Learn how to “tune in” to the issue with “the optimal arousal zone”

Increasing your effectiveness with EFT, part 3.

Do you sometimes feel that you have an issue you’d like to tap on but you can’t really connect to it while you are doing the tapping, and so EFT seems to hardly work at all? Learn about the “Optimal Arousal Zone” and how it can help you prevent that.

In this “Increase your effectiveness with EFT” series of articles, I’ll provide some tips as to how you can make your tapping more effective.

My name is Bruno Sade, and I’m a certified EFT practitioner with a mental health background as a clinical psychologist licensed in Argentina. I use EFT as a tool to help people change their emotional reactions and also to help them overcome their fear of rejection.

Let’s get to it then.

For EFT to work at its best, we need to be “tuned in” while we tap. In other words we need to bring the issue to our conscious awareness and connect to how it makes us feel in our bodies, and then the tapping tends to work. This is because, when we are able to do that, we are activating the neural pathways and energy pathways connected to the issue, that the tapping then uses to dissolve and calm our unhelpful reactions and triggers.

From an energetic perspective, the tapping dissolves the blocks in our energy system. And from a neuroscience perspective, it deactivates the unhelpful and excessive reactions in our limbic system (which is the irrational but very powerful part of our nervous system that somewhere down the line learned to generate those reactions as a way to keep us safe).

That’s the purpose of the setup and reminder phrases: to help us tune into the problem and activate those pathways during our tapping.

Now, when we are talking about the need to “activate” those pathways, there is an “Optimal Arousal Zone” we want to aim at. In other words, we don’t want to be “not activated at all” and we don’t want to be “overly activated” either. That’s why it’s called the “Optimal Arousal Zone”.

Let me give you some examples from my own life to clarify what I mean.

When I first learned about tapping I was so caught up in whether I was tapping on the right points, with the right frequency, using the right words, in the right language (English or Spanish, since I speak both) that I was hardly connecting at all with whatever issue I wanted to resolve. I was so in my head worrying about that stuff (which, by the way, doesn’t matter very much), intellectualizing, that I wasn’t activating the neural and energy pathways connected to whatever problem I wanted to resolve. 

Therefore, if we were to use an analogy from the famous bedtime story “Goldilocks and the 3 bears”, the soup I was drinking was “too cold”. There was a lack of activation, so the tapping I was doing in this case was pretty innocuous: it didn’t hurt, but it didn’t resolve anything else either.

So that’s one end of the spectrum: EFT doesn’t work because there’s a lack of activation of the pathways connected to the problem we wish to address, and therefore we are not “tuned in” enough to be in that “Zone of Optimal Arousal”. But what’s the other end of the spectrum?

Well, using the previous analogy from Goldilocks and the 3 bears, it’s when the soup is “too hot”. It’s when we become overly activated and overwhelmed with the negative or unpleasant emotional intensity. To the point where, if we are talking about a memory, we might feel like we are reliving it. When this happens our nervous system can become dysregulated and it can be difficult to continue tapping. In some cases this could even retraumatize us. So in this case it’s not innocuous anymore. 

This is why if we want to work on a traumatic or very intense memory it’s always advisable to do so with the help of a skilled EFT practitioner, who can use what we know as “the Gentle Techniques” to help us gain the necessary distance from that memory, and then process it in a slow, gentle and safe way. I’ll explain in another post how we can, to the best of our ability, prevent our clients from feeling exposed, vulnerable and overwhelmed with very intense emotions.

Now I’d like to illustrate all of this further with another example from my own life.

Ever since I was a small kid I’ve always had a moderately high fear of wasps. I say fear and not phobia, because I could usually think and talk about them without fear, but if there was an actual wasp nearby, it would usually make me feel quite unnerved.

The challenge for me whenever I wanted to use EFT on this is that if I wanted to tap on it at home, without any actual wasp nearby, it was very difficult for me to actually tune in to the fear. Just saying “even though I have this fear of wasps…”, didn’t do it for me. Since I couldn’t evoke any fear while being safe at home without any wasps nearby, the tapping didn’t do anything.

On the other hand, if I tried going outside, somewhere with wasps, and tap right then and there while I saw them and heard them flying around, I was able to tune in to the fear for sure, but it became too much for me. The fear that they would fly in my direction made it very difficult for me to continue focusing on the tapping, and what would tend to happen is that I would just stop tapping and go back inside.

Recently I’ve noticed that this fear of wasps seems to have calmed down. It’s not completely gone, but I’m not quite as unnerved when I see a wasp as I used to be before. So I started wondering, how did I manage to achieve that reduction in the intensity of the fear?

Well, as it turns out, what I did is I applied the advice I gave in my previous two articles: while in the safety of my home, I came up with a specific “future event” and I made sure to evoke and pay attention to what specific aspects of that event might have an emotional charge than I can evoke and tune into right now (the Gold Nugget). 

So, just saying “Even though I have this fear of wasps…” wasn’t enough to get me into the “Optimal Arousal Zone” where tapping works best, because it didn’t evoke any intensity for me. But, when I focused on: “Even though as I imagine being outside and hearing the buzzing sound becoming more and more intense, that means they are approaching me, and it makes me feel all this fear in my chest, I accept myself and how I’m feeling” that did the trick. 

That added level of detail and specificity allowed me to activate the energetic and neural pathways connected to my fear of wasps, so I was able to evoke the intensity for the tapping to then release it. Of course, there were several “shifting aspects”: the visual aspect of their size (they are bigger than many other insects), the visual aspect of how threatening/menacing their sting looks, etc. 

And because I was safe at home, and I knew there weren’t any actual wasps nearby, I didn’t become overwhelmed with the emotional intensity. So I was able to release some of my fear of wasps. I noticed though that when there are many wasps flying nearby, that still unnerves me a lot, so that is yet another aspect I need to tap on.

So, to recap, for EFT to be most effective, you don’t want to “tune in” to your issue in such a way that is “too cold” nor “too hot”. Instead you want to be in the “Optimal Arousal Zone”, which is where tapping tends to work best. 

To prevent it from being “too cold”, it can help to come up with a specific event and focus on the specific sensory details that might evoke the highest intensity. And to prevent it from being “too hot”, you need to make sure there’s enough distance and safety, which is why it’s often useful to enlist the aid of an experienced practitioner to help keep you safe and neuro-regulated throughout the session. I’ll talk more about ways to generate distance and safety in a later article.

I’d like to know, had you ever heard about the “Optimal Arousal Zone” before reading this article? What strategies do you tend to use to prevent your tapping from being “too cold” or “too hot”? Please share any comments or questions you might have below.

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