Can ASMR improve your mental health?

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Credit: Unsplash / Matheus Ferrero

Tara Gandhi
Investigations Editor

Let’s get one thing out there before we start: ASMR is not a sexual thing. There are sexual versions of it, for sure. But it is no more inherently sexual than say, being a pizza delivery guy is – if you look for the content, it’s there.

What it actually is is a neurological phenomenon felt only by some, that induces “tingles” or a feeling of relaxation. This commonly occurs in response to sounds such as whispering, tapping or crinkling, but can also happen visually, via things like tracing or watching someone paint. The term ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and despite its scientific-sounding name, there really hasn’t been a huge amount of research into it. Most of the information that exists about it is based on the volumes of anecdotal accounts that can be found online, often in the comments section of YouTube videos. But as ASMR’s cultural relevance increases, scientists are taking more of an interest in it, and more and more studies are cropping up.

While ASMR videos and YouTube’s “ASMRtists” have their own reputations and stigma, many people may have experienced the “tingles” just in everyday life. The happy relaxation you feel when a friend plays with your hair, or the soothing sound of pages flipping on the quiet floors of the library are all part of the same phenomena, and different people find different “triggers” work best for them.

For me, makeup application videos work the best. There are millions of videos from the likes of ASMRGlow or LilyWhispers, of people brushing their camera lenses with their makeup brushes, or pretending to dab foundation on with a beauty blender.

Makeup was how I found ASMR – I used to watch Pixiwoo makeup tutorials before I went to sleep, finding Sam and Nic applying their own makeup strangely relaxing. After noticing people talking about ASMR on social media I did a YouTube search for “Makeup ASMR” and I opened the floodgates.

Since then I have routinely turned to ASMR whenever I found myself struggling to sleep. Often my anxiety will keep me awake making lists and thinking and rethinking situations through. Putting on an ASMR video allows me to focus on one thing, and lulls me off to sleep, distracting me from whatever it was I was obsessing over. I even occasionally put one on in the daytime if I find myself getting worked up over work and deadlines, although that does create the risk of spontaneous napping.

I guess I get from ASMR what people with more patience than me get from meditation. It lets me take a breather, lowers my heart rate and clears my mind. Really the only downside is that now I have a new anxiety over my use of ASMR – it’s stigma means it becomes my weird secret, because so many people either don’t get the “tingle” reaction and just end up feeling uncomfortable, or they think it is some weird form of porn. So if we could learn to get over the initial discomfort and stop the unnecessary vilification of this niche area of YouTube, we might just end up with a form of free, at-home relief for mental illnesses like anxiety and insomnia that is accessible for everyone.