OVERCOMING PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
I’ve been talking to a lot of other mums recently about their concerns about their children’s anxiety in trying new things. Whether it’s an area of their learning they’re not confident about (spelling, maths) or whether it’s a sport they love to play but when it’s their turn to bowl/bat or swim, their effort and skills suddenly seem to disappear into a puddle.
The common thread here is that anxiety is being a performance preventer and the worry is that this is setting up patterns for the future that won’t be healthy or productive. A really common experience is of the child not trying something new in case they stuff up, or only sticking to things they’re good at – e.g. maths – and not branching their skills into other areas – e.g. music – even if the child would be quite good at it.
So I got to thinking about how tapping could help in these situations, and that the message is not just for kids but for all of us.
Our brain is in control – but which part?
When we feel under pressure or nervous about a situation, we are operating from an area of our brain that is very primitive, called the limbic system. This is the part that activates our ‘fight or flight’ response and it acts as our anxiety ‘switch’. Our frontal lobe on the other hand, is responsible for our rational thought processes, it’s our reasoning mind which does our planning and problem solving for us, as well as modulates our emotions and language functions.
When your brain is firing off the limbic system the frontal lobe is no longer in charge, and your ability to do a task or solve a problem clearly is greatly compromised. It’s essential to calm down your anxiety response before you have any hope of approaching the task at hand by some form of relaxation (which is where tapping will help).
However what most of us do is either jump into the task anyway – when our brain isn’t in the correct ‘gear – and we have a negative experience, which reinforces our (incorrect) belief that we are no good at the task we are trying. And so the cycle of anxiety is formed.
So, how can tapping help? [to find out more about tapping go here:
In my 15 years of practising tapping (firstly as EFT and then SET), I have found it invaluable for helping with anxiety – either before, during or after an event that causes anxiety for the person. In this article, I’m going to focus on the benefit of doing tapping BEFORE we are in a situation that sets us off.
For example – your child doesn’t want to do their homework. Perhaps they’re just bored with it, or tired, but if you believe their anxiety is contributing to the problem you’ll find it takes longer and longer to sit down at their work and then even longer again to complete it.
Whatever your beliefs about homework, it can be a great source of stress for many people, student and parents alike. Along with all the other things a family does these days, it’s the last thing you all need, so it causes frustration, sometimes anger and altogether an unpleasant experience for everyone, including your child.
So imagine your child’s brain as this is happening. He/she’s already anxious to begin with as the homework tonight involves writing, and they really worry about writing. So their limbic system starts to fire off, leaving their frontal lobe wondering if it’s going to be able to control matters or not.
They believe they’re no good at it, that the other kids are faster/better and it makes them feel anxious just thinking about doing it. So they try to avoid it. But as you may or may not be aware of, anticipating a negative event only increases anxiety, and so whereas before perhaps their anxiety was about a 4/10, it’s escalating and is now 6/10. Their frontal lobe realises things are not going well and it may lose this battle of the brains!
Then you realise that you’re not going to be able to get them to eat dinner, have a bath/shower, and get them to bed at a reasonable time the way things are going and so you start to grit your teeth, raise your voice a little, you start to get angry and possibly anxious yourself. This makes your child even more uncomfortable and their fight/flight response is in full flight now, perhaps they’re a 9/10, so there’s no hope of the frontal lobe being able to switch onto problem-solving tonight.
The homework gets put aside for another day, with a little extra anxiety being thrown in for good measure as they worry about the teacher’s reaction when it’s not finished.
How can we get the frontal lobe back in charge?
Imagine the difference if you try and calm the anxiety BEFORE you begin the homework.
The limbic system may fire off as your child anticipates doing some writing, but if you look at that when it’s a 4/10, treat it with tapping, you’ve got a much better chance of settling the situation calmly and achieving what you want – their frontal lobe giving it all they’ve got, being able to concentrate without any interference from the limbic system.
You may have a calming exercise you already do with your child – e.g. deep breathing, mindfulness – but I believe tapping is a really effective, quick and simple way to calm the situation.
So, firstly I suggest learning how to do it for yourself and doing 5-10 minutes before you even broach the idea of homework. Our kids are so sensitive to our emotions and of course if this has been a pattern for you over a period of time, your own limbic system will be preparing for battle!
· Set the timer on your mobile phone for 5-10 minutes and tap continuously around and around the points (for simplicity’s sake my cycle starts at the eyebrow point and I finish at the collar bone point before heading back to the eyebrow point and going around again….and again and again! But you can do all the points in the diagram).
· Think about getting your kid to do their homework and notice if there’s any response in your body – e.g. tension, tightness in your stomach or throat – and put your focus here while tapping.
· Let your thoughts roam wild while you tap – saying things like “I hate getting them to do their homework”, “Here we go, another night of stress”, “Why won’t they listen to me and just try?”, “I don’t have time for this!”…..Let your thoughts travel their usual pathways without censorship, tapping all the while.
· When the timer goes off, spend a minute or two setting a positive intention while tapping (but don’t jump to this step first!).
Imagine how you would like to feel while asking them to do their homework – e.g. calm, clear-headed and put that state into this sentence – “WHAT IF….?”
So you would say “What if I can feel calm when I ask him to do his homework tonight?” or “What if I can remain clear-headed no matter what excuse she throws at me tonight?”
Using it with your child
Then it’s their turn. Teach your child how to do the points themselves if they’re old enough, or do it for them. I find for my own children they are quite sensitive so I massage them instead of tapping if I’m doing it for them. Explain to them that this is a little trick to help them think and work more easily and you can call it whatever you like – with my kids I call it “magic spots”, I’ve heard others say “let’s do the tap-dance”…whatever you think will work.
I tend to give extra attention to the three points around the eye (eyebrow point, side of eye and under eye) as they respond really well to those.
Kids respond quickly to the tapping process – much quicker than adults - so you’ll probably only need to do it for a couple of minutes or rounds, so you don't need to time them. Just watch for their reactions - I notice a sigh or exhale from my children and their posture relaxes. Try and get to know their needs and signals so you don’t over-tap them (there’s no harm in doing too much tapping, but they might get bored!).
And do the same thing as you did – identify (as best you can) the thing they’re worried about or where they feel it in their body when they think of the problem.
Tap for their ‘’tight tummy’ if they can articulate this or use their words to sum up their worries – “I’m worried I’m going to get it wrong”, “I’m worried I’m not going to finish” whatever it is, go with that energy.
Kids need to feel loved and validated – even if we think we are pouring love onto them, you can never do enough – so finish off their tapping with LOTS of positives.
You can use some “WHAT IFs..?” with them too:
· What if this is easier than I think?
· What if I can do it this time?
· What if I can be quicker than I expect?
· What if I can learn more easily?
· What if I actually enjoy doing it?
And I would also do a few more positives if you can, finishing off with something like “I’m a great kid, I am very much loved and I’m doing the best I can right now”.
Where to from here?
I strongly recommend documenting your progress for 30 days, setting up a simple chart or table noting if you/your child tapped that day, for how long, and rate your event out of 10. E.g. 8/10 means the homework session or musical practice session went really well and both of you kept calm.
Or you could jot notes into your calendar. Writing down your results for 30 days works two ways - it reminds you do to it, thus forming a habit, and also helps you keep to track of if/how it's working for you and your child, and you can refer to it if you need to increase your motivation.
Did I tap? How long?
Y - 10m
Y - 5m
Y - 10 m
Did my child tap today?
How was homework time/piano practice?
How was my mood?
Although practice wasn't great, I felt calm
He batted for his cricket team really well, seemed confident
Experiment with it for yourself and go wild! Try it on your own experiences – if you’ve got a job interview coming up spend some time preparing emotionally for it. It’s just as – if not more – important than deciding what clothes to wear and answers to the interview questions. If your limbic system takes over when you’re in that critical moment, you’ve got a worse chance of performing to the best of your abilities, but if your whole brain and nervous system feels calm and clear, it’s not only reassuring it could mean the difference between success and failure.
After 30 days is over you can ease up from doing it daily if you like, although there are HUGE benefits to daily tapping. Once you’re in a positive habit it would be fantastic for your nervous system to maintain it and get tapping casually into your day (using the fingertip points while you're walking for example).
Regardless, ALWAYS use it to prepare for situations you or your child may find difficult and/or have a refresher if you find the stress and anxiety building up again.
We prepare so much for events in our world by studying, writing down our speech, thinking about what we are going to wear, but tapping provides the missing piece; a simple tool to emotionally prepare effectively so you can have the best outcome possible for you.
Homework is just one area that tapping can help – kids (and adults!) can use it for all sorts of worries all throughout their lives. Learning how to make friends, exams and tests, playing sports, going to a party and feeling shy, their swimming carnival, little upsets at kids being mean or thoughtless that can become bigger.
Life is full of stressful moments, it’s how we process and react to that stress that will determine our resilience and positivity. Tapping makes it a whole lot more likely to reach our potential because it doesn’t let you get weighed down by toxic stress and anxiety.
So get tapping today - what have you got to lose?
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HOW TAPPING CAN HELP YOU CONTACT JACQUI TODAY