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
- 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.