Wellbeing / Wellness

It’s time to recognise ASMR as self-care

ASMR is the brain-tingling phenomenon you should be taking to bed. More than a decade on since its internet debut, you’ve probably come in contact with it. Perhaps you’ve scrolled past one of those viral soap-cutting videos in your feed or clicked on a Mukbang out of curiosity. Or maybe you’re thinking ASM-what?

Fret not if you’re the latter, this response would place you among the majority. Despite its heavy presence on YouTube, there is still much to be learnt about the phenomenon. Fortunately, we've done the heavy lifting to help you understand this practice.


What is ASMR?

The acronym stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and refers to a pleasurable (but explicitly non-sexual) sensation in which tingling can be felt in the scalp, neck and spine in response to specific gentle stimulus or ‘triggers.’ It’s often referred to as a ‘brain orgasm’ or ‘braingasm’ due to the euphoric sensation it creates. Like the other ‘gasm, the after effects of this experience aids sleep, soothes and relaxes anxious minds and can even counteract loneliness. 

While ASMR ‘triggers’ vary from person to person, the top contenders tend to include: whispering, gentle motions (towel folding and turning pages of a book), eating noises, tapping, crinkling and attentive roleplay. This attentive, one-on-one roleplay is particularly popular within the community. It’s said this is due to its ability to evoke a sense of nostalgia for those of us who first experienced ASMR as children within our respective classroom’s or doctor’s offices.

As a child, I adored being whispered to. Despite it being an odd request, to only be spoken to at 30 decibels or below, my family and friends would oblige. Was it a little weird? Absolutely. But it’d lull me to sleep so swiftly who were they to deny it? I couldn’t then articulate the sedative high I was experiencing, and for a time I forgot about my infatuation with whispering. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until 2010 that the term ASMR was coined by Jennifer Allen, the creator of Facebook’s first ever ASMR group and I was swept back up into that familiar tingly embrace.


Where can you find ASMR?

Today there is no shortage of ASMR content on YouTube (13 million videos and counting). The 'ASMRtists', as they refer to themselves, reel in hundreds of thousands of views on their videos doing mundane tasks like folding towels, ironing shirts or just eating their lunch. But it doesn’t stop with the mundane. The more esoteric ASMR role plays can see you transported to the woodlands with mystical fairies or in a doomsday bunker post apocalypse. 

For some, this may seem a little niche, but ASMR isn’t as far-fetched of a concept as one might think. According to Craig Richard, a professor of biopharmaceutical sciences and founder of ASMR University, 20 percent of people experience ASMR strongly, while an additional 40 percent experience it in its milder form. With an estimated 60 percent of the population able to experience some form of ASMR, it’s curious as to why it’s such a polarising topic. 

Despite it being the third most popular search term on YouTube worldwide, whenever I mention the phenomenon to friends I’m often met with collective looks of bewilderment. You watch what? They gawk, as though I’ve just exposed some grotesque fetish. It's for that reason, that whenever I find myself unable to watch these videos alone, I revert to the behaviours of a prepubescent kid who’s just stumbled upon the risqué side of the internet. Brightness down, earphones in, search history cleared.

While it is explicitly non-sexual, I acknowledge how a beautiful Russian woman (@Gentlewhispering) staring down a lens and whispering me into a slumber may see a little sketchy. For some, melatonin pills and Sleepy Time Tea does the trick, for others, like myself, watching an ASMRtist eat her weight in salmon Sashimi is more effective.

Even though the science behind ASMR is still being established, of the minimal studies that have been conducted, the use of scans to monitor the brain and bodies response to ASMR have been unanimous in establishing that those who experience ASMR show significant reduction in their heart rate, increased positive emotions and a greater sense of social connection in response to the stimuli. So, not only is it relaxing, it’s inherently good for you, too. 

As the world is starting to embrace ASMR, it is having a bit of a pop culture moment. In an interview with Vulture in 2017, Jonathan Dayton, co-director of Battle of the Sexes, explained how he created a scene within the film to intentionally evoke ASMR. The scene takes place as Billie Jean King (played by Emma Stone) gets a good old fashion haircut, an ASMRtist staple. It’s a living, breathing advertisement for ASMR packed with triggers. While ASMR within cinema is nothing new, be it that these triggers are often organically produced, directors intentionally integrating them into film is exciting.

W Magazine has jumped on the bandwagon too, with a series of ASMR derivative interviews, the likes of which have Cardi B whispering ‘okuuuur’ into a binaural microphone for your pleasure. If that doesn’t do it for you, you can watch Noah Centineo bite into a devilishly juicy orange, although this one does feel a little erotic. 

Forget counting sheep. I, for one, have absolutely no qualms with being put to bed by some of Hollywood’s biggest names. So, it would seem that ASMR is slowly but surely finding its place in the world and dare I say it, becoming a bit cool. If you have trouble falling asleep or unwinding at the end of the day, it could be time to try out ASMR in the name of wellness and a better night’s sleep.

Image Credit: Style du Monde 

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