ASMR and Relaxation

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What Is ASMR, and Why Should You Try It for Stress Relief?
Hearing a bedtime story may still lull you to sleep, but it may be more effective if the reader whispers it to you. Or if they tap their foot gently or shuffle papers about for a few minutes. Confused? An increasing subculture of insomniacs and anxious people seek consolation in repeating sounds, a calming phenomenon called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). (This great GIF can also help you alleviate anxiety right now.)

What exactly is ASMR?
Not everyone experiences ASMR, but for those who do, it is described as a tingling sensation that spreads over your head and moves down your spine and body, creating absolute euphoria—so much so that the effect is commonly referred to as a brain orgasm (though devotees are quick to specify that the pleasurable sensation is distinctly non-sexual).

What exactly does it do?
While scientific evidence is limited, the number of devotees is enormous: ASMR online groups and forums are flooded with stories of people who were suffering from unbearable and incurable anxiety or insomnia until they heard Bob Ross’ soothing voice on late-night TV or felt the pages gently turning in a library. (Related: Insanely Odd Insomnia Treatments That People Try)

“Anecdotally, people are using ASMR films to help with stress, despair, loneliness, and social anxiety,” says Giulia Poerio, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom. Poerio recently published a study in PLoS One that discovered ASMR could make people feel calmer, less worried, and less depressed. It even has a tangible effect on their heart rates, implying that ASMR may have very genuine, therapeutic significance. Meanwhile, earlier research published in PeerJ suggests that those tuned into the tingles can temporarily reduce symptoms of despair and chronic pain.

Why do only some people experience it?
There’s undoubtedly a biological reason why some people feel ASMR—a greater neural connection between auditory and emotional areas, for example—as well as some personality factors. However, based on what is currently known, there is no rhyme or reason for why some people experience tingling, and others do not, according to Poerio.

The ASMR Research & Support organization, which attempts to kick-start scientific research on the phenomena, divides sensation seekers into two groups: Type A is calmed down by their own ideas, much like meditation. The more prevalent Type B seeks external stimulation for their bliss, such as listening to a pen scratch paper or a whispering voice (the latter is so common that ASMR is sometimes called whisper therapy).

The only way to tell if you’re a Type B is to watch a video of someone brushing their hair or lightly tapping a table and observe what emotions arise. (Think you’re an A personality? Instead, try this Headspace meditation for anxiety.)

Which sounds are compelling?
“ASMR-inducing sounds are always low volume and usually continuous, rhythmic, and predictable,” explains Craig Richard, Ph.D., creator of ASMR University and author of Brain Tingles. “Our brains interpret these noises as non-threatening, which can induce relaxation—especially when combined with personal attention and loving acts.”

Harsh sounds—sirens, yelling—will not be tolerated. Even more specific soft sounds—eating, lip-smacking, water trickling, scratching—are not popular. According to Poerio, soft speaking, whispering, hair combing, and close personal attention (typically a combination of whispers and simulated acts like facial massage or face brushing) are examples of close personal attention.

There’s even a delicate line between what may relax and assist someone falls asleep and what will actually cause tingles. “Because they conceal background noise, white noise and natural sounds are highly beneficial for relaxing and sleep induction. ASMR-inducing sounds, such as gentle whispers, subtle crinkling, and light tapping, can likewise do this, although they are more calming, “explains Richard

How can I experiment with ASMR?
Thanks to the internet, sufferers can find relief with the strangest of soothers: YouTube has around 15 million ASMR videos of individuals whispering, tapping, scratching, and even role-playing circumstances like eye exams and haircuts (personalized attention is a common calmer).

Try out some of YouTube’s most popular ASMRists, such as Ilse of TheWaterWhispers, Maria of GentleWhispering, or Taylor of ASMR Darling. While some videos linger up to 30 minutes, most ASMR enthusiasts feel tingling after only a few minutes focused on the noises.

Richard also recommends ASMR podcasts, which might help you sleep because it’s just the sounds without the screen. If you use Spotify, you can listen to anything from the ASMR genre, including playlists aimed toward sleep or generating tingles. (Try these sleep-inducing stretches as well.)

And, yes, there is such a thing as ASMR in real life: if you’re in New York City and want a more immersive experience, check out the WhisperLodge, which gives the sounds and emotions of an ASMR massage in real life.

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