The effect of Emotional Freedom Techniques on nurses’ stress, anxiety,
and burnout levels during the COVID-19 pandemic: A randomized
Berna Dincera,1, Demet Inangilb,*
a Deparment of Internal Medicine Nursing, Faculty of Health Science, Istanbul Medeniyet University, Istanbul, Turkey
b Fundamental of Nursing Department, Hamidiye Faculty of Nursing, University of Health Sciences, 38, Tıbbiye Street, Istanbul, Uskudar 34668, Istanbul, Turkey
A R T I C L E I N F O
Received 11 September 2020
Revised 26 November 2020
Accepted 29 November 2020
A B S T R A C T
Background and Objective: Infectious disease outbreaks pose psychological challenges to the general population,
and especially to healthcare workers. Nurses who work with COVID-19 patients are particularly vulnerable to
emotions such as fear and anxiety, due to fatigue, discomfort, and helplessness related to their high intensity
work. This study aims to investigate the efficacy of a brief online form of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) in
the prevention of stress, anxiety, and burnout in nurses involved in the treatment of COVID patients.
Methods: The study is a randomized controlled trial. It complies with the guidelines prescribed by the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) checklist. It was conducted in a COVID-19 department at a
university hospital in Turkey. We recruited nurses who care for patients infected with COVID-19 and randomly allocated them into an intervention group (n = 35) and a no-treatment control group (n = 37). The
intervention group received one guided online group EFT session.
Results: Reductions in stress (p < .001), anxiety (p < .001), and burnout (p < .001) reached high levels of statistical significance for the intervention group. The control group showed no statistically significant changes
on these measures (p > .05).
Conclusions: A single online group EFT session reduced stress, anxiety, and burnout levels in nurses treating
© 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO)1
China office shared information about some pneumonia cases of
unknown etiology in Wuhan City. The WHO later named this outbreak the “Coronavirus disease 201900 (COVID-19). The rapid global
spread of the disease led to the declaration that COVID-19 was an epidemic on March 11, 2020.1 The first cases in Turkey were reported on
that date, and 7428 cases had been identified in the country by April
29.2 With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers
have assumed critical responsibilities in the control, prevention, care,
and treatment of its spread. They provide necessary health interventions for possible or confirmed COVID-19 patients, working on the
front lines and often for long hours and under harsh, fatiguing conditions. Infectious disease outbreaks have a negative psychological
impact on the general population, and especially on health
workers.3,4 Even the social distancing required to prevent outbreaks
can cause social and psychological distress.
During this period, the pressure of family responsibilities comes
into conflict with feelings of internal duty towards patients, increasing
emotional stress and often contributing to burnout.5 In studies conducted following the 2003 SARS outbreak, high levels of stress and
psychological distress were observed among healthcare workers. A
lesson from these findings is that psychological problems not handled
during a pandemic may lead to longstanding problems.6 Therefore, it
is important for any health response strategy to protect the mental
health of healthcare workers who are combating an epidemic.7 Studies
of healthcare professionals who care for COVID-19 patients, primarily
nurses, have reported symptoms of anxiety, depression, insomnia, and
discomfort.3,4,7,8 Sun et al.9 found that nurses who care for COVID-19
patients experience negative emotions, such as fear and anxiety, due
to fatigue, discomfort, and helplessness related to their high-intensity
work. Numerous studies have recently appeared which suggest that
special interventions should be applied to promote the mental wellbeing of healthcare professionals exposed to COVID-19 and to prevent
burnout.3,4,7-10 Failure to take these steps may not only create
Contributions: Study design: BD, DI; data collection and management: BD, DI; data
analysis; BD; manuscript preparation: DI, BD.
* Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: [email protected] (B. Dincer), [email protected]
edu.tr (D. Inangil).
1 Tel: +90 216 280 4149, Mobile number: +90 544 449 07 18; Fax: +90 216 280 31 99
1550-8307/© 2020 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Explore 17 (2021) 109114
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jsch
unnecessary mental health challenges for caregivers, they negatively
affect patient care and safety and can also cause an increased risk of
A promising innovation for addressing psychological distress is
called The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).12 A surprising 98% of
the efficacy studies investigating the approach show statistically significant improvements in the management of psychological distress.13 EFT
has also been shown to be effective in addressing emotional challenges
such as anxiety, depression, burnout, stress management, and fears.14-16
The basic principle of EFT is to send activating and deactivating signals to the brain by stimulating points on the skin that have distinctive
electrical properties, usually by tapping on them.14 These points correspond with the acupressure points that in Traditional Chinese Medicine are believed to regulate the flow of the body’s energies. They are
stimulated through tapping or other types of touch. Balancing and harmonizing the client’s energies is believed to relax and optimize body,
mind, and emotions.17,18 The research indicates that a broad spectrum
of the population presenting with a wide range of issues respond to
the approach.14-16,19-21 Church et al. found that self-administered EFT
provided significant improvements in anxiety, depression, pain, and
craving scores.12 A meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled EFT trials for anxiety disorders reported a large therapeutic effect for EFT
(d = 1.23 (95% CI 0.821.64, P <0.001).22
Online psychological assistance services have been widely implemented during the COVID19 pandemic.3 The State Council of China set
up psychological assistance helplines during the outbreak.3,23 Over the
first three weeks of the epidemic in the United Kingdom, a digital
learning package was developed for healthcare professionals, which
included strategies for managing symptoms of fear, anxiety, and
depression via psychological first aid and healthy lifestyle behaviors.
This e-packet was widely accessed within a week of being posted, suggesting that healthcare providers found it a useful resource for supporting their psychological health during the COVID-19 outbreak.24
Such programs demonstrate that access to psychological using technology is valued by healthcare providers treating COVID-19. Reducing
the psychological distress of nurses treating COVID-19 is an important
requirement for managing the pandemic effectively.
Studies about COVID-19 are mostly related to prevention and
treatment of the disease itself. A few have examined the psychological health challenges of healthcare professionals during the COVID-
19 outbreak. Although these studies propose a range of interventions
methods for these psychological difficulties, no research evaluating
their effectiveness have yet been conducted.
This study aims to investigate the efficacy of EFT in the prevention
of stress, anxiety, and burnout in nurses who play an important role
in the fight against COVID-19.
The three research hypotheses included:
Hypothesis 1. A single online group EFT session is effective in reducing nurses’ stress levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hypothesis 2. A single online group EFT session during the COVID-19
pandemic is effective in reducing nurses’ anxiety levels.
Hypothesis 3. During the COVID-19 pandemic, A single online group
EFT session is effective in reducing nurses’ professional burnout levels.
A randomized controlled design was used. The study complied
with guidelines outlined under the Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) checklist.
Ethical approval was granted by the Istanbul Medeniyet University Goztepe Education and Research Hospital Clinical Research Ethics €
Committee. Participants also read, approved, and signed a consent
form after being told about the nature of the study. Once the study
was completed, EFT was offered to anyone from the control group
who wanted to participate.
This study was carried out in May 2020 with nurses caring for
COVID-19 patients in a university hospital in Turkey. Inclusion criteria were: a) not having any psychiatric diagnoses, b) not taking any
courses about coping with anxiety and stress, and c) volunteering to
participate in the study.
Sample size and randomization
To determine the sample size, a power analysis was conducted
using the GPower 3.1 program, and the estimated effect size was
based on results of similar studies.25,26 The required sample size with
an effect size of 0.5 and alpha level of 0.05 was determined to be 80.
The power of the analysis with this sample size is 90.3%.
Nurses were selected as the focus of this study because of their
primary role in the treatment of COVID-19 and their vulnerability to
stress, anxiety, and burnout. Eighty nurses who met the inclusion criteria were assigned to groups using an online random number generator. The Clinical Trial Registration number was “NCT04393077.”
Eight of the participants did not complete the study. The 72 nurses
who did complete the study included 35 in the intervention group
and 37 in the control group. Fig. 1 is a flow diagram showing the
The data were collected with a Descriptive Characteristics Form, a
subjective units of distress (SUD) scale, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Burnout Inventory. We created our data collection
methods with Survey Monkey (http://SurveyMonkey.com), which
provides electronic self-access and prevents multiple data entries
from the same person, making it easier to collect and track data (Survey Monkey-Survey Development Software, http://www.surveymon
key.com, last data entry: 5/5/2020). Confidentiality was assured by
completely disabling electronic and IP address records to obtain
Descriptive characteristics form
This form was developed by the researchers to include participants’ age, gender, marital status, educational status, and how many
hours worked per week.
The subjective units of distress scale (SUD)
Wolpe developed the SUD scale in 1973. This self-report, which is
widely used, evaluates the individual’s level of subjective distress on
a scale of 0 to 10. A score of 0, indicates that there is no sense of distress and 10 indicates that the distress is almost unbearable. Participants rate the degree of distress they feel at that moment and state
the score. This score provides concrete and basic data concerning the
subjective state of the person at the time of implementation and
reflects the change at the end of the application. In this study, Cronbach’s alpha for the SUD scale was 0.89.
110 B. Dincer and D. Inangil / Explore 17 (2021) 109114
The state-trait anxiety inventory (STAI tx-1)
The State-Trait Anxiety Inventory has two separate scales, the
State Anxiety Scale and the Trait Anxiety Scale.27 The State Anxiety
Scale was used in this study. Oner and Lecompte € 28 have confirmed
the validity and reliability of the test’s Turkish version. The State Anxiety Scale consists of 20 questions about emotions, thoughts, and
behaviors which are related to anxiety. The choices on this scale
range from 1 (no anxiety) to 4 (extreme anxiety). Possible scores on
the Scale range from 0 to 19 points (interpreted as meaning no state
anxiety), 20 to 39 points (mild), 40 to 59 points (moderate), 60 to 79
points (severe), and 80 points and azbove (very severe state anxiety).
Cronbach’s alpha for the State Anxiety Scale was 0.93, while for this
study it was 0.84.
The burnout scale
The Burnout Scale is designed to measure burnout levels in professionals.29 We used a Turkish adaptation of a standardized burnout
scale whose its reliability and validity were confirmed by Capri. ¸ 30 It is
a 7-point Likert type scale consisting of 21 items. A rating of 1 indicates “never” and a rating of 7 indicates always. Four of the items (3,
6, 19, 20), however, are scored in reverse. An increase in the score
indicates an increase in burnout and a decrease in the score indicates
a decrease in burnout. In this study, Cronbach’s alpha for the burnout
scale was 0.84.
Before participating in the study, the nurses were randomized
into to the intervention or control group. Before being assigned to
group, the nurses were interviewed online, informed about the study,
and their consent was obtained. Following the completion of the
study, EFT was offered to the participants in the control group. Data
collection was carried out online with Survey Monkey and interviews
were conducted using Zoom.
After completing the Descriptive Characteristics Form, a SUD rating, the STAI-I, and the burnout scale, participants in the control
group were asked to stay comfortable in a calm and tranquil environment for the next 15 min. At the end of this period, they were asked
to again give a SUD rating and complete theSTAI-I and burnout scale.
Implementation of EFT
The 35 nurses in the EFT group were divided into 7 subgroups of 5
participants each. After completing the Descriptive Characteristics
Form online, a time for the meeting was determined in collaboration
with the participants in each subgroup. They were also asked to stay
comfortable in as calm and tranquil an environment as possible during the session. The EFT treatment was provided by the first author,
who was certified in EFT. Each 5-person group began by having the
participants complete the pre-test SUD, the STAI-I, and the burnout
scale via SurveyMonkey. EFT was applied to each group of nurses in a
single session of approximately 20 min. At the end of the session, participants again completed the post-test SUD, the STAI-I, and the burnout scale.
The EFT session began by presenting the participants with a picture of the acupressure points (Fig. 2) and showing them how to
gently tap on them using their index and middle fingers. After this
Assessed for eligibility (n=80)
Implementation of EFT
Allocated to intervention (n=35)
Allocated to control condition (n=37)
Analysed (n=35) Analysed (n=37)
Did not attend to
EFT session (n=5)
participate (n = 3)
Fig. 1. Allocation of subjects according to the CONSORT 2010 flow diagram.
B. Dincer and D. Inangil / Explore 17 (2021) 109114 111
demonstration, the participants followed the basic steps of an EFT
session, following the researcher’s example:
1 Identify an anxiety-evoking issue and determine the SUD level.
2 Creating a personal acceptance and reminder statement in the
general form of “I accept myself despite this . . .. . .. . ..”
3 Tapping seven times on each acupressure point shown in Fig. 2.
4 After tapping these points, the affirmation/reminder statement is
5 A sequence of physical movements and vocalizations called “The
Nine Gamut Procedure” is carried out.
6 Steps 3 and 4 are repeated.
7 Another SUD rating is given.30,31
The analysis was conducted by a researcher who was blind to
group assignment. After importing data from SurveyMonkey, it was
then imported into the Statistical Package for Social Sciences, Chicago, Illinois, version 25.0 and analyzed by an investigator who was
blinded to treatment condition. The data had, according to the Shapiro Wilks test, a non-normal distribution. For the statistical evaluation, Pearson Chi-Square, Mann Whitney U, Kruskal-Wallis H, and
Wilcoxon Signed Rank tests were used. All results were evaluated at
p<.05 and a confidence interval of 95%.
The 72 nurses completing the study included 64 females and 8
males. Mean age was 33.45§9.63 years. No statistically significant
pre-intervention differences were found between the groups on
demographic variables (Table 1).
Table 2 compares SUD score averages pre- and post-test within
each group and between the groups. The mean SUD score reduction
on the post-test for the EFT group was highly significant (p<.001).
The mean post-test SUD scores for the control group was statistically
identical to the pre-test. These results support Hypothesis 1.
Table 3 compares the anxiety score averages pre- and post-test
within each group and between the groups. The mean pre-test anxiety score did not differ significantly between the groups. The mean
anxiety score reduction on the post-test for the EFT Group was highly
significant (p<.001). The mean post-test anxiety score for the Control
Group was statistically identical to the pre-test. These results support
Table 4 compares the burnout score averages pre- and post-test
within each group and between the groups. The mean pre-test burnout score did not differ significantly between the groups. The mean
burnout score reduction on the post-test for the EFT Group was
highly significant (p<.001). The post-test burnout score for the Control Group was statistically identical to the pre-test. These results
support Hypothesis 3.
Fig. 2. EFT tapping points
Distribution of descriptive characteristics of nurses by group (N = 72).
Groups EFT Control x2
Characteristics (n = 35) (n = 37) p*
Age Mean § SD 33.54 § 9.83 33.37 § 9.58 .042
Weekly work hours Mean § SD 76.2 § 6.93 76.16 § 6.62 1.935
n % n %
Female 32 91.4 32 86.5
Male 3 8.6 5 13.5
Married 21 60 22 59.5
Single 14 40 15 40.5
Highest level of education
High school health education 3 8.6 4 10.8
Associate degree 4 11.4 2 5.4
Bachelor’s degree 22 62.9 26 70.3
Master’s degree 6 17.1 5 13.5
* Chi-squared test, n: Number of participants,%: Percentage, SD: Standard Deviation, EFT: Emotional Freedom Techniques, p < 0.05.
Comparison of score averages from the Subjective Units of Distress Scale before and after application according to groups.
Groups Scale EFT Group (n = 35)
Mean § SD (Min -Max)
Control Group (n = 37)
Mean § SD (Min – Max)
Z** p %95 CI Lower-Upper
SUD Before 7.82 § 1.33
0.05 0.287 3,12
After 2.85 § 1.21
7.40 § 1.53
1.935 < 0.001 5201
Z* p 16.58 < 0.001 .286 0.776
* Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test.
** Mann- Whitney U test, SUD: The Subjective Units of Distress Scale, n: Number of the participant, SD: Standart Deviation, CI :
Confidence Interval of the Difference.
112 B. Dincer and D. Inangil / Explore 17 (2021) 109114
The current COVID-19 outbreak has led to major changes in the
healthcare system worldwide. Increased workload, long working
hours, discomfort caused by personal protection equipment, fear of
contamination, and most importantly obscurity, may lead to burnout.11,32 Nurses play a key role in fighting the COVID-19 infection.
Their physical and psychological safety is of paramount importance.
According to an analysis of 14 studies conducted on healthcare professionals who care for COVID-19 patients, serious levels of anxiety
and depression symptoms were detected in up to 14.5% of the
A challenge in offering support for nurses and other healthcare
workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis is that the demands on
their time are already a source of stress, so finding the time for the
intervention may in itself contribute to further distress. Numerous
studies have found EFT to be an effective and rapid treatment for
stress, anxiety, and burnout.
EFT has been applied in many areas in which individual psychotherapy is not practical, such as the aftermath of earthquakes and
other natural disasters, following terrorist attacks, and refugee
camps.34 In the current study, a single group EFT session, within the
convenience of online delivery, led to highly significant reductions
stress, anxiety, and burnout scores.
This pilot study produced a surprising finding. A single 20-minute
online group treatment was effective in reducing stress, anxiety, and
burnout in nurses working with COVID-19 patients. These results
need to be confirmed through replication by independent investigators. The design of such replications could be strengthened by supplementing the checklist and SUD scores with interviews or
physiological measures. In other EFT studies, favorable post-treatment changes have been found in biological indicators such as cortisol levels and the expression of genes that are involved with stress.14
Follow-up investigation on the durability of the outcomes would
lend confidence about the ultimate value of the intervention. Future
studies should also utilize EFT therapists who are not part of the
As frontline workers in the treatment of COVID-19, nurses are
exposed to substantial physical and emotional pressures which may
take a toll on their mental health. A brief, single-session, online group
intervention utilizing EFT was effective in significantly reducing
stress, anxiety, and burnout. While several questions remain unanswered, such as how durable these benefits will prove to be, the
intervention is fast and easy to provide, and it could be applied to
nurses treating COVID-19 worldwide.
This research was not funded.
Declaration of Competing Interests
The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.
Supplementary material associated with this article can be found,
in the online version, at doi:10.1016/j.explore.2020.11.012.
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