My first grade physical education class gave us the option of sitting out most days. Since I preferred to use that time to escape into other worlds, this was a boon for me. There was another reason I loved sitting on the bleachers during P.E.: there was a young girl who would often volunteer to play with my hair. The sensation this caused in me was like any other. It was comfort and warmth, but it was also a physical tingling that I felt below the surface of my skin. It was the most relaxing thing on Earth.
I would feel it in different ways. Sometimes I would feel this sensation during story time, when a teacher would pull out laminated teaching materials, when other kids would play with marbles or tangrams, and when my mother made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Later in life, I would feel it more strongly when I was at the hair salon or getting a massage. I never talked about it. I guess like most things I experience, I just expected that other people felt these things, too.
I was not wrong, but it wasn’t really a thing that was talked about, studied, or exploited until the Internet. There were blogs and message groups talking about it before there was a name for it, but in 2010 this experience finally got an accepted moniker: ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
Although previously unstudied, ASMR has been confirmed to happen to at least 69% of the population by psychologists Nick Davis and Emma Barrett. Dr. Barrett has found a possible link between ASMR and synaesthesia and misophonia.
ASMR is different than sexual arousal. It’s an intense relaxation that you can feel through your body. The tingles start at the scalp, usually, and can spread anywhere. It can feel euphoric, and take you from a more keyed up state to a state of calm.
There’s now a growing entertainment industry surrounding ASMR, mostly found on Youtube. ASMRers, as they are known, are experimenters. Bob Ross is credited with being the first time many people experienced ASMR, especially ASMR triggered through a screen rather than in person. Since this is a new thing and everyone has different experiences, sometimes ASMR triggers can unexpectedly occur. The ASMR subreddit often features links to videos of unintentional ASMR triggers. Using high quality binaural sound equipment is key to an ASMR recording, but the crucial elements of a successful ASMRer are a soothing speaking voice and an expansive imagination. Some videos are just tapping things without speaking, others are role plays meant to draw you in to an intimate personal attention experience like getting your makeup done.
Whether or not you experience ASMR, or how you experience it seems to be closely tied to childhood. Tapping, scratching and head touching simulations are my biggest triggers, but I’m not a fan of most eating ones because of misophonia. (It doesn’t trigger my ASMR, but I do find that I like listening to Tony Bomboni eat, and this is coming from someone who will run ten miles away if I hear someone crunch down on one chip in my vicinity.)
ASMR triggers are anecdotally used to treat insomnia, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. They can also serve as relaxing background noise during quiet, thinking tasks like studying, writing, or data entry. When I first discovered ASMR, I used it to unwind from my day, and to go to sleep, but the deeper I got into ASMR videos, the more I found myself listening to them while I worked. I tend to be more productive when I’m less anxious, so maybe it’s also just a byproduct of relaxation and anxiety relief.
Even the videos that don’t trigger an ASMR response for me are relaxing and comforting. There’s a positive, caring bent to the videos that is a great contrast to the darker, more depressing and emotionally taxing entertainment I’m usually drawn to. Sometimes when I’m feeling low, I’ll pull up an ASMR positive affirmation-style video, or I’ll just chillax to some sand scraping and plastic tapping.
Some of the top searches for ASMR in Google are asking if ASMR is “a sin,” or “evil.” Sometimes when we try to explain ASMR to others, it sounds weird, but it’s definitely not evil or a sin. It’s a great way to relax and relieve stress.
Here are some of my favorite ASMR videos (so far)
I’m always a sucker when Heather Feather talks about and touches fossils. “It existed in a time I can never exist in.”
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