As a child I remember playing a game where I would be sitting on the floor in front of a friend. I would close my eyes and they would draw on my back a letter or number for me to guess. That game gave me ASMR. At the time I didn’t know what it was. However, with a surge of these videos online with the “ASMR” acronym in the title and millions of views I managed to learn more about it.
What is ASMR?
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response which is also loosely known as the tingles or “brain and nerve orgasms”. These tingles can be felt in many ways but the one most spoken about is the pleasant, tingling feeling going up/down the spine. This has a tendency to make one feel relaxed and at ease and in many cases, cause the the individual to fall asleep.
What Are ASMR Triggers?
There are many types of triggers (sensory input whether visual, auditory, etc. that elicits ASMR) that I have seen available such as nails tapping on different objects, whispered story reading, unboxing, chewing/eating food, cutting foam filled with water, and so much more. The most common forms of ASMR triggers, according to research here, seem to be; role playing videos, massage, medical examination, salon/barber hair cut, head scratching, whispering and towel folding. As someone who watches a lot of ASMR videos, I don’t recall towel folding being top on the list, nor suggested by others I know into it so that took me by surprise.
What Is The Purpose Of ASMR?
ASMR videos and personal experiences are used for feel-good physical sensations in the body, but it has been known to help with insomnia, relieve anxiety and reduce stress. Many of these benefits have actually been researched in a lab setting as well as through personal reporting of experiences.
Physical Benefits Of ASMR
As mentioned before, ASMR brings about a physical pleasant, calming response. When an individual enjoys experiencing ASMR there is a releasing of a neurohormone/transmitter called dopamine from the brain and other parts of the body. Dopamine is responsible for many things in the body but in the case of ASMR it is most likely associated with pleasure-seeking for a reward benefit (example, getting the tingles[reward] from watching a massage video[pleasure- seeking]) as well as helping to regulate sleep. In a study here, it was physically indicated by a reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance. Skin conductance, also known as electrodermal activity, is a very minute electrical charge dependent upon the state of the sweat glands on the skin. Interestingly, the physical response of reduced heart rate as well as skin conductance during ASMR is indicative of experiencing both calming and arousal (mostly non-sexual in ASMR) at the same time. With the presence of dopamine, the calming, warm feeling with tingles and reduced heart rate most certainly makes a good recipe for comfortably falling asleep. This is also like experiencing two opposite emotions simultaneously making ASMR quite an interesting experience.
Mental/Emotional Benefits Of ASMR
While the body is calm, there are also some mental/emotional benefits. Oxytocin, a neurohormone (known as the love/bonding hormone) secreted/released from the brain has been found during an fMRI research study here to attach to receptors in the median prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for aspects of our social life and awareness. So when an individual is watching an ASMR video, for example, there is a sense of relatability and feeling of personal attention. Endorphins (neurohormones) responsible for pain and stress relief is also secreted by the brain during ASMR experiences. From what I have discussed with other individuals, and has been backed by research here is that most individuals who enjoy ASMR do it because it helps them to; relax, reduce stress and for some, relieve anxiety.
My Experience With ASMR
As I mentioned prior, my first memorable experience with ASMR was in my early childhood. However with the surge in popular ASMR video with millions of views, I’ve come across them more and more. I began watching videos over 5 years ago as a form of relief from any physical discomfort I was feeling. For example, if I had tension in my shoulders I would watch a massage ASMR video that targets the shoulder, back and neck area. Seeing the hands glide and pay special attention to certain areas on the massage model’s body would allow me to also experience that feeling. Listening to the skin sounds was also another plus making the experience real. I thought ASMR helped, especially during times when I couldn’t go out to get the massage. Other favorites of mine are medical exams and role playing.
One thing I haven’t seen mentioned in ASMR research are the extraction/pimple popping videos with an ASMR label in it’s title. I enjoy those specifically because it provides a form of an anxiety outlet… meaning, if for whatever reason I have felt anxious about something in daily life, I would watch some of these videos and feel better afterwards. There is an element of problem solving where there is an annoyance that is super aggravating and must be dealt with with precision and care with personal attention. I find this is more of an emotional trigger than a physical one with the pure intention of finding relief after each extraction is cleared and is left for the body to finish healing. After watching many of these videos I have found whatever anxiety I was feeling prior to watching go away. I would conclude my video-watching sessions with something more pleasurably tingling (such as massage) that allows relaxation and sleep.
Not Everyone Gets ASMR
Despite the rising popularity of ASMR videos online, not everyone experiences this sensation. There are some theories behind this with one of them being that it is possible that in order to experience ASMR one must be able to feel an emotional social connection on a deeper level or have lack of inhibition when it comes to sensory-emotional feeling. For avid ASMR feelers, many would simply say that it is because a person has not found a trigger that works for them.
It is clear that ASMR has physical benefits such as helping one fall asleep and help to create a sense of bodily calm. The mental/emotional benefits of ASMR helps to reduce stress, anxiety and gives the feeling of social contact/connection. There are so many different types of triggers that elicit the autonomous sensory meridian response in different people. From, personal attention to listening to someone chew their food, there are different forms of bringing about that calm, pleasant, warm feeling and that is why those of us who experience ASMR love it.