conversations around stress typically focus on adults.  Yet the results of recent research around stress and kids are, to put it mildly, shocking.

  • According to the American Psychological Association, almost one-third of kids suffer from stress that manifests physically in the form of headaches, stomachaches, and more.
  • A Stanford University study found that the number of kids ages 7-17 who are suffering from depression more than doubled between 1985 and 2001.

These trends around kids and stress don’t just seem to be continuing. They seem to be worsening.

ln the midst of managing our own experience, we wonder how we can best support our children. Above all, we want to make days like Jenny’s feel less challenging.

KIDS AND THE STRESS RESPONSE

Standing in front of her class, Jenny’s heart began to race. Her face felt hot and her hands clammy.  The stress Jenny was feeling wasn’t just in her head; it was also in her body.  Before she’d even said a word, an almond-shaped part of her mid-brain called the amygdala received a danger signal.  Immediately her body was flooded with a mixture of powerful hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, the latter often known as the stress hormone, which put her whole body on high alert.

As a result of the cortisol now flooding her body, several “non-essential” functions, including digestion and the creative center of her brain, promptly shut down. While some of her physical senses may have temporarily heightened, her ability to problem-solve and focus on schoolwork had been temporarily sidelined.

This process, which is known as the stress response or “fight or flight,” happened in a matter of seconds without her conscious awareness.

While this stress response would naturally subside if Jenny had a positive experience, in Jenny’s case it intensified. Instead of relaxing into the experience of reading aloud to her class, Jenny panicked when her class laughed at her misread word.

As a result of their Iaughter, Jenny’s stress response grew more pronounced, instantaneously morphing into the “freeze response.” In Jenny’s case, that translated into feeling like she couldn’t move or respond in any way to the class’s laughter.

This “freeze response” is a defensive mechanism, an emotional and physical response to panic or extreme stress that we also see in nature.  For instance, opossums are known for “freezing” when they’re under potential attack from predators.  By “playing opossum,” as it’s often called, they appear to be dead already, and as a result, predators may become disinterested and leave. The opossum can then spring back into action and flee to safety.

Since Jenny is unable to escape to safety, her hands begin to tremble, and her stomach feels queasy.  In an attempt to protect her from future experiences like this one, her brain also begins transforming, creating neural pathways that associate public speaking with danger.

Throughout the rest of the day, Jenny replays that moment in her head over and over again.  Each time she does, her shame intensifies. How could I be so stupid? she thinks. By the time the school day ends, Jenny has relived that moment hundreds of times.  At dinner, her stomach is so upset that she barely eats, and asks her parents if she can go to bed early.

So, what happened that turned this one experience into the cause of so much distress?

Every time Jenny replayed the moment when she was laughed at, her body reinitiated the stress response.  Each time this pattern was repeated¾1) remembering reading to the class and getting laughed at, then 2) initiating the stress response¾her brain reinforced the neural pathways that associate public speaking with danger.  These changes are made possible by the brain’s ability to “reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life,” a characteristic known as neuroplasticity.

As a result of these newly organized neural pathways, reliving her public speaking fiasco has become as vivid and intense as her actual public speaking experience was. With this neural pathway being continually strengthened by repeated memory recall, just thinking about public speaking is enough to cause her body to be hijacked by the stress response. In addition to shutting down her digestion (which, in her case, translates into a lack of appetite), this stress response also makes her more susceptible to physical pain – hence, the stomach ache that sends her to bed earlier than usual.

In an attempt to protect her from future experiences like this one, her brain also begins transforming, creating neural pathways that associate public speaking with danger.

THE STRESS RESPONSE IMPRINT

Fast-forward two years, and Jenny seems like a happy, normal 7th grader. She’s got friends, does well in school and enjoys team sports. Sitting in class at the start of the year, however, Jenny is overcome by terror when her teacher explains that each student in the class will be required to read their essays out loud. Jenny doesn’t mind writing the essay—she actually enjoys that part—but reading it aloud?  That’s a different story!

Just the thought of it makes her break out in a sweat.

She can’t live through being laughed at again. Feeling increasingly panicked, she talks to her teacher after class and asks if she can write an extra essay instead of reading her one essay aloud. He says no, and tells her not to be afraid. She’s a good student. She’ll be fine.

Jenny spends the next three weeks in a state of panic. She has an unusually hard time writing her essay, doesn’t sleep well (nightmares), and is less social at school. She’s consumed by her nervousness and feels increasingly desperate to get out of the requirement to read her essay aloud.

When the day arrives, Jenny is exhausted and stressed out.  During her presentation, she makes a point of speaking very slowly and quietly, but she still skips a few words, then an entire paragraph, and soon notices her classmates passing notes and making faces while she’s speaking.

Once again, she’s failed.

She feels humiliated and ashamed. To make matters worse, a week later she finds out she got a C on her essay and presentation. Usually a B+ student, Jenny is devastated. She decides that she’s bad at public speaking.

ln addition to validating her fear of public speaking, Jenny’s most recent experience has once again deepened and strengthened the neural pathways that equate public speaking with danger. Her belief that she is a bad public speaker feels increasingly legitimate. She can’t do it, she thinks, so she makes a point of only pursuing activities that allow her to be less visible, like playing in the band or on sports teams where she can blend in.

Jenny’s strategy to avoid public speaking works well for a fairly long stretch of years.  She manages to do well in grade school, then college.  She gets good jobs for several years after graduation. As the years pile up, however, her career seems to slow down prematurely.

Now 32 years old with a family of her own, Jenny is frustrated that she’s not getting promoted. She’s a hard worker, has great experience and good ideas. When she finally works up the nerve to ask her boss about getting promoted, her boss tells Jenny that her poor presentation skills are holding her back. In order to get promoted, she’ll need to be able to step into a leadership position. That means taking on a new level of responsibility, including presenting in front of colleagues, clients, and larger groups.

Jenny’s fear of public speaking has grown so intense and visceral over the years that she’ll do almost anything to avoid speaking to groups.

Even large group meetings are terrifying. She’s beginning to realize that her career dreams will remain out of reach because of it, but she’s stuck.  Her fear of public speaking isn’t just emotional. It’s also physical. On the rare occasions when she speaks in a group, her voice shakes, she gets clammy hands, and her stomach begins to churn. Every single time she’s tried public speaking, she’s failed.

What can she do?

More importantly, what could have been possible if she’d been given a way to release her stress, fear, and shame around public speaking after being laughed at in 5th or 7th grade?

For our own protection, the brain evolved to assume the worst – it’s biased toward negativity.

THE BRAIN’S “NEGATIVITY BIAS”

Before we look at how to halt the pattern of stress that’s preventing Jenny from being a successful public speaker, it helps to understand the human brain’s “negativity bias.”

For our own protection, the brain evolved to assume the worst – it’s biased toward negativity. ln his book Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson, PhD, explains this concept in more detail:

“Our ancestors could make two kinds of mistakes:

(1)  thinking there was a tiger in the bushes when there wasn’t one, and

(2) thinking there was no tiger in the bushes when there actually was one.

The cost of the first mistake was needless anxiety, while the cost of the second one was death.

Consequently, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once.”

Hanson continues: “ln general the default setting of the brain is to overestimate threats, underestimate opportunities, and underestimate resources both for coping with threats and for fulfilling opportunities. Then we update these beliefs with information that confirms them while ignoring or rejecting information that doesn’t. There are even regions in the amygdala specifically designed to prevent the unlearning of fear, especially from childhood experiences. As a result, we end up preoccupied by threats that are actually smaller or more manageable than we’d feared while overlooking opportunities that are actually greater than we’d hoped for. ln effect, we’ve got a brain that’s prone to ‘paper tiger paranoia. 1114

We see this “negativity bias” play out in Jenny’s story.  After that one negative experience in 5th grade, Jenny’s fear of speaking in groups became so ingrained that it prevented her from participating in any form of public speaking, and her fear was still limiting her in her 30s. That’s her brain’s “negativity bias” at work.

To put it another way, because of how our brains have evolved, negative experiences routinely outweigh positive ones.

The psychologist Daniel Kahneman received the Nobel Prize in economics for showing that most people will do more to avoid loss than to benefit from an equivalent gain.  ln intimate relationships, we typically need at least five positive interactions to counterbalance every negative one.  And for people to begin to thrive in life, they usually need positive moments to outweigh negative ones by at least a three-to-one ratio.5

For people to begin to thrive in life, they usually need positive moments to outweigh negative ones by at least a three-to-one ratio.

So how can we reverse this process, and prevent the stress Jenny experiences in 5th grade from interfering with her success in 7th grade and beyond?

The incredible results that Tapping has demonstrated in relieving stress may be explained, at least in part, by its ability to access meridian channels.

TAPPING INTO THE RELAXATION RESPONSE

The secret to unraveling Jenny’s pattern of stress around public speaking lies in the body’s opposite response—the relaxation response.

In this more positive state of mind, cortisol levels in the body naturally go down. As a result, Jenny can more easily access the creative center of her brain. Her body can once again support healthy digestion and metabolism, among other processes. She’s also less susceptible to illness and physical pain from headaches, stomachaches, injuries and more.

The question is, in a case like Jenny’s, how can we quickly disrupt the stress response and initiate the relaxation response? There’s a growing body of research suggesting that Tapping, or EFT, is a simple but powerful way to do exactly that.  In a double-blind study conducted by Dawson Church, Ph.D., the control group, which received conventional talk therapy, showed only a 14 percent drop in cortisol levels, whereas the Tapping group showed an average decrease of 24 percent, a substantial and important difference. Some study participants experienced a decrease of as much as 5O percent in their cortisol levels. Within both groups, these changes all took place within a one-hour period.

The incredible results that Tapping has demonstrated in relieving stress may be explained, at least in part, by its ability to access what are called meridian channels.

You can think of meridian channels as a fiber-optic network in the body. They carry a large amount of information, mostly electrical and often beyond what the nervous system or chemical systems of the body can carry. By accessing these channels while processing emotions, thoughts, and physical conditions like pain, Tapping gets to the root cause of stress more quickly than other stress relief techniques can.

Given that Tapping sends calming, relaxing signals directly to the amygdala, it may also help us to override the brain’s negativity bias more rapidly.  By using Tapping to neutralize what it thought were threats to its survival—which in Jenny’s case was public speaking—we may be able to reprogram the brain to support more positive experiences.

After 10 or so minutes of Tapping on her memory of speaking in front of the class that day, Jenny calms noticeably. She’s smiling again and quickly falls asleep.

TRANSFORMING JENNY’S FUTURE

Given also what we now know about Tapping and stress, let’s take a quick look at Jenny’s 5th-grade public speaking experience, and how Tapping could have transformed her future from an earlier age.

ln this version of the story, she’s just finished her humiliating turn at the front of the class. Her face is burning with shame, and she feels mortified.

That night at home, her parents notice that she seems bothered, and ask her if she wants to talk about anything. She says no, but then at bedtime, she shares what happened in class when she read her essay aloud. As she tells her parents the story, she begins crying. Her parents ask her if she wants to do some Tapping on the experience.

After 10 or so minutes of Tapping on her memory of speaking in front of the class that day, Jenny calms noticeably. She’s smiling again and quickly falls asleep.

Two years later, Jenny again feels a bit nervous about reading her 7th-grade essay aloud to her class but remembers to tap on her anxiety. During that time, she’s able to enjoy writing her essay and then has a successful speaking experience.

Throughout middle and high school, Jenny becomes very involved in theater, regularly using Tapping on performance anxiety, and finds that she loves to perform.

Once out of college, Jenny is able to use her speaking and presentation skills in her career. During the many years that follow, she is given ample opportunity to fulfill her potential and pursue her passion and interests.

What a difference, and all of that from 10 minutes of Tapping in 5th grade!

Watch the Tapping Solution Foundation’s excellent video “Tapping for Stress Relief in Classrooms”

Listen to IP Editor-in-Chief Sandie Sedgbeer’s recent interview with Nick Ortner on OMTimes Magazine’s flagship radio show What Is Going Om in which Nick shares his own journey into the world of tapping, and why he’s now advocating teaching mindful breathing and tapping in schools and to preschoolers to help them deal with the escalating stresses of everyday life as well as specific situations.   Click to listen on OMTimes Radio.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


NICK ORTNER is the NYTimes best-selling author of The Tapping Solution series of books which have helped millions of people across the globe find freedom from mental, physical and emotional pain, stress, and challenges.

A leading teacher and proponent of the benefits of meridian tapping and mindfulness, he is the CEO of The Tapping Solution and author of The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living and creator of “The Tapping Solution” documentary, which inspired five online Tapping World Summits. In addition to bringing tapping methods to the survivors of the Sandy Hook tragedy, hoping to heal the community of Newtown, Connecticut after the school murders, Nick Ortner’s Tapping Solution team has raised over $250,000 for tapping-related charities such as ProjectLight: Rwanda, The Veterans Stress Project, and You Can Thrive.

Dedicated to sharing the power of our breath to transform kids and adults alike, Nick Ortner has just released his second children’s book, My Magic Breath: Finding Calm Through Mindful Breathing (HarperCollins Children’s Books Ages 4-8 | Grades Preschool-3) 

For more about Nick Ortner’s work and The Tapping Solutions’  books, videos, and courses visit www.thetappingsolution.com and www.tappingsolutionfoundation.org