I had so many questions the first time I stumbled upon an ASMR video on YouTube. What was with the whispering? And the tapping? I was confused... but noticed a pleasant sensation along my head and back. It was like an invisible head scratch — there was something so calming about that strange video. Turns out, that was the point. ASMR videos, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response videos, are created to help viewers relax with these pleasant, tingling sensations. Though you might find them a bit strange at first, there are ways ASMR videos could benefit your anxiety.
It's hard to describe the feeling of ASMR if you've never experienced it, but I'll do my best. Have you ever been getting your hair brushed at the salon and realized you'd pay good money for your hairdresser to never stop? That's what quality ASMR feels like, but without the physical touch. This sensation was referred to as "head orgasms" in a piece by The Guardian, but most ASMR enthusiasts will tell you that it's not a sexual hobby. This video, created by the well-known ASMR YouTuber Gentle Whispering ASMR, is a good introduction to ASMR by someone who is a certified expert in it. She tells viewers, "This tingling sensation is euphoric. It starts in the back of your head, travels down through your spine, into your limbs, relaxing you, giving you a feeling of wellbeing." Sign me up.
One of the most intriguing things she says, however, is that she believes "everyone has the ability to experience it, it's simply a matter of finding the trigger that speaks to you." Once you find the trigger, there are plenty of ASMR videos you can find that caters to you!
Because ASMR videos are made to soothe and relax, many who suffer with anxiety claim that they're a free form of therapy for them in a way. Some people put on their headphones to drown out the world with loud music, and others put on their headphones to get brain tingles from a whispering YouTuber. But what do mental health experts have to say about it?
In an article with Slate, David Kaplan, the chief professional officer for the American Counseling Association, said that ASMR videos can fall into the same category of other techniques that focus on mindfulness, like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing. Because the ASMR effects help many relax physically, it can have a real effect on mental state as well. "You can’t be relaxed and stressed at the same time," Kaplan told Slate.
With ASMR videos soaring in popularity, scientists are eager to understand what's really going on as viewers experience these tingles. In one 2015 study done by researchers Emma Barratt and Nick Davis, 245 men, 222 women, and 8 non-binary individuals were surveyed about their ASMR watching habits. 98 percent of participants used ASMR videos to relax, and 70 percent used them to specifically deal with stress. Most notably, 80 percent of participants reported that ASMR videos had a positive effect on their mood — even those who suffered from depression and chronic pain.
For Ashley LaMar, a lifestyle blogger and mental health advocate who runs the blog Honey & Pine, ASMR videos have been a saving grace. "I discovered them on YouTube while looking for sleep meditations to help [my husband] battle his insomnia. [My husband and I] discovered ASMR instead and decided to try them out. We've been hooked ever since," LaMar tells Romper.
LaMar believes that ASMR videos are so effective for her because of their ability to distract from whatever is causing the anxiety or stress. "The quiet noises and voices help me focus on something other than what is causing my anxiety," LaMar explains to Romper. "There are a lot of different types of ASMR videos but I tend to prefer the ones with quiet whispering sounds. The soft noises take me to a calming place away from the stressors in my life." While LaMar typically watches ASMR videos before bed, she'll watch them during the day if it's been a specifically stressful one.
Stress and anxiety are, unfortunately, inevitable parts of life. How you handle these things make all the difference. Next time you're feeling overwhelmed, pop in your headphones, head to YouTube, and start exploring the wonderful (and perhaps odd-seeming, at first) world of ASMR videos.