MY OBSESSION WITH ASMR
Find out how I’ve found pure relaxation and tranquility in the quirkiest of forms during these challenging times
For anyone unfamiliar with ASMR videos, I already know I’ve got a pretty big job on my hands to sell them to you. One word that repeatedly crops up when explaining my love for them is “creepy”. I’ve come to the conclusion they’re something of a Marmite phenomenon, you either love them or hate them, but I for one don’t mind admitting that I love ASMR, the videos and all who trigger! In fact, I’m constantly amazed at how something so simple can be so powerful.
“So what is it?” I hear you cry. Its acronym form sounds like corporate jargon “Where are the ASMR figures, Geoff? I need them on my desk by tomorrow!”, but ASMR actually stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response – a term coined by scientist, Jennifer Allen, in 2010. It describes the tingly, static-like sensation you feel as it cascades from your scalp, to the back of your neck and down your upper spine when exposed to certain stimuli, such as particular soft and soothing sounds or gentle touch.
Let me break it down… Autonomous because of the involuntary way these feelings happen. Sensory because of the types of nerves that bring information to your brain. Meridian from the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) – its basic concept is that a vital force of life, called Qi, surges through the body and any imbalance to Qi can cause disease and illness. And Response because of the way your body reacts to the stimulus.
I first discovered the ASMR world when working on a UK-based health and fitness magazine and wrote extensively about its benefits. I unearthed an entire community of ASMR artists (ASMR-tists as I call them) and their die-hard fans who were regularly rocking out – smoothly, of course – to ASMR-inducing videos on the web.
I realized after watching just a couple of clips that I had always experienced these feelings. I can only describe them as tingly, static-like sensations cascading down the back of my neck, triggered by specific sounds, such as someone running their fingers over a crinkly surface, rhythmically tapping their fingers on a hard surface or whispering softly in my ear. I knew I experienced these sensations but I never knew they had a name, or indeed an entire community with a growing repertoire of trigger-based videos dedicated to them.
Before I go any further, it’s important for me to stress that there’s nothing sexual about this concept. I know what some of you are thinking! The way the feelings are described and the gentle whisperings that feature in some of the online videos often raises a few eyebrows, but anyone who experiences ASMR understands it’s simply relaxing and meditative.
It’s not for everyone
Of course, not everybody experiences these feelings or is triggered by the same stimuli (which is why some people find it weird) and it got me to thinking about where it all originates. There’s a widespread theory that the aforementioned ASMR sensations produce oxytocin, your “love hormone”, which we first experience as youngsters through our mother’s touch. As a result, we associate soft, soothing tones and comforting touch with happy times, which triggers the relaxing sensation. Everyone has different levels of sensitivity, which may explain why some people experience heightened ASMR and others don’t.
This doesn’t mean those who don’t experience it are devoid of emotion or had a terrible relationship with their mother; it just means they’re less sensitive to these stimuli.
For those of us that do experience these feelings, I’ve got some great news… there are bountiful benefits to be had. I’ve found myself watching ASMR videos more frequently recently, desperate to zone out from some of the craziness and improve my sleep patterns – yes, ASMR videos should come with a warning – they can make you very sleepy. So even if you don’t experience the “tingles”, you could still reap some rewards from watching the videos.
The main benefit I have found is relaxation. ASMR helps your body sink into “rest and digest” mode, switching on the parasympathetic branch of your nervous system, helping you de-stress, lowering cortisol levels and slowing heart rate and breathing. This, in turn, can help you drift off more quickly into a peaceful slumber.
Another happy side effect of watching ASMR videos is improved concentration and productivity at work. Because many of the videos are simply a collection of sounds or inaudible whispers, they’re a little like white noise, so don’t tend to interfere with what you’re doing.
Scientists know very little about ASMR and lots of research is underway to discover more, but we do know it most definitely exists. Findings a few years ago from extensive surveys by psychology experts, Emma Barratt and Nick Davis, from Swansea and Birmingham Universities, found that it is a real thing, with the strongest sensations happening in the head, neck and shoulder areas.
My main ASMR fix is through videos, but these videos can take many different forms. Some feature simple whispering and other popular ASMR-triggering scenarios, such as having your hair or makeup done – and of course these can be triggers when done in real life, too. Then there are videos that simply contain triggering sounds, such as crinkling paper, gentle tapping sounds and even turning pages in a book.
It’s important to note that the best ASMR videos use binaural microphones / binaural recording, which is when two microphones are used (in this case positioned where each ear would be), to create true 3D surround sound as if you’re in the room. I highly recommend you listen to the videos through headphones to get the full effect.
Like the sound of what you hear? Fancy a bit of ultimate relaxation and improved sleep? Or perhaps you’re just curious as to what this is all about! The web is awash with these kinds of videos, but luckily I am something of an ASMR connoisseur and I’ve listed my top three recommended ASMR-tists on YouTube so you can get watching…
– One of my absolute faves is ASMR video blogger Maria. She has a plethora of videos on her channel “Gentle Whispering” and creates a fantastic range of videos from simple whispering to full-blown role-plays. Her props and backgrounds are pretty impressive, too. With 1.96 million subscribers – this gal ain’t messing around. Whatever your ASMR trigger, you’re bound to find the video for you
– Next up is “Latte ASMR” who also has well in excess of 1 million subscribers. I find her voice so intoxicating and she also creates a wide variety of video styles to choose from
– Finally, ASMR You Tuber Emma smith goes by the pseudonym “Whispers Red”. She has almost 1 million subscribers and is the Queen of relaxing hair play videos (in my opinion). Happy viewing.