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Health & Wellness

What Is ASMR and How Does It Work?

If you're an adult who is lucky enough to experienced ASMR then you will have had your own "special secret" for many years. You'll have known that there was something different about how you experienced the world. You may not have had a word for it, but you will have likely noticed that certain sounds, sights or experiences gave you pleasurable chills.

The phenomenon you grew up experiencing is "Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response." It is hard to explain what ASMR is to someone who is not sensitive to it, but many people who have had these experiences call them head orgasms.

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ASMR Is More Than Just Tingles


ASMR is perhaps best characterized as being 'brain tingling', and it is both blissful and relaxing to experience. For most people, it is not an 'exciting rush', but rather a feeling of pleasure and relief that can create a flow-like mental state. 1 Studies show that ASMR can help to relieve insomnia, promote relaxation, slow the heart rate and help to reduce anxiety. 2

Research into ASMR is still limited. The first studies that really delved deep into the phenomenon did not start until 2015. Even now it is hard to find large sample sizes and conduct studies because researchers need to first qualify participants by vetting whether they even experience ASMR. While the phenomenon does have its own subculture it is not something that everyone is aware of, yet. This makes it hard to be sure that the people being tested really do experience ASMR.

Even so, there is a lot of evidence to show that ASMR can help with relaxation. People who struggle with insomnia, in particular, can often benefit from this experience. This is because it helps to create a nice tingling sensation which starts in the head but then moves through the limbs. Think of it as being similar to the mindful relaxation that is done in yoga. 3

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What Happens in Your Brain During ASMR?


A lot of the discussion about ASMR right now is still based on anecdotal evidence. It appears that ASMR induces relaxation and slows breathing and heart rates. However, understanding the triggers is difficult.

To someone who has not had this experience, some of the videos can seem almost sexual. Many video makers are young, attractive women, and watching them stroke, tap and handle objects could appear suggestive. However, those who experience ASMR know that the trigger is not sexual. It is activating an entirely different part of the brain.

There are some skeptics. Francis McGlone is a Neuroscientist who works at Liverpool John Moores University, and he dismisses ASMR videos as 'snake oil.' He fears that vulnerable people with depression may turn to videos for therapy when it will do nothing for them.

There are others, however, who believe there is the potential for ASMR to improve mood, reduce pain, and help to provide temporary relief from depression. The keyword there is temporary. ASMR can boost your mood in the short term. 4 It can help you to get some sleep if you're struggling to doze off from time to time. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice and those who have persistent low moods or depressive symptoms should seek the advice of a qualified medical professional.

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Testing Your Sensitivity


If you're curious about ASMR, head over to YouTube and search for the most popular ASMR videos. There are many different kinds, from tapping and popping to blowing, crinkling, whispering, crunching and more.

Some people experience ASMR from sound alone, others need to experience, or imagine, the kind of personal attention that comes from a trip to the hairdresser or the optician. Both of these scenarios exist in ASMR role play videos. These videos are relaxing and soothing and can be triggers for a lot of people. Some people who are sensitive to these experiences can't get them from videos but can get them from the real thing. If that's the case, though, you will probably already know that from your own life experiences.

Photo credits: ArnoPark/shutterstock.com, YurchankaSiarhei/shutterstock.com, Mouy_Photo/shutterstock.com, Stokkete/shutterstock.com

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