Spreading the relaxing, tingly love of the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)

Guest post by Katy
Screenshot from ASMRtist The Water Whispers
Screenshot from ASMRtist The Water Whispers

ASMR stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response,” which is basically a fancy made-up acronym for a heightened feeling of relaxation, accompanied by tingles, especially in the scalp and spine. You could compare it to the feeling you get having your hair washed at a salon, or being pampered at a spa, if those activities are your style — or even the hairs-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck feeling of hearing a song you love come on the radio. People experience ASMR in response to all kinds of sounds or other stimuli, though — and the wonderful ASMRists of Youtube have made it their mission to produce this feeling to help people relax.

I got into ASMR a year or so ago, during a stressful period of my PhD. I was watching a HELL of a lot of make-up and massage tutorials, not so much for the actual tips, but because they gave me a lovely relax-y buzz. They also made a great tea-break activity at my desk whenever the data I was crunching got too much. And then Youtube, in its wisdom, suggested an ASMR Massage video…

Common triggers include whispering, tapping, and scratching sounds, but also things like close personal attention and compliments. That’s why you’ll see lots of “role play” videos where the presenter acts out cutting your hair, putting make-up on you, or giving you an eye exam. I read one theory that it’s a hangover from the pleasure experienced by other primates when they groom each other — though actually no one really knows much about what causes ASMR. I think sometimes people are under the impression that ASMR videos are a sexual thing (probably because of the expression “brain orgasm” that some people use), but they’re actually about combating stress and anxiety.

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed my experience with ASMR. Generally I use it as a brief relaxing break during my day, in the way I used to use guided meditation tapes — and I feel so recharged after that moment of mindfulness and calm. Because of the sounds and speech, negative or stressful thoughts don’t intrude as much. A lot of people also find the videos really help them get to sleep at night, which is something I’ve done occasionally, though I’m not a big insomniac myself. I also like the fantasy aspect to it — I’m probably never going to get a tattoo, go to a tarot reading or be prepared for going into space, but I can easily have a relaxing daydream about all of those things!

Although I don’t make videos myself, I’ve really enjoyed the community aspect too. Generally I avoid Youtube comments like the plague, but this is one little corner of the internet that is mostly very calm, supportive and positive (so it won’t be too much of a shock for us Offbeat Empire readers). As you start to delve deeper into this growing subculture, the choice of videos can be overwhelming, so I’ve included some recommendations below to get you started

Recommendation time:

  • What is ASMR?: A brilliant video with loads of triggers to help you find what you find most relaxing!
  • ASMR Massage: the first ASMR-ist I came across, and clearly a lovely lady. Watch her play with people’s hair and fall in love.
  • Gentle Whispering: Maria does some great videos, and is also interested in researching ASMR further — take her survey!
  • ASMR Requests: Loads of video role plays and other triggers, generally longer videos, and obviously takes requests.
  • The Water Whispers: Everything you could possibly need. Sound-only sessions, role plays, collections of different triggers, short videos, long videos… all presented by the brilliant Ilse.
  • Small Wonders: Fewer videos than the others, but one of my favourites! Always cheers me up.

Comments on Spreading the relaxing, tingly love of the autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR)

    • I know, right?! Weirdly, I did have my own personal name for it… I thought of it as the “shoe-shop feeling”, because I had always experienced it in the (dimly lit, quiet) shoe shop where we had gone to get my school shoes when I was small. All that personal attention! Bliss.

      But I had never shared that name with anyone, or even described the feeling. Hurray for the internet!

      • Haha, I found out about this community when I finally asked what my boyfriend was watching in bed one night. He’d been watching ASMR videos for a long time and didn’t tell me about it for years! I like ASMR, very relaxing ^_^. I love discovering random, wonderful things on the internet.

    • I usually experience this with personal attention (or attention that feels personal – even an online survey that’s worded right can totally trigger it for me) but also had no idea there was a name for it. Or a whole community!

    • Yes! This is awesome. I definitely get this feeling when I hear song lyrics sometimes. It can be a song I’ve heard a hundred times, but if everything else feels right and I hear the words clearly, I’ll get this tingly feeling, sometimes almost to the point of tears. It’s really intense.

      My family has also always had a thing with what we call “back tickles” and what my dad and his siblings used to call “kitty paws.” Basically light touches on the back and head that give you tingles and goosebumps. 🙂

  1. I don’t care for The Waster Whispers too much, but Maria from Gentle Whispering is AWESOME!! I have not heard from Small Wonders, but the others are great too. I also like ASMR Nova Star, Massage ASMR (He is from Australia), Heather Feather, Queen of Serene, and Calming Escape.

      • I particularly love heather feather because she has such great humor about her. If you’re geeky, listen for the references that pop up every so often! Her “brain pause” video is particularly wonderful if you’re feeling really stressed.

  2. There was a story on NPR about this awhile back and I was so totally fascinated- I’d never heard of it. I’m actually a little jealous that I just can’t seem to get into it- hearing people whisper actually kind of makes my skin crawl. But I do so love that tingly scalp-massage, fingernails-lightly-on-your-back kind of feeling.

  3. I use ASMR videos nearly every night to help me sleep. I’m probably responsible for at least 100 views of Maria’s hair salon roleplay. That one in particular is nice because it’s a bit loud, and I didn’t get a decent pair of headphones until recently. Combined with my poor hearing, and I just couldn’t HEAR most of these. Now, I’m fully immersing myself in the world of ASMR.

    • I’m also responsible for another 100 of Maria’s hair salon one! Also another 100 of her “such a good asmr video” one that comes up when you google “ASMR”. Those two are my favorite.

  4. I looove that this is out there for people! However, I just tried to watch the recommended videos and had a completely opposite reaction; I got so anxious that I felt like I was going to throw up. Probably shouldn’t have forced myself to stick with it. Give everything one try right… I’m the kind of person who sometimes finds touch and certain noises completely over-stimulating. Did anyone else have this reaction? Come to think of it, that probably says something about how good the videos are at making you feel like you’re there!

    • You are soooooooo not alone. Just thinking about those whispering videos is getting my hackles raised. When that NPR story mentioned above came on I had to totally skip over it (I also skip over the Radiolab opening sequence). At my last job my cubicle was next to a guy who was really nice, but chewed so. damn. loud. I was getting super tense every day until I got some noise isolating headphones, and found different white noise sounds to block it out online. Rain is fine, but fake fire crackling is awful because it sounded a lot like the chewing noises I was trying to escape from. I also don’t care for the spine tingling feeling from those weird head massagers people seem to love.

      So. Just like the ASMR people were overjoyed when they found a name for their thing, it was wonderful when I discovered a name for mine: misophonia. Start googling, and you’ll find people in the same exact boat who have tips, tricks, and can just plain commiserate. Good luck! Now I’m off to put on some loud comforting music and scratch every bit of my body, ARGH.

      • Came back because I thought of a great analogy, for Firefly fans. (spoilers ahoy!)

        If ASMR videos are the Pax, people with misophonia are the Reavers. Luckily the effects are usually much less extreme.

        • “Luckily the effects are usually much less extreme.” …except that time my boyfriend decided to lay in bed next to me and eat gummi bears with his mouth open.

          • Key word “usually.” I say this as I (carefully) eat an apple in my open plan office and feel like a damn hypocrite because I still think I’m being too loud. 😉

      • Fascinating!

        I’m a weird combo of luhving the hair and whisper ASMR videos, while also having misphonia reactions to sounds like dripping faucets, squeaks, rattles in cars (THE WORST), and near-murder reactions to leaf blowers and other industrial noises.

        I’ve already decided to get noise-cancelling headphones if I ever have kids–the repetitive noise stage is important to *their* neural development, but not to mine. 🙂

        • I’m a combo too. My misophonia is at its worst when I am stressed or my bipolar symptoms are heightened. I watched the video posted above and loved the visual stimuli ones (like the hair combing) but the sound triggers made my skin crawl (the purse zipper ugh). Her voice wasn’t too bad, but I’m partially deaf and can’t really hear her at that tone anyway, I bet if it was a bit louder or breathier it would bug me.

          • It’s amazing to me that tapping, zipping, clicking can be soothing to other folks–and I’m so glad there are videos for everyone’s triggers.

        • Hmm, it’s probably not that unusual to be a combo either. I do like watching videos of people painting or making sand art. I also find it very nice in real life to listen to the ocean and watch the waves make patterns on the sand. So, inspired by you and Holly J I tried the embedded video above. Unfortunately her voice hits exactly the wrong sounds for me and I nope’d the fuck out of there after 20 seconds. Ah well!

    • Sorry the recommendations didn’t work for you! If you are getting a reaction, but not a pleasant one, it might also be about finding the right kinds of sounds/stimulus for you… And your preferences might be very different to mine, so sorry about that!

      Definitely a lot of people *hate* whispering, even if they like other kinds of ASMR.

      • Putting in headphones helped me to enjoy them more (and be less distracted by other household noises), but even so, a lot of the sounds made me think of unpleasant/stressful things. Actually, I kept thinking of the couple of times my parents had mouse problems in their house and you could hear them scratching/chewing. That and listening to water run tends to make me have to run to the bathroom, so that sound never relaxes me.

        I wish I could find sounds and visuals that work for me, but overall, I fear that touch might be the only way to really elicit the tingly response for me. Still, some of the videos did make me feel sleepy, so I guess I’m a little more relaxed than before I started. All the same, I’m glad that these videos are out there for those who can thoroughly enjoy them!

        • I’m like this too. I actually haven’t listened to any of the videos, but just reading about it caused my stress levels to skyrocket (number one symptom for me that lets me know if something is making me stressed, before anything else: I hold my breath.)

          The thing I have found to be “soothing” or relaxing is to use binaural beats. They also helped me with focus while working on my masters, as I have got ridiculous levels of performance anxiety.

  5. Yay, I’m so glad to see someone writing about this! I felt like a serious weirdo all my life until, like Catherine, I stumbled across the YouTube videos/community. SoundSculptures is my absolute favorite since I’m not a big fan of whispering. She has a video of merely turning pages on a bible and it’s amazing.

  6. Oh my gosh, I didn’t know that this was a thing. I don’t watch or listen to videos, but I like reading reviews of local spa services and reading descriptions of luxury makeup during stressful workdays for that “relax-y buzz.” Anyone else do that?

  7. I never knew there was a name for this! I get the tingles from watching small children quietly play. The way that they’re so gentle really relaxes me.

  8. My glob. I had no idea there was a NAME for that amazing tingly feeling. I always assumed it was a random thing, but now that I know it’s A Thing I’m totally going to seek it out more often.
    Yet another reason why I love OBH!! <3

  9. Now I have a name for the wonderful feeling I get when I watch the Joy of Painting. Bob Ross just has that mojo, y’all. I used to listen to him as a kid and get all good feeling and then nod off to sleep.

    • Score! My fiance actually took me on a date to visit Bob Ross’s grave for Valentine’s Day this year. That man had such an impact on my childhood, and I still watch a few episodes of his show every week for some extra happiness and encouragement in my life. I’m really excited to understand even more about why I love him and his show so much!

  10. Yay ASMR!!! I, too, did not know the name for my scalp’s “tingly feeling” when listening to gentle sounds. Thanks to comments on this post on OBH&L, I searched for ASMR videos as a way to combat my partner’s snores and my own insomnia. Now I listen to them for relaxing my over-taxed brain while writing my PhD, more often than for sleeping. So glad to see even more video recommendations — Thanks Katy!

  11. I use this site at work a lot: http://www.ambient-mixer.com/ I love the ones where it sounds like you’re on a ship at sea…and you can adjust each sound within files or make your own. There are some like “spa day” which kind of remind me of a lot of these videos.

    This is a fun thing to explore, our brains are awesome!

  12. WHY IS THIS WORKING?! The whole time I was reading this I was like, “Yup. I know exactly what that’s like. But I don’t think just watching a video could do the same thing..” NOPE. WRONG. This is real life. And I love it.

  13. Okay, ASMR experts. I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about with this sensation. Am I overcomplicating or overthinking it? It sounds like some people equate it with feeling relaxed, which is a far different thing than actually tingly sensations. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I’ve tried with these videos and NOPE. Aside from active annoyance, mostly these resulted in a shrug. I can recognize that some of the things are pleasant, but I’m not getting it. HALP WUT.

    • It’s hard to describe if you’ve never felt it… little fizzy little goosebumps all over your head, neck, and back. It’s a pleasant tingle, not a burning one. Think, fizzy bath salts. For me, it only happens with calm and quiet. Hence the relaxed feeling. Not sure that you can force it if it doesn’t come naturally… time at the spa or salon are the easiest triggers forn me.

    • Before I learned that it had a name, I described it as that sensation that makes you feel as if someone is gently polishing the inside of your skull with a black velvet cloth. Mine is usually accompanied by a tingle at the base of my spine and a sort of zoned-out, buzzy feeling.

      I almost always get it from somewhat monotone, relatively low sounds. I had a boring geometry teacher with a deep baritone that always set off my ASMR response, and those lame airline safety videos are my favorite part of a flight, because they give me the same feeling. Certain subtle physical stimuli do it for me, too.

    • Dootsie, I’m not an ASMR expert, and I think I only respond mildly to some videos, but: having my back or arm lightly stroked gives me this sensation, as well as being relaxing; whereas when I get a massage, I just feel relaxed, without the ASMRing.

      • Though I love videos, certain touch things give me ASMR too – I think they might be more reliable.

        Try very lightly stroking the inside of your arm, the back of your hand, or the sides of your fingers. Or get someone else to very lightly draw letters and shapes on your back. Any of those work for you? x

      • Ooh thank you! This I understand. I have this feeling when my back is lightly stroked. I never equated it with an ASMR type response. I thought that was mostly auditory, based on the videos with the special sounds and whispering. Okay. I understand a little better now (although the whispering videos and sounds of things happening are still way beyond my idea of relaxing). Lol.

  14. OMG you guys! Mentioned this article to one of my friends, saying I thought that was amazing and I’d have to check it out as soon as I got home tonight. And he says: oh yeah, I’ve been watching vids for a couple of months, I’ll finally have someone to talk about it!
    Darn dude! You might have mentionned it, this sounds amazing 🙂
    I’ve had that feeling before from very specific music (not at all like simply “enjoying” the music) like the first few tabs from Wish You Were Here, by Incubus. Never knew it came in the form of videos before. Have to look into it!

  15. Oh dang. This is wonderful! I’ve been watching a few videos and while I haven’t gotten the full tingly feeling, it’s really comforting to listen to while doing general things like email checking and reading articles. I don’t do well with being alone so it’s like someone is there listening to me – I use cooking channels and Food Network for a similar purpose, like someone is there chatting with me.

    I just listened to the Maria hair salon one, it was good. Thanks, Offbeat Home!

  16. I love the internet – I’ve been having this feeling for years in reaction to certain kinds of music, but I didn’t know there was a name for it (or a whole community!). I find listening to music like this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhLIlHvRqKQ really sets off the spine tingles for me, especially if listening through headphones or already feeling relaxed (walking along on a sunny day, say). Funnily enough, the videos designed to specifically set off ASMR in people aren’t actually doing that for me. They are very relaxing though!

  17. I’m just going to delete my original comment and write over it. I’d heard about ASMR a couple years ago and checked out the videos and sound things and it mostly seemed really whispery and it made my skin crawl. It seemed super creepy. After reading these comments, I realize that I *do* like “gentle” speaking, such as Bob Ross, and the light touch on my back does me in every time. Those things are good for me. Finally I understand ASMR a little better. I previously got irritated and just did. not. understand how on earth whispering and hair cutting noises were pleasant or calming. (Clearly they are to some people, but not me!) Thanks OBH for helping me to understand and learn about something yet again! 🙂

  18. Ok, so I read this article when it was published and wanted to watch the video, since I know that feeling. I love that feeling, and would be really impressed if a youtube video could recreate it using only sight and sound, since I though that feeling required touch or smell.

    Today was the first time I had at least 30 minutes alone since it was published, so I put my good headphones in and watched…I found it kind of boring.

    Then my cat jumped into my lap and started purring, so I immediately became more concerned in who had the fuzziest belly than what the nice lady on the internet was saying.

    I absolutely LOVE having my hair played with and brushed. I love getting massages and hugging. I love smells that trigger pleasant memories. And, while Bob Ross seemed like a nice guy, I never did understand people’s reactions to him…

  19. So I HAD to come back here and share… This article was my first official introduction to ASMR, and today I released my very own ASMR video! THere’s a link to my ASMR channel if you’re interested in seeing what you helped create. I adore ASMR and thank you SO MUCH for introducing me! <3

  20. I recently got into this myself although I had been using it for relaxation since I was a kid. The old Bob Ross shows were so relaxing to me and I never knew why. Now I listen to painting sounds among other “tingle sounds” to relax. It really relaxes my neck and face muscles after a stressful day.

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