Quickly search YouTube for ASMR and you’ll get a slew of results ranging from dogs munching on carrots to quirky personalities whispering stories to their audiences.
ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is an experience of tingling sensations in response to specific triggers like audio, visual, or sensory triggers.
While ASMR has been exploding for a while, there still isn’t too much research on the subject. But many people claim that ASMR doesn’t just do you good, it can also have therapeutic applications.
Below, we take a closer look at ASMR therapy, the 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 isn’t much research on the subject yet. Much of what we know about ASMR comes from anecdotal reports – and there are many of them.
ASMR involves tingling sensations, usually coming from the top of your head, that occur in response to specific triggers.
People sometimes describe the sensation as “cerebral tingling.” You might also hear the sensation called “warmth and tingling” or “cerebral orgasm.”
Bottom line, ASMR therapy has the potential to make some people feel good and relaxed. Many people claim that ASMR videos help them sleep or relax. Others even say it helps reduce anxiety.
What triggers it
This is different for everyone. And not everyone will know the ASMR answer.
Some potential triggers include:
- slow hand movements
- to play or brush one’s hair
- close personal attention
- Get a haircut
- watching people do things in a purposeful way (e.g. watching someone fold napkins)
- water sounds
- listening to or watching someone eat (like a super cute dog eating crunchy veggies – ASMR double whammy!)
What the research says
The fact that music can produce chills in some people is already well documented, and ASMR is a similar, if less researched, concept.
A 2018 study found that ASMR videos consistently produced tingling sensations and positive feelings in participants. However, the videos only seemed to have an effect on people who said they had experienced ASMR before starting the study.
The study also found that in addition to self-reported sensations, viewing the ASMR videos produced physiological changes in some participants, including reduced heart rate and increased skin conductance levels. But WTF does that mean?
Well, a reduced heart rate is usually a sign of relaxation, and increased skin conductance is usually a sign of arousal or arousal (but not sexual arousal). So basically total opposites.
The study suggests this might be why it’s so satisfying for some people – many complex emotions involve a mix of emotions traditionally thought of as opposites (like nostalgia involves missing or sadly looking back at memories happy or how the thrills of music can imply feelings of euphoria and sadness).
There are several types of ASMR triggers, including:
- Ring. A 2015 study found whispering to be one of the most common ASMR triggers for participants. People also report experiencing ASMR in response to loud sounds or noises like a vacuum cleaner 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 motions like hand movements or mixing paint.
- 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 those spaces or situations can trigger ASMR. Eye contact or role-playing is another situational trigger for some people.
Again, there is not a lot of research on ASMR let alone the potential benefits. The previously mentioned study suggests that ASMR appears to reduce heart rate, which may have practical applications such as reducing anxiety levels and reducing stress.
It is important to remember, however, that not everyone experiences ASMR, and the same triggers do not work for all ASMR responders.
So what does this mean?
ASMR can make you feel calmer, more relaxed, and help if you suffer from anxiety, but it’s not a research-backed treatment — at least not yet. Further research will help experts better understand the potential applications of ASMR.
Watching ASMR videos is probably as safe as watching any other video online. However, using technology in the bedroom can disrupt your sleep cycle.
Want to try ASMR? Here’s how to start.
Find your trigger(s)
Before you can legitimately practice ASMR therapy, you need to find your triggers. The best way to do this is to experiment, says Craig Richard, PhD, professor at Shenandoah University and host of the Sleep Whispers podcast. “Think of ASMR triggers like a huge buffet of food. You have to 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.
Make yourself confortable
Once you’ve found the trigger or triggers that work for you, Richard recommends doing the following to increase your chances of feeling the tingle:
- Find a place where you can be alone.
- Remove all potential distractions.
- Sit or lie down in a comfortable place.
- Turn off 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 several ways to undergo ASMR therapy.
You can search for ASMR videos on YouTube or TikTok. You can find video content with audio, visual, and situational triggers (like personal attention).
If you want to use ASMR therapy to help you sleep, a podcast might be more for you. Richard, who has his own ASMR sleep podcast, says you can also find a wide variety of ASMR podcasts on Spotify.
Yet, in-person experiences like getting a massage, getting a manicure/pedi, or even getting a haircut can also produce ASMR sensations.
See a professional
If you want advice on how to engage in ASMR, Richard recommends seeking out a professional who specializes in ASMR-type advice. “One example is Curt Ramsey, a licensed counselor who offers ASMR therapy sessions for individuals and couples dealing with personal stress or relationship issues,” he says.
Is ASMR a form of therapy?
No. It is a physical response to a trigger.
Some mental health professionals specialize in ASMR counseling and offer therapy sessions for individuals or couples experiencing stress or relationship issues. Just keep in mind that at this point it’s not a research-based way to reduce anxiety or improve other mental health issues.
Can ASMR be harmful?
ASMR in itself is not harmful.
But if you’re having trouble sleeping because you’re up late watching ASMR videos, then yes, it’s probably best to rest for a while.
But luckily, some people also experience ASMR in response to audio, so podcasts can be a good option for sleep.
Is ASMR a mental illness?
Research shows there are some differences in resting-state brain activity between people who have ASMR and those who don’t – but it’s *not* considered a mental illness by all means.
So far, that seems to be the main difference between people who experience ASMR and those who don’t have to do with how our brain responds to sensory and emotional experiences.
But whether you experience ASMR says nothing about the state of your mental health – one is not considered “normal” or “better” than the other.
Is ASMR good for anxiety?
ASMR can make you feel calmer, more relaxed, and help if you suffer from anxiety, but it’s not a research-backed treatment at this point.
What is the history of ASMR?
The term ASMR is quite recent. ASMR videos have become hugely popular on YouTube and TikTok over the past few years, but people have probably been feeling the thrill for a long time.
Research on the subject is also fairly new, so there is still a lot to learn about it.
Research on ASMR at present is lacking. But many people swear that ASMR helps them chillax.
There is little reason to believe that ASMR has any downsides. However, you are not necessarily going to feel like a changed person the first time you search and watch ASMR videos online. Not everyone experiences ASMR or responds to all types of triggers.
If you’re curious about ASMR therapy for an existing mental health issue, there’s no harm in trying it out to see if it can help you relax or limit your anxiety.
Don’t stop your regular treatment and start relying on ASMR. Right now, there isn’t enough research to call it a surefire treatment for things like anxiety.