By Mennatalla Ibrahim
Special to the AFRO
Whether it’s work, school, money or the daily hassles of life, stressors are all around us. While there’s no denying the need to integrate self-care into our lives, many have found that traditional forms of therapy don’t work for them. As a result, these individuals have instead turned to alternative practices, such as tapping, crystal healing and acupuncture for the comfort and clarity they are seeking.
Tapping, otherwise known as Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping, is a form of self-applied acupressure stimulation that is often accompanied by traditional talk therapy techniques. This practice, developed by Gary Craig in the early 1990s, is primarily used to combat stress, anxiety, trauma, phobia and many other intense emotional and physical ailments.
“Tapping is basically like pouring water onto the fire of an emotion. It neutralizes the emotional reaction in the body,” Allison Ewing, a Chicago-based EFT practitioner and licensed psychotherapist and clinical social worker, said.
There are nine tapping points, otherwise known as energy meridians or acupressure points, on the body. These tapping points include the eyebrow, the side of the eye, under the eye, under the nose, the chin, the collarbone, under the arm, the top of the head and the side of the hand. According to Ewing, when stimulated, these points send calming signals to the amygdala, which is the fight-and-flight part of the brain, overriding the body’s biological response to a trigger.
“Once we’ve neutralized their biological reaction , people will typically say, ‘It’s so weird. I remember it still, but it’s like someone else’s story.’ That’s because they’re no longer having a physiological reaction when they’re thinking about the memory, so it feels distant,” Ewing said.
Studies have shown that tapping reduces the body’s levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, by an average of 24 percent. Follow-up studies indicate that the benefits of tapping last for up to two years since it impacts the brain’s stress and memory centers. Its benefits are most often compared to those seen through meditation and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR).
During a very stressful time a year ago, Daranee Balachandar, a master’s student at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism, turned to tapping as a form of stress relief and anxiety management after her cousin came back from a wellness retreat recommending the practice.
“The first two times were kind of strange, but then I started using it multiple times every day. It became a routine,” Balachandar said. “I would go to work a little earlier, and take five minutes to sit down and tap, which usually set me for the day.”
While tapping can be a fairly effective self-help tool, Ewing recommends working with a practitioner, especially one who has a mental health or psychotherapy background, when it comes to navigating big trauma.
“Sometimes you can start tapping on and other emotions come up that you didn’t expect or that you don’t really know how to handle,” Ewing said.
Both alone and with a practitioner, tapping is often also accompanied by saying self-affirmations, or scripting.
“Saying affirmations while tapping can allow our nervous system to soak in what we’re saying and what we want to believe, but what we always want to do is really say things that are true to us. We always have to be careful about how and what affirmations we are saying,” Kristin Curtis, a certified Massachusetts-based tapping practitioner, said.
Through their years of professional experience with EFT, Curtis and Ewing have found that tapping is most common among young people with concerned parents or who have stumbled upon tapping online, as well as those of higher socioeconomic and educational status.
“Tapping is definitely viewed as something that isn’t accessible, but I want tapping to be available for everyone, so getting the word out to more people that you don’t always need to work with a practitioner in order for this tool to be effective is important,” Curtis said.
Whether it’s at soup kitchens or during turbulent times on a flight, Curtis and Ewing have made an effort to teach those around them about tapping in an attempt to calm their nerves.
“I recommend it to anyone who’s willing to try it out. If you’re interested in mindfulness, it’s something you can easily build into your routine and it’s quite worthwhile,” Balachandar said.
Crystal healing is the act of using gemstones to bring balance to an individual’s life and mind. This practice dates back to the ancient belief that crystals have healing properties that help purify, balance and realign the mind, body and soul.
While there is no scientific basis for this practice, crystal expert Judy Hall explains in “The Little Book of Crystals” that each crystal has a unique frequency and energy field with a stable and unchanging pattern, which allows them to act like “tuning forks” to the “unstable energy field of the human body.”
Though Leila Cox, a master’s student at the Merrill College of Journalism, has been gifted a plethora of crystals and gemstones by her Moroccan grandfather throughout her life, she began intentionally collecting crystals for healing in 2020. In the past three years, Cox has collected around 15 crystals, including rose quartz, aquamarine and garnet.
“I am really intentional with the that I grab and receive,” Cox said. “When I’m feeling low or like I need a boost, I go to my crystals. I’ll either hold them in the palm of my hand, keep them in my purse with me when I’m walking around or lay them out when I’m practicing my yoga and meditation.”
There has been a recent surge in the popularity of crystals and crystal healing. Since 2014, there has been a steady increase in Google searches for “crystal healing”. A unique spike in popularity was seen during the COVID-19 pandemic when the hashtag “ #crystaltok ” began trending on TikTok, sparking over two billion views and a wide assortment of celebrities publicizing their love of crystals.
Despite this growing popularity, Cox didn’t know anyone who practiced crystal healing when she started her own journey, which was a product of the stress that accompanied the pandemic and the crossroads she felt she was at as she approached graduation.
“I didn’t have anyone to go to, which is why I did a lot of research on what certain crystals mean, where they come from and how to ethically pick them out. I’m really learning on my own with the support of my family and friends,” Cox said.
Like many others who practice alternative healing forms of self-care, Cox’s crystal healing is often accompanied by other mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga and journaling. Cox believes that her crystals have taught her to be more emotionally intelligent, be more grounded in who she is, and find a better mental state.
As she continues her healing journey, Cox hopes to meet other Black women who practice crystal healing and meditation. She also hopes to continue being intentional with everything she does and to one day become a yoga instructor, teaching and inspiring others to prevail in their spiritual journeys.
“Mental health in the Black community and other marginalized communities is super important. I truly believe that if your mental health isn’t right, you’re not going to be able to live the life you deserve,” Cox said. “I just want to live every day with gratitude. I want to be so full of good vibrations and positive aura that I don’t allow negative things, especially things out of my control, to bring me down.”
Acupuncture is the technique of inserting fine needles into nerve-rich areas of the skin to treat health problems. This practice is an ancient Chinese medicine that has been both studied and practiced for thousands of years. Acupuncture is widely used for both physical pain like cramps, migraines and allergies, and psychological pain, such as depression, insomnia and anxiety.
According to Paul Kempisty, a New York-based licensed acupuncturist, acupuncture produces tiny injuries at its insertion sights. Though these cuts are slight enough that they cause little to no discomfort, contemporary research has found that they are enough to signal to the body that it needs to respond.
“This response involves stimulation of the immune system, promoting circulation to the area, wound healing and pain modulation,” Kempisty told Healthline.
Taylor Nichols, a 29-year-old Seattle native who is currently pursuing her Master’s of Journalism at Merrill College, was first recommended acupuncture by her massage therapist for her chronic back pain.
“The first time I did it, I was like ‘This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done.’ I felt like I was high on downers or something. I felt so relaxed and so tired and so zen. I felt like every weight was lifted off of me,” Nichols said.
Though Nichols claims that this feeling has not been replicated through any follow-up acupuncture sessions, studies indicate that it is a very common one as it can be attributed to the dopamine released during acupuncture. However, according to Kempisty, there is no universal response to acupuncture. While some feel “relaxed and a little tired,” others feel “energized and ready to take on anything”.
In contrast to the belief of many Western practitioners, traditional Chinese medicine explains this practice as balancing the flow of energy, known as chi or qi, which is believed to flow through meridians in the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. Therefore, inserting needles into specific points along these meridians rebalance energy flow.
This is particularly relevant for people like Nichols who believe in the flow of energy.
“I believe that I had trauma trapped inside my body that was causing the chronic pain. I think acupuncture worked really well for me because it was a blend of “science” and energetic healing,” Nichols said.
While acknowledging that there were many other stressors in her life at the time that may have contributed to this physical and emotional pain she was experiencing, Nichols emphasizes the importance of being intentional with taking care of yourself and aligning your energetic frequencies.
“A lot of people end up in the alternative medicine space because Western medicine isn’t designed to treat the root of the problem.,” said Nichols. “Our society isn’t designed to live your life to your optimal well-being, so set aside time for yourself to feel better and try things.”