ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response is a term that has been developing in popularity over the last few years.
If you’ve yet to hear of it, it refers to a physical feeling that some people experience after certain visual and auditory stimuli - whispering whilst making tapping noises is a common example of ASMR stimuli.
The reaction a body experiences after watching or listening to ASMR videos is usually referred to, by the more comfortable with the term, ‘head orgasms’. It’s so-called due to a physical tingling sensation an ASMR receptive user will experience in their back or neck as a response to sensory input - although these tingles can be experienced across the body as well.
In the last year, over 11 million videos have been created on YouTube with the tag ‘ASMR’, the main priority of these videos being to offer the users relaxation and comfort.
In it’s most basic form ASMR is a sensory relaxation tool, but only certain viewers experience sensations, and normally only to certain stimuli. For example, some viewers may experience tingles after watching videos featuring tapping or the rustling of paper but experience no tingles during role-plays or listening to the sound of water.
Videos are varied and there is no set way to produce tingles in a viewer, which means those unfamiliar with ASMR will, possibly, be very confused and slightly uncomfortable when they first watch a video, and may not experience any reaction at all.
ASMR is currently being studied by various scientists and practitioners around the world to discover the cause of these so-called tingles and to understand why only certain people experience them and not all.
I am one such person.
I first came across ASMR when I was watching a movie as a child. There was a scene in the movie where a character opens a box of shoes and whilst doing so she rustles some tissue paper. This sounds caused me to experience tingles for the first time and made me feel very relaxed.
As a child, I didn’t understand why, or care, I just registered that it relaxed me and therefore it was good.
I continued to find scenes like this in various films and TV shows over the years. One day, whilst at University, I went in search of some clips on YouTube knowing that they would relax me after a particularly stressful day. This is where I came across the term ASMR for the first time.
I had realised that the sound of paper turning or rustling were triggers for me, so in the spur of the moment I searched for ‘paper turning videos’. This led me to a playlist of ASMR videos by a collection of ASMR ‘artists’.
During my enlightenment period I watched many videos created by various ASMR artists, trying to understand what it was that these YouTubers did and why I found myself nearly falling asleep with a feeling of overwhelming euphoria as I watched them whispering to a camera.
At first it was a bit uncomfortable to watch as it felt slightly intimate, almost like watching very niche porn. Understandably, a lot of people - mostly those that don’t experience the tingling sensation - think that ASMR is a form of a pornography. After all, several thousand videos on YouTube are of pretty young girls whispering directly into cameras and generally wearing costumes.
Much like the ‘delivery boy’ cliche scenario of porn, ASMR has a very strong link to role-play and consequential euphoria. But the results are very different.
Whilst a few ASMR videos are sexual in nature, the majority are not. Formatively they are created to help users relax, fall asleep and calm their anxieties. A lot of ASMR artists started their channels after watching other ASMR which helped them with various ailments from depression to loneliness.
Personally, I suffer from anxiety and occasional stress-induced illnesses. Whenever these incidences occur my first thought is to sit in a quiet, safe place and listen to ASMR videos. It’s a form of self-medication which I find helps me immensely. Certainly, since I first started viewing ASMR videos at University I have been able to sleep more, and for longer, I’ve also experienced longer bouts without anxiety and feel more comfortable with my mental health.
With some trial and error over the last four years, I have managed to curate a playlist of videos and triggers that I know will cause tingling sensations and help me to relax. Much like meditation clears a person’s mind and yoga can cause a relaxing dopamine response, ASMR keeps me calm, rested and in control of my mental health.
It is not a foolproof method of relaxation, and there are times of high stress in which ASMR will not be able to help me. Also, the more you watch ASMR the less effective it becomes - another aspect scientists are studying in the interest of knowing more about the response - so you have to ration your content use. Much like pornography.
But whilst pornography is mostly predominantly sexual with a physical response, ASMR is mental with a physical response. And unlike pornography, ASMR may help people manage their mental health rather than exacerbate it.