ASMR is a huge fad, but also a well-kept secret, something many people haven’t heard of. The initials stand for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” which is a mouthful. The idea, though, is simple. It’s based on the discovery that certain soft movements and sounds trigger feelings of euphoria, often felt as tingling sensations running down the spine or inside the brain. Not everyone will feel the tingles with ASMR triggers. Why some people do and others don’t is a mystery. Those lucky enough to experience the sensations eagerly watch the growing collection of YouTube videos that cater to ASMR fans.
ASMR has the potential to become more than an internet fad. For many, it might offer a solution to common health problems such as sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and a whole range of stress-related issues.
Intentional and Unintentional ASMR Triggers
Many YouTube videos are deliberately made to evoke ASMR, such as those created by Maria Viktorovna, who runs the popular channel Gentle Whispering, which now has more than 1.7 million subscribers.
Other videos, having nothing to do with ASMR and often made long before ASMR came on the scene, turn out to accidentally trigger the tingling response. Bob Ross, who passed away in 1995, has become an unlikely star for the ASMR crowd. His mid-1980s-to-mid-1990s public television show The Joy of Painting lives on today on YouTube, where his deep baritone voice, along with the soothing sound of his paintbrush stroking the canvas, have become popular ASMR triggers.
The Feeling of Intimacy
ASMR videos often engage in behaviors that we associate with intimacy, such as whispering, looking directly into the viewers’ eyes, hair brushing, tapping and lightly touching. The sense of intimacy the videos create adds to their therapeutic effect, their ability to promote relaxation, relieve anxiety, and help viewers fall asleep.
Some critics of ASMR say the intimacy goes too far and accuse the videos of being sexually suggestive. China has actually banned ASMR videos, claiming they are pornographic. Most ASMR creators insist that the sensation their work produces is not sexual, and they are fighting back against the stigma.
Stars Eating Food
One of the stranger trends that ASMR has spawned is videos of celebrities eating food. You can watch Salma Hayak eating tostadas, Gal Gadot eating snack food and Australian actress Margot Robbie spreading Vegemite on toast and drinking champagne.
Watching a video of a favorite celebrity eating is a unique way to create a sense of an intimate connection between a star and a fan, but the popularity of ASMR eating videos goes beyond those made by famous people. Those featuring ordinary people eating are trending in South Korea, where binge-eating videos form their own genre known as mukbang.
Sounds of chewing and slurping are effective ASMR triggers. The eating videos also serve a second function, providing virtual company for people who are eating alone.
Why ASMR Is Therapeutic
People who enjoy ASMR claim many beneficial effects: relaxation, stress relief, feelings of
calmness, lower heart rates, less depression and anxiety, and relief from insomnia. Some
people describe the experience as being similar to that evoked by mindfulness meditation. Research backs up those claims, showing that ASMR can have important therapeutic benefits for both physical and mental health — specifically, that it relieves depression and physical pain.
Not everyone experiences the ASMR response when exposed to ASMR triggers. But for those who do, ASMR therapy could be an important tool in relieving the stress that is so common and so debilitating in today’s world.
At this time, no one knows why ASMR works — just that it does.
Incorporating ASMR Into Your Daily Life
You don’t have to be glued to YouTube to trigger the ASMR response. You can make it a part of your daily life by paying attention to the small movements and soft sounds around you. As you go through your day, be aware of sights and sounds in your environment that can be ASMR triggers:
- Somebody whispering or speaking in a soft, soothing voice
- Fingertips or fingernails tapping
- Scratching objects
- Eating — chewing, slurping, and sipping
- Hair brushing
- Ocean waves
- People performing repetitive tasks, like folding towels or filling out forms
A popular ASMR trigger is watching someone take care of somebody else, or experiencing that care-taking yourself. You may feel the tingling response when someone is:
- Combing, shampooing or cutting your hair
- Painting your nails
- Giving you a massage
- Cleaning your ears with a Q-tip
Not Just for 20-Somethings
So far, ASMR has been an internet fad mostly made by and for 20-somethings. That may be about to change. As more people hear about ASMR, knowledge of its benefits has been spreading throughout the world. You can find people of all ages starring in ASMR videos, including creators such as yanghaiying, who triggers ASMR responses by making crafts, RelaxingASMR who draws using different kinds of pens, and NancyToday, who irons paper.
No one can predict whether you will be one of the people who will enjoy euphoric tingles when you encounter ASMR triggers. The only way to find out is to try. Who knows — you may find an easy new way to relieve stress and banish insomnia. Who would have thought all it would take is the sound of someone whispering?