ASMR is something that a lot of people experience, although they may not know that the sensations they feel have a name. ASMR, or ‘Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response’ describes the tingles and pleasing feelings that arise when people hear certain soothing sounds. It is a relaxing feeling and one that can be difficult to explain to someone who has never had it.
Not everyone can experience ASMR, and even among those who can experience it, the triggers can vary massively. What works for one person could be neutral, or even unpleasant, for others. Let’s take a look at some of the more popular and common ASMR triggers.
The ‘ASMR community’ such as there is, cannot agree on the spoken word. Some people find voices highly distracting, while others find that whispering is a great ASMR trigger for them. Indeed, while there are many ASMR videos that promise “no talking” there are others that focus heavily on whispering and relaxation and that can rack up a huge number of views.
Tapping and Scratching
Tapping and scratching is something that is popular in ASMR videos. Many of them feature women with long tails that tap their fingers on various objects as they move them around the microphone. The rhythmic sound of the tapping can be therapeutic for a lot of people.
Blowing is another sound that some people find to be a good ASMR trigger. Some people will combine blowing with other triggers. These are often done during product reviews where they will unbox a vape (with all of the satisfying crinkling of the packaging) and then drum on the box, whisper their thoughts, and then sample the vape and blow out a cloud of vapor into the microphone. Some will blow ‘into your ears’, which can trigger one of the other key elements of ASMR – the idea of individual attention.
Deliberate, Methodical Movements
Some people experience ASMR when they watch or are the subject of, deliberate methodical movements. It could be that watching someone paint while describing what they are doing is an ASMR trigger for you. Alternatively, it could be that going to the hairdresser or the optician is a trigger. Some people find that having their head touched, in particular, triggers pleasant sensations for them. While going to the hairdresser is perhaps the easiest way of getting that sensation, there are head massagers that offer similar benefits and a fortunate few that can enjoy the benefits by watching a video.
Some people experience ASMR in unusual contexts. For example, watching someone doing a very slow, methodical but skilled task, and trying to follow along, can be therapeutic for a lot of people and may even trigger a full ASMR response. It may seem weird if you don’t experience ASMR, but even something like ‘learning how to fold napkins’ can trigger ASMR in someone who is receptive to it.
Does Everyone Get ASRM?
Unfortunately, not everyone can experience ASMR through watching videos. If you are one of the people who does not experience ASMR from audio stimulation, then you may want to try using a multi-pronged head massager. These can offer a similar sensation but without the auditory requirement. Unfortunately, unlike with audio/video experiences, the sensations from a head massager will tend to fade with repeated exposure. Even so, they are a good way of explaining ASMR to someone who does not experience it the ‘traditional way’.
Why do We Feel ASMR?
ASMR can be beneficial for both physical and mental health. It can help us to sleep better, and it can reduce your heart rate while you are watching the video (and shortly after too). Researchers at the University of Sheffield’s Department of Psychology believe that ASMR is a powerful stress-reducing tool that offers similar benefits to mindfulness and meditation.1 It is thought that ASMR operates on a similar principle to how we soothe upset children and how we bond with other people. These are important survival instincts, and the ASMR as a stress-reducer is a protective instinct.
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ASMR can help us to sleep better, can reduce cortisol production and increase serotonin production as well as oxytocin. This means improved well-being and a short-term boost to mental health. Our brains have a number of hardwired survival instincts, such as perception bias, 2 that exist to keep us safe. ASMR is just one of those, and one that we struggle to make use of in the modern Western world.
Remember that a lot of ASMR triggers are quiet, subtle, and involve someone focusing either intently on a task or intently on you. Modern lifestyles leave people isolated and bombarded with information and stimuli from all corners. This means that people are less likely to experience one on one situations during which ASMR could occur. Hence turning to videos for similar stimuli.
Indeed, ASMR is not the only kind of ‘video phenomenon’ that is happening these days. There is another, the ‘Mukbang’ which is becoming increasingly popular in Korea.3 Just as ASMR can help with anxiety and insomnia, the Mukbang (live streaming of eating meals, often while talking to viewers who are also eating) can help with isolation. In Korea, the cultural norm is to eat with people, and single adults or the elderly may not be able to do that, so watching streams of people eating fills that void. ASMR offers a feeling similar to that of human contact for those who are unable (through physical disability or because of mental health issues or social anxiety) to leave the house and can help them to relax if they are struggling to sleep.
ASMR is not a cure for depression, and some experts worry that it may become so popular that it may be marketed as such. Used responsibly, however, it can relieve short-term stress and has an important role to play in improving day to day wellbeing.
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