ASMR: An Introduction & How It Aids Our Mental Well-being

ASMR is a modern term that appeared in 2010 and then exploded on the internet. ASMR seems to be everywhere. Maybe you’ve come across it on Youtube, heard it on a podcast or in a conversation, and yet still don’t quite understand what it’s all about. Here, we’ll take a look at what we know about ASMR, how it’s linked to meditation, and how it can improve your mental well being!

What does ASMR stand for? 

ASMR stands for “Autonomous sensory meridian response,” a term coined by Jennifer Allen in 2010 to describe a physical and emotional phenomenon shared by people around the world! 

Allen noticed a strange, yet pleasurable, tingling sensation throughout her body that made her feel happy and relaxed in response to certain stimuli. When trying to identify the sensation on the internet, she found no answers but she did find that many people described similar experiences, and so she herself gave the phenomenon the name!

What does ASMR feel like?

The ASMR experience has both physical and psychological aspects to it. People describe the experience as a pleasurable, tingling sensation starting at the top of the head and moving down the spine into the rest of the body, often in the form of waves. It’s often described as a “brain orgasm” and is very similar to the goosebumps and tingling feelings of excitement we experience when listening to really good music. However, these “aesthetic chills” are associated with excitement, whereas ASMR induces a feeling of deep relaxation. And this is exactly why we’re talking about ASMR, as it’s not only an enjoyable physical sensation, but also includes an emotional response of deep relaxation, which can have a positive influence on our psyche, helping to improve our mental well-being. 

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Why are people loving ASMR?

ASMR induces a deep sense of calm and many people expose themselves to ASMR-inducing stimuli so as to destress, relax, or unwind at the end of the day. Some people also use ASMR to help them fall asleep.

We know that ASMR gives us a pleasurable tingling sensation that can help us feel less anxious, more relaxed, and happier, but have you ever wondered why that is? Well, it turns out that ASMR activates parts of the brain associated with reward, social bonding, and emotional excitement. All things that make us feel warm, safe, and happy!

What can trigger ASMR?

ASMR can be triggered by all kinds of stimuli, whether auditory, visual, or tactile! However, what they all have in common is that they tend to be soft, gentle, and often repetitive in a soothing manner. You may have seen videos of people talking in quiet, melodic voices, slowly turning the pages of a book, or pretending to gently stroke your ear. However, sadly not everyone experiences the pleasures of ASMR and the people who do may respond to different stimuli.

In the last decade, the internet has exploded with ASMR content, especially in the form of Youtube videos in which “ASMR-tists” (ASMR Artists) produce content that triggers ASMR in their viewers. These videos often consist of people with long nails tapping on various differently textured surfaces, reading a story in a whisper with gentle sound effects in the background, or while moving one’s hand in a fluid, gentle manner, softly blowing into the microphone, or producing other calming sound effects such as purring. High quality microphones are used to capture every single little sound and are vital in fostering the ASMR experience. 

Another big theme in the ASMR community is Personal Attention. This consists of role-playing videos in which the ASMR-tist makes direct eye-contact with us through the camera, making the viewers feel cared for. This allows us to connect with the ASMR-tist on an emotional level and can produce the pleasurable experience of ASMR. In fact, we now know that the areas of the brain associated with social-bonding are activated when experiencing ASMR!

However, there are also many people who experience ASMR in response to stimuli that seem completely unappealing to others. Have you ever come across videos of someone eating food, slurping and chewing, and think to yourself, “Who on earth would want to watch this?” Well, it turns out that many people enjoy watching other people eat and that’s because it can trigger ASMR for certain people. 

For many of us eating is a relaxing and pleasurable experience and can be associated with images and sounds such as people eating, food being prepared, or sizzling in a pan, are able to reproduce this sense of satisfying calmness.

Other stimuli which can seem unpleasant, such as nail tapping, a sharp pencil scratching paper, or bubbles popping, also have the ability to trigger ASMR in some people. So how can the same stimuli drive some people crazy, while creating a satisfying calmness in others?

Why do some people experience ASMR when others do not?

Sadly, we have no clear answer, however, brain wiring and personality traits could play a role. 

Brain Wiring

Until recently, the phenomenon of ASMR has been based on people sharing their own experiences. In the last decade brain-imaging techniques have been used to analyze and measure what goes on in the brains of people experiencing ASMR and have shown that there’s a unique pattern of brain activity during the experience

Did you know that when people experience ASMR there’s an increase in alpha brain waves in the brain? These waves are associated with deep relaxation and are often experienced when meditating!

For people who don’t experience ASMR, the same stimuli can result in a decrease in alpha brain waves, which may explain why the same stimuli can result in a pleasurable ASMR experience in some people and trigger an uncomfortable sensation in others.

Some people also show more activity in parts of the brain that produce an emotional reaction in response to visual triggers. This could explain the stronger connection between external triggers and  emotional responses and why in these people certain visual triggers are able to induce the deep feeling of relaxation and pleasure experienced during ASMR.

Personality

There seems to be some evidence that the ability to experience ASMR is linked to certain personality traits, such as empathy. However, having certain personality traits doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll experience ASMR and being able to experience ASMR doesn’t necessarily mean you’re more empathetic! 

ASMR, Meditation, & Mindfulness

These three all link together rather nicely! Just wait and see…

ASMR and meditation have many overlapping characteristics, including changes in brain wave activity associated with deep relaxation and changes in states of consciousness. The experience of ASMR has even been compared to flow states experienced in certain meditations

However, entering these states of meditation often requires a conscious focus, whereas ASMR is an automatic response to certain stimuli. We can almost say that ASMR is a form of meditation ‘lite’!

This is fantastic news for all of us who want to meditate but believe we don’t have enough time or concentration for a full meditation practice because we’re rushing to catch a bus, or for those of us who want to start meditating, but need an easy introduction, or for all those children who are too fidgety to sit through a guided meditation, but who may be hypnotised by ASMR videos! Of course, with Meditopia’s 2 and 3 minute meditations a lack of time is no excuse, however ASMR may be a great introduction for anyone who’s new to meditation and needs to be convinced of how great it feels not to be stressed and get a small boost of pleasure! 

Although not all of us may feel the full ASMR experience with the tingling sensations, I believe that there’s a sound that’s able to induce deep relaxation out there for everyone. 

We also know that there’s a link between people who experience ASMR and increased mindfulness, just like in meditation! Whether this means that regularly experiencing ASMR increases mindfulness we don’t know, but it definitely won’t hurt you to get some more ASMR in your life if you’re lucky enough to experience this pleasurable feeling! 

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The Benefits of ASMR: Body & Mind

As the ASMR experience has both physiological and emotional components, it can have positive effects on your body and your mind! 

Just like meditation, the calming effects of ASMR can reduce your heart rate. Increased heart rates have been associated with increased blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Therefore, regular relaxation using ASMR could potentially reduce your risk of suffering from cardiovascular diseases, something meditation has already proven to be capable of according to Harvard Professor Dr. Bhatt

Additionally, ASMR can reduce psychological stress, which in turn reduces the physiological stress response, keeping your mind and body at ease. 

All in all, if you’re lucky enough to be able to experience ASMR, it can only do you good, both physically and mentally. So why not try and incorporate a little more ASMR into your life? Maybe that means it’s background noise while making breakfast to start the day or as a way to help you fall asleep at night. And if this is a completely new phenomenon to you, why not explore the world of ASMR and see if you too can experience the wonderful, relaxing pleasures of ASMR!

Author: Leah Maddalena Singer-Pennell

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