Quickly search ASMR on YouTube, and you’ll get a bucketload of results from dogs crunching carrots to quirky personalities whispering stories to their audience.
ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, is an experience of tingling sensations in response to specific triggers like audio, visual, or sensory ones.
While ASMR’s been blowing up for a while, there’s still not too much research on the subject. But many people claim that ASMR not only makes you feel good, it may also have therapeutic applications.
Below, we take a deeper look at ASMR therapy, types of ASMR, and how to actually engage in ASMR therapy yourself.
Experts are just starting to dip their toes into the vast world of ASMR, so there’s still not a lot of research out there on the subject. A lot of what we do know about ASMR comes from anecdotal reports — and there are a lot of them.
ASMR involves tingling sensations, usually coming from the top of your head, that happen in response to specific triggers.
People sometimes describe the sensation as “brain tingles.” You might also hear the feeling referred to as the “warm and tinglies” or “brain orgasm.”
What triggers it
This is different for everyone. And not everyone will experience the ASMR response.
Some potential triggers include:
- slow hand movements
- getting your hair played with or brushed
- close personal attention
- getting a haircut
- watching people do things in a focused way (e.g., watching someone fold towels)
- water sounds
- listening or watching someone eat (like a super cute dog monching on crunchy veggies — double ASMR whammy!)
What the research says
That music can produce chills in some people is already well-documented, and ASMR is a similar concept, albeit one with less research behind it.
One 2018 study found that ASMR videos consistently produced tingling sensations and positive feelings in participants. However, the videos only seemed to have any effect on people who reported having experienced ASMR before starting the study.
The study also found that in addition to the self-reported sensations, watching the ASMR videos produced physiological changes in certain participants, including reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance levels. But WTF does that mean?
Well, reduced heart rate is typically a sign of relaxation, and increased skin conductance is usually a sign of excitement or arousal (tho not sexual arousal). So basically, total opposites.
The study suggests that this could be why it’s so satisfying to some people — many complex emotions involve a mix of emotions traditionally viewed as opposites (like how nostalgia involves missing or looking back sadly at happy memories or how chills from music can involve a feeling of euphoria and sadness).
There are several different types of ASMR triggers including:
- Sound. One 2015 study found that whispering was one of the most common ASMR triggers for participants. People also report experiencing ASMR in response to crisp sounds or noises like a vacuum running.
- Visual. Videos are the most common form of ASMR therapy. Sound is often combined with the visual medium to produce a response. People seem to respond most to slow repetitive movements like hand movements or paint mixing.
- Sensory. Videos aren’t the only way to experience ASMR. Physical touch can also make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Things like massage or hair play can both trigger the ASMR response.
- Situational. Some people find specific environments calming, and watching videos of these spaces or situations can trigger ASMR. Eye contact or role-play is another situational trigger for some people.
Again, there’s not much research on ASMR and even less on the potential benefits. The previously mentioned study does suggest that ASMR seems to reduce heart rate, which may have practical applications like lowering anxiety levels and reducing stress.
It’s important to remember, though, that not everyone experiences ASMR, and the same triggers don’t work for all ASMR responders.
So what does that mean?
ASMR might make you feel calmer, more relaxed, and help if you have anxiety, but it’s not a research-backed treatment — at least not yet. More research will help experts better understand the potential applications of ASMR.
Watching ASMR videos is probably just as safe as watching any other video online. Using tech in the bedroom can disrupt your sleep cycle, though.
Want to give ASMR a shot? Here’s how to get started.
Find your trigger(s)
Before you can legit practice ASMR therapy, you’ll need to find your triggers. The best way to do that is to experiment, says Craig Richard, PhD, professor at Shenandoah University and host of the podcast Sleep Whispers. “Think of ASMR triggers like a huge food buffet. You must sample a lot of items to find your favorites.”
If that sounds overwhelming, Richard suggests starting with whispering, which studies have found to be a common ASMR trigger.
When you’ve found the trigger or triggers that work for you, Richard recommends doing the following to increase your chances of experiencing the tinglies:
- Find a spot where you can be alone.
- Remove any potential distractions.
- Sit or lie down somewhere that’s comfortable.
- Turn down the lights.
“It’s much easier to experience ASMR when you’re snuggled up in the safety and comfort of your own bed at home,” says Richard.
Experiment with videos, podcasts, or touch
There are a few ways you can actually engage in ASMR therapy.
If you want to use ASMR therapy to help you sleep, a podcast might be more up your alley. Richard, who has his own ASMR sleep podcast, says that you can also find a wide variety of ASMR podcasts on Spotify.
Still, in-person experiences like getting a massage, mani/pedi, or even getting a haircut might also produce ASMR sensations.
See a professional
If you want guidance on how to engage in ASMR, Richard recommends seeking out a professional who specializes in ASMR-style counseling. “An example is Curt Ramsey, a licensed counselor who provides ASMR therapy sessions for individuals and couples struggling with personal stress or relationship challenges,” he says.
Is ASMR a form of therapy?
No. It’s a physical response to a trigger.
Some mental health professionals do specialize in ASMR-stye counseling and provide therapy sessions for individuals or couples with stress or relationship concerns. Just keep in mind that at this point, it’s not a research-backed way to reduce anxiety or improve other mental health conditions.
Can ASMR be harmful?
ASMR itself is not harmful.
But if you’re having sleep problems because you’re up late watching ASMR videos, then yeah, it’s probably best to lay off for a while.
But thankfully, some people also experience ASMR in response to audio, so podcasts can be a sleep-friendly option.
Is ASMR a mental illness?
Research shows that there are some differences in resting-state brain activity between people who experience ASMR and those who don’t — but it’s *not* considered a mental illness by any means.
So far, it looks like the main difference between people who experience ASMR and those who don’t has to do with how our brains respond to sensory-emotional experiences.
But whether you experience ASMR doesn’t say anything about the state of your mental health — one isn’t considered “normal” or “better” compared to the other.
Is ASMR good for anxiety?
ASMR might make you feel calmer, more relaxed, and help if you have anxiety, but it’s not a research-backed treatment at this point.
What’s the history of ASMR?
The term ASMR is pretty recent. ASMR videos have gotten really popular on YouTube and TikTok in the last few years, but people have probably been experiencing the sensation for a long time.
Research on the topic is also pretty new, so there’s still more to learn about it.
The research on ASMR as of right now is lacking. But a lot of people swear that ASMR helps them chillax.
There’s little reason to believe that ASMR has any drawbacks. You’re not necessarily going to feel like a changed person the first time you search for and watch ASMR videos online, though. Not everyone experiences ASMR or responds to every type of trigger.
If you’re curious about ASMR therapy for an existing mental health condition, there’s no harm in trying it out to see if it can help you relax or limit how anxious you feel.
Just don’t stop your regular treatment and start relying on ASMR. Right now, there’s not enough research to call it a surefire treatment for things like anxiety.