Shhhh…ASMR is Here to Tuck You In and Soothe Your Anxieties

Shhhh…ASMR is Here to Tuck You In and Soothe Your Anxieties

<p>Imagine yourself in a study hall with a quiet ambiance surrounding you. People are delicately whispering, typing on keyboards, and munching on lunch in the distance. You can hear pages turning, notepads being scratched, and pencils being sharpened. For some, these minor distractions can be annoyances, but for others, they elicit a peculiar involuntary feeling called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) — a pleasant, warm, and tingling sensation that starts at the crown of the head and works its way down the body.</p> <p>If you browse YouTube or Instagram with a degree of frequency, you’re bound to have come across ASMR and its millions of supporters. The goosebumps-inducing response comes from exposure to certain audio or visual stimuli, and while it sounds like a quirky way to tickle your introversion, some are reportedly using it as a health and wellness tool.</p> <h2>How it works</h2> <p>ASMR sensations usually spread across the skull, the back of your neck, or down the spine and limbs. Others say that ASMR elicits feelings of relaxation, calm, or wellbeing (hence, its popularity as a sleeping aid). Some describe the experience as leaving them with a sense of gratitude and wholeness. </p> <p>Stimuli that trigger ASMR include:</p> <ul> <li>Talking softly </li> <li>Slow movement</li> <li>Tapping</li> <li>Typing</li> <li>Close eye contact</li> <li>Hair brushing or cutting</li> <li>Massaging</li> <li>Humming </li> <li>Light patterns</li> <li>Slowly turning a page </li> <li>Scratching, crunching, or squishing sounds</li> <li>Applying makeup</li> </ul> <p>There has been speculation from the outside that there is a pseudo-sexual quality to ASMR, but this has been dismissed by advocates who say this suggestion misses the point. What does seem like valid crossover between the two is that people are very specific about what they like and can get bored of repeating the same experience.</p> <figure><img alt="A Woman Brushing Her Long Hair | Source: Greta Hoffman/Pexels" class="img-responsive" src="https://cdn.storymd.com/optimized/kAvkWxVueo/thumbnail.jpg" /> <figcaption>Hair Brushing Can Be an ASMR Trigger. <em>Source: Greta Hoffman/Pexels</em></figcaption> </figure> <h2>History of the term</h2> <p>ASMR media tends to focus on subtle stimuli that are magnified for the video but would otherwise be negligible in real life. The idea has been around longer than YouTube and was arguably described in classic literature by Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, among others. </p> <p>The calming experience of watching Bob Ross work his magic on the canvas has also been described as an early form of ASMR. In Ross’s case, it was more about the painter rather than the painting itself that elicited the mysterious ASMR feeling in viewers: “It was his demeanor. It was the sounds he made and the way he talked — the way he looked in the camera,” commented Craig Richard, a professor of physiology at Shenandoah University in Virginia, to the New York Times.</p> <p>In the digital realm, the term is linked back to a YouTuber called Jennifer Allen who first described it in 2010. </p> <h2>Benefits of ASMR</h2> <p>How ASMR works varies greatly from one individual to the next, and many don’t get it at all. Making things greyer is the fact that science has been slow to catch up with ASMR, so most of our understanding is anecdotal. </p> <p>As is obvious from the list above, people get the ASMR feels from all sorts of triggers. Some folks enjoy a kind of role-play in which the creator provides close personal attention and whispers to them, while others get it from seemingly mundane tasks getting a highlight, like the sound of stirring soup or the crinkliness of paper wrapping.</p> <p>Although research lags, the reported benefits of ASMR include:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Improved mood</strong>. A 2015 study of 475 ASMR enthusiasts revealed that 80% improved their mood after exposure. This effect did not stick as long in people with higher levels of depression.</li> <li><strong>Pain relief</strong>. The same study found that participants living with chronic pain experienced relief that continued for up to 3 hours after exposure to ASMR.</li> <li><strong>Flow state</strong>. This refers to losing yourself or your sense of time when deeply involved in a task. Similarities between ASMR and the experience of flow have been reported in the literature.</li> <li><strong>Pleasure</strong>. The ASMR shivers and tingles can be highly pleasurable and relaxing, and these feelings almost immediately occur with exposure to the stimuli.</li> <li><strong>Improved sleep</strong>. A repeat highlight in surveys on ASMR users is its use as a sleeping aid. The relaxing quality of these videos may help people transition into the correct state for deep, healthy sleep by inducing the necessary brain signals.</li> </ul> <p>Anxiety relief is another popular use of ASMR. As reported by one survey participant, “I was totally amazed, I can only describe what I started feeling as an extremely relaxed trance-like state, that I didn’t want to end, a little like how I have read perfect meditation should be but I never ever achieved.”</p> <h2>What science has to say</h2> <p>Despite the technical-sounding name of ASMR, science is still scratching heads over its purpose and source. Funding is hard to justify for research, and the diverse and complex nature of the data makes things messy. </p> <p>We do have some research that leans into harder science by using fMRI to map the activity of blood flow in the brain while participants engage with ASMR and get the tingles. The findings suggest there may be a social bonding effect happening through what’s known as “affiliative behaviors”, which release feel-good hormones like oxytocin. </p> <p>On a related point, experts have chimed in saying that there may be an evolutionary component to ASMR. The tingles have been theorized to assist in reproduction and survival, since grooming, whispering, and eye gazing strongly overlap with how we soothe infants. For adults, similar behaviors can enhance intimacy between mates.</p> <figure><img alt="Maternal bond - Gaze Response in Infant Brain | Source: TheVisualMD" class="img-responsive" src="https://cdn.storymd.com/optimized/RA8W88S9q9/thumbnail.jpg" /> <figcaption>Maternal Bond - Gaze Response in Infant Brain. <em>Source: TheVisualMD</em></figcaption> </figure> <p>Other research has found significant reductions in heart rates when watching ASMR videos. This stress reduction was comparable to the effect garnered from music therapy and meditation, but whether ASMR could be used as an effective therapy tool isn’t clear.</p> <p>Not everyone appears to enjoy or benefit from ASMR. Some people have even reported feeling stressed or sad over it; others feel nothing at all. ASMR isn’t considered harmful, but some have experienced “immunity” to it by watching too many videos, meaning they are now overly accustomed to the stimuli and no longer generate that tingling sensation. </p> <p>Some of the more fringe ways in which ASMR may become a useful tool are with ADHD and autism. Research has already shown that meditation and mindfulness exercises can help with focus for people with ADHD, and, given the crossover in the effects that ASMR produces, it is also being used as a tool for those who struggle to hold their attention.</p> <p>ASMR can enhance the flow state which locks people’s focus into the task at hand, so it’s theoretically possible it may help with ADHD. There are plenty of popular ASMR channels with content specifically geared toward ADHD.</p> <p>Elsewhere, scientists are looking into whether ASMR could be a therapy tool for autism. Its ability to aid anxiety and stress related to emotional self-regulation could help to keep people in check. For those who need something calming or soothing after a meltdown, ASMR may also be of use. One hangup is that some autistic people suffer from misophonia (overstimulation from sounds), and ASMR videos may do more harm than good in this scenario. </p> <p>"If the question is, does ASMR stimuli provoke a physiological response in brain activity and in the body, then yes, there is some empirical evidence that it does," said David E. Warren, University of Nebraska Medical Center neuroscience researcher. "Is there empirical evidence that ASMR reliably changes mood or has lasting effects on mental health? No, there is not. There have not yet been large-scale clinical trials demonstrating the efficacy of ASMR stimuli for those important mental health attributes."</p> <p>Interest in ASMR has exploded with millions of views and subscribers on YouTube following popular channels, but there are still relatively few studies to date, including those on the conditions that can trigger the ASMR state. It does seem that ASMR is a genuine physiological response, but we need far more research to understand its nature and benefits.</p> <h2>More on Sensory Perception</h2><ul><li><a href="https://soulivity.storymd.com/journal/j3yblk6haw-sensory-perception" target="_blank">Sensory Perception</a></li><li><a href="https://soulivity.storymd.com/journal/wzo3rq90lm-anxiety-and-complementary-health-approaches" target="_blank">Complementary Health Approaches for Anxiety</a></li><li><a href="https://soulivity.storymd.com/journal/j5xenlk0nw-sleep-disorders-and-complementary-health-approaches" target="_blank">Alternative Treatments for Insomnia and Other Sleep Problems</a></li></ul>

Related Stories

No stories found.
logo
Soulivity Magazine
soulivity.com