ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, but that’s a bit of a mouthful, so we’ll go with ASMR for now on. The term wasn’t coined until 2010, but this sensory sensation has taken the internet by storm in recent years. Give thanks to social platforms like YouTube, mostly. And perhaps we can reap the ASMR health benefits.
What is ASMR?
It’s a sensory reaction to certain stimuli. What you get is a pleasant tingle/goosebumps feeling. Then the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, pimples appear on your arms and you go into a relaxed state. It comes from both visual and audio stimuli. Also, in some cases, perhaps in a more intense ASMR, the warm feelings travel to your arms, legs and lower back.
You know those metallic head massager thingies? Okay, so it kinda feels like that. The feeling originates at the top of your head, travels to the back of your shoulders and down your spine. And many of you will know what I’m talking about – you’ve experienced it yourself! But there will probably be an equal number of you who haven’t, which is perfectly normal too. You see, not everyone experiences it, and we’ll try to answer why that’s the case very soon.
But there are common triggers, and the 4 main ones are:
- Personal attention
- Crisp sounds
- Slow movements
FYI, when I say crisp sounds, I’m not necessarily referring to the crunching noises of a packet of crisps. But it could be that, along with fingernails tapping a table, playing with bubble wrap, chewing on a piece of honeycomb or crunching into a pickle. To be honest, the list is endless and many ASMR therapists are constantly coming up with new imaginative ways to induce a response. Because it’s such a personal thing, different noises cause relaxation in only a proportion of all people claiming to have ASMR.
So what triggers it? We can definitely make a fairly good generalization here, but it’s different for everyone. What induces tingles in one person may not do it for the next. A lot of viewers (myself included) gravitate towards certain ASMR therapists (the people who create the content) because they produce a stronger response than others.
Let’s note that it’s not sexual arousal, which is a common misconception. Rather, its deep relaxation. A static sensation in the scalp, neck, and spine. Before it was defined in 2010, it used to be called Attention Induced head Orgasm, so that may be where the confusion with sexual arousal comes from. Moreover, it has rooted physiological and psychological effects, putting you into deep tranquillity.
The main differential would be ASMR causes a reduction in heart rate. Whereas all forms of sexual activity (even just sexual arousal thoughts) increases excitement and therefore your heart rate. ASMR is almost like going into a state of mindfulness; a meditative state where your heart rate lowers and increase skin sensitivity levels. Many would describe it as more than just a feeling.
So what could disrupt this peaceful state? Well, the total opposite to a calming noise. Vacuuming and aeroplane noises are up there with the biggest disturbances for ASMR. I would have to say vacuuming is literally the most annoying sound ever. Perhaps the worst sound known to the human race…
So its no surprise studies have shown they’ll break the ASMR.
Does everyone experience ASMR?
So it’s actually an involuntary response – you can’t help it. Personally, I experienced it as a kid without even knowing it and just assumed this is something everybody feels. However, this isn’t the case. Many of you will find it pleasant visiting the opticians, getting your haircut, reminiscing on storytime in primary school with the teacher’s soft-spoken voice. These are all forms of ASMR.
The key difference is ASMR therapists will induce the feelings intentionally. And they’ll come up with many creative ways of doing so:
- Medical checkups, such as an annual physical exam
- Eye checkup from your optician
And many, many more examples. Also, all of the above styles of ASMR videos involve a role-play. Meaning, the ASMR therapist will perform the role of a doctor, interviewer or masseuse, etc. and dress up as such (cosplay). It’s a highly effective technique because it makes it seem very real because you think you are the patient and placed in that position. After all, one of the key drivers of ASMR is personal attention – the focus is on you. And what human being doesn’t like some attention, even if it’s just a little? It’s human nature, after all.
A prime example is a collaboration we did with WhisperAudios ASMR with Honey Gusto. Charlette Hastings runs the channel and is an excellent ASMR therapist. We worked together to produce an ear exam video that used our irrigation kit to flush out compacted earwax. After all, how else are you going to fully experience the tingling sounds of ASMR with clogged ears, right?
Furthermore, even the people that do experience ASMR feel they need to be in the right environment. Meaning in a quiet room and/or with noise-cancelling headphones. You are focused on that one thing – the visual and audio stimuli of the ASMR content. A precise task is performed on you where the therapist is doing their utmost best to stimulate ASMR, and you’re completely focused with immersing yourself in the experience. So you should put a sign on your door saying DO NOT DISTURB!
Backed by science
It’s been getting a lot of traction in recent years but it’s such a new field. The first peer-reviewed journal wasn’t published until 2015, courtesy of the University of Sheffield. A probing question is why there’s a fair chunk of people who don’t experience ASMR? This is hard to answer because we don’t yet know what causes it in the first place.
What can be said are individuals respond with a calming of the central nervous system, affecting all age groups. And like we said with distracting noises, medications such as sleeping pills and anti-depressants will more than likely dampen the effects of ASMR.
The University of Sheffield has been leading the way with research and conducted two studies; one was an online survey >1000 people and the other for measuring the physiological responses of 112 participants. So half the cohort from study two experienced ASMR, and the other reported no such sensations.
The University of Sheffield did another study involving 245 men, 222 women and 8 non-binary (gender-neutral: neither male or female). So all of the 475 people were recruited via social media, such as Reddit forums, and were required to watch the ASMR content. Some of the key findings included:
- 98% of the cohort agreed to seek out ASMR for relaxation, 82% for sleep, 70% for stress relief and only 5% for sexual stimulation
- 80% said it positively impacted their mood for the entirety of the day
- 38 people who had chronic pain said the therapy would reduce the ache
- 35 individuals said they experienced synesthesia – 29 of which were genuine (scientific confirmation)
So what is synesthesia? It’s where two sensations are present at the same time in response to the original stimulus. In this case: ASMR. There were 29 identified cases, so that’s a 5.9% occurrence rate, compared to 4.4% of the general population. It’s important to note that this study is biased towards followers – all of them experienced ASMR health benefits. As such, it isn’t representative of the entire population but it’s certainly worth diving into more details of a possible link.
ASMR health benefits
You could almost think of the health benefits of meditation and ASMR as interchangeable, with physical and mental wellbeing. Plus, a lot of ASMR followers experience the alleviation of sleeping disorders, depression, stress, and chronic pain. Together with a great way to unwind after your 9-5 grind. And many people experience long-lasting effects positively affecting their mood hours after their ASMR session. Therefore, it could be a great way to start your day as well.
Most importantly, we cannot escape the figures. 35% of Americans suffer from some form of insomnia – 10% with chronic insomnia. Also, 18% of Americans above 18 years old (that’s 40 million people) regularly suffer from high levels of anxiety. There definitely could be a link with anxiety and insomnia (perhaps many other sleep disorders). Additionally, it could be a great way to lessen loneliness in the elderly because of that one-to-one attention. They’ll feel an increased connectedness, the release of endorphins that’ll reduce heart rate, making them feel at ease. This would be the total opposite to euphoria and/or sexual arousal where the heart rate rises.
All in all, ASMR studies and health benefits are definitely in their infancy. But the entire community will be in agreement there are therapeutic benefits with physiological origins. A lot of people already seek this as their free source of therapy. More work is needed to see if ASMR can be prescribed as a supportive, corrective, long-term therapy. So in the future, you may be able to ditch the pills.
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