ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a phenomenon that has been attracting a lot of attention in recent years. While it has always existed, until relatively recently, people who experienced ASMR were left trying to explain what it was, and what it felt like, to confused-looking friends and family. ASMR is a head-tingling, pleasant and relaxing sensation that some people get when they hear certain sounds or are touched in certain ways (such as having their hair brushed at the hairdressers’). Those who can experience it describe it as a ‘head orgasm’. It’s only been in the last couple of years that the phenomenon has become well known, thanks to the power of the Internet, and people have had the chance to communicate with others and share ASMR-inducing content.
Is there an Overlap Between ASMR and Hypnosis
Meditation, ASMR and hypnosis are three things that are not fully understood by the scientific community and that have some overlap. Researchers suspect that ASMR is an evolutionary response that relates to how we would calm children and how we would bond with people. ASMR helps people to relax and supports the release of oxytocin and serotonin too, as well as endorphins. According to ASMR University, who specializes in the study of the phenomenon, ASMR helps to produce a low-level state of relaxation.1 Meditation is a much more intentional relaxed state, and hypnosis is a form of deep, unconscious relaxation.
What Happens During Hypnosis
While there is still a large number of people who are skeptical about hypnosis, the truth is that there are a number of changes that occur in the brain when you are hypnotized. Dr. David Spiegl from the University School of Medicine at Stanford led some research that found that some parts of the brain relax during hypnosis, while others become more active. People who are hypnotized experience a decrease in activity in a part of the brain called the dorsal anterior cingulate, which is a part of the brain’s salience network. That part of the brain helps people to compare context and to decide what they should be worrying about and what isn’t worth worrying about.2 The changes in the brain are visible during brain scans, and that alone should be enough to prove that hypnosis is far more than just a stage trick.3 People who can be hypnotized show a clear response in an fMRI, and people who are resistant to hypnosis do not show that response. The next stage, for researchers, is to understand why some people are more responsive to hypnosis than others and to determine if there is a way to harness hypnosis for reliable therapeutic effect.
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People who are hypnotized stop worrying about and evaluating instructions, and instead focus on just following the instructions. Researchers have shown that hypnosis really can make people relax and reduce feelings of pain and stress, and that this can help with everything from anxiety to willpower-requiring tasks such as quitting smoking. Hypnotists can’t make someone do something that they do not want to do, but they can help them to get into ‘the zone’, and just do things without thinking about them.
Hypnosis and ASMR
The people who perform hypnosis tend to be attentive, responsive, benevolent, and sensitive. They have to be to help the person who is being hypnotized to relax. These characteristics are also things that you will see in an ASMR role-play video. For many people, ASMR triggers are things like the hairdresser or the optician. Indeed, there are videos of fake eye check-ups that have hundreds of thousands of views.
ASMR role-play videos will have the video maker ask a question, wait for the viewer to respond, and then ‘answer’ based on what it’s expected that the viewer says. Some people can’t suspend disbelief in that scenario and enjoy the experience enough for it to trigger ASMR, but for those for whom it is effective, it’s a great option. The video helps the viewer feel closer to the person and as if they’re being attentive to them, and this prompts the release of oxytocin, a feel-good chemical.
It is thought that oxytocin is important in hypnosis as well. For hypnosis to work, the subject and the hypnotist need to bond with each other. One study found that people who were relatively resistant to hypnosis became more responsive to hypnosis if they were administered oxytocin via a nasal spray before the attempt at hypnotism.4
ASMR and hypnosis are different phenomena. There is some overlap in that hypnosis often uses soothing voices, repetitive sounds, and careful attention, but they are different responses and the overlap is limited. There are many people who can feel ASMR who report that they are not responsive to hypnosis, and there are people who report the opposite – that they can be hypnotized, but they are yet to find their ASMR trigger.
Using Mental Hacks for Improved Wellbeing
One of the draws of ASMR, and indeed hypnosis and meditation, is that these phenomena can help to treat insomnia, soothe anxiety, and help with stress and overall mental wellbeing. Whether someone is struggling with anger or sadness, finding ways of destressing is important. ASMR can help someone who is tense and ‘hyped up’ to relax enough that they may be receptive enough to be hypnotized or to be able to try meditation for themselves.
There are more than 9.6 million ASMR videos on YouTube, and some big brands, including IKEA, have gotten involved with the phenomenon.5 From that perspective, it is clear that it is popular, that a lot of people feel it is effective, and that it could be a good form of self-care. It is no substitute for a qualified medical professional, though, and some researchers fear that misguided or desperate people might try to treat it as such. ASMR can help, but it is vital that those who are struggling the most seek advice from a doctor.
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