How to reduce stress with ASMR
Our brain is programmed to stress us. It does that a lot and on just about any subject. Like a lot of behavioral reactions, stress used to be and still is a survival mechanism that our brain used in order to inject alertness when needed. It’s there so we could harness internal resources and spring into action in a matter of seconds when hunted or hunting.
Fortunately for us, we rarely need to spring into action nowadays to avoid a prowling lion. Today, stress is not helpful and is often counter-productive. When stressed, most of us lose focus and are immersed in unpleasant feelings.
In the past, we needed all that “potential energy” when we faced fight or flight situations. It probably saved our lives more than once. Today, this energy still exists in each of us in certain situations; if it is not discharged via some sort of conduit (either physical or of a more neural nature), it slows us down.
That’s why we need to get creative in the way we release stress. We don’t have time to go on a vacation every week; often we even can’t step away from the almighty computer, tablet, or cell phone.
What is ASMR?
In comes ASMR. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) , also known as "brain tingles" or “braingasm” is a sensation that manifests itself as a gentle shiver that runs from your head down your spine and limbs. This is not to be confused with the more commonly known chills or “goose bumps,” as those are called frisson. It might also feel like a sensation of tightening in your throat or tingling in the back of your scalp. Everyone feels it differently, but in all cases it feels awesome.
Some people report that it enters them into an amazingly relax euphoric state that leaves them surprisingly relaxed. Some people even report that it helps them to relax anxiety and other stress related symptoms.
It is triggered in two different ways, both internally and externally.
Internal triggers are usually achieved voluntarily by a specific thought or a pattern of thoughts that is unique to us. It happens when we think about something pleasant or recollect and experience we had enjoyed immensely in the past while our mind wanders.
External triggers happen involuntarily when we’re exposed to an exterior stimuli such as visual, audio, nasal and some sort of cognitive stimuli such as paying close attention to someone talking to you with a soft-spoken intonation, explaining something obvious or teaching you something new. For some reason, paying attention to instructions works very well on the majority of the population, a sort of low level hypnosis.
According to the ASMR research and support site, the feeling can be triggered via these external triggers:
Listening to slow, accented, and especially whispered speech
Watching educational or instructive videos or lectures
Experiencing a high empathetic or sympathetic reaction to an event
Enjoying a piece of art or music
Watching another person complete a task, often in a diligent, attentive manner. Examples are filling out a form, writing a check, going through a purse or bag, inspecting an item closely, etcetera
Close, personal attention from another person
Haircuts, or other touch from another on head or back
Although the way in which you feel this sensation may vary, you probably felt it already but never told this to anyone. Why? Because up until 2010, ASMR didn’t exist anywhere (written at least) and everyone thought that it’s a feeling unique to them.
Since 2010, ASMR became an underground "cult" mindfulness technique. Practitioners report feelings of blissful relaxation, meditation-like states, and flow. Some who suffer from chronic pain, anxiety, and depression find it an effective technique to relieve their condition.
Many people experience the tingling sensation in their scalp, neck, and possibly along the spine in response to light touching such as when a cosmetologist styles hair. One notable aspect of ASMR is that individuals experience similar sensations in response to sounds or images that are personal triggers for them.
How does Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response work?
Some who observe and study ASMR believe that some people may experience enhanced wellbeing and relaxation because the triggers remind them of caring experiences such as being taken care of by a parent. This could be why personal attention from friends, family, nurses, flight attendants, and even cosmetologists inspire a similar response in many people.
For many people, certain sounds or images may inspire biochemical responses similar to feeling loved or cared for.
Applications for ASMR
Communities throughout the web sprung up to explore the use and applications of ASMR. Reddit, YouTube and Soundcloud are just a few places where people share audio, visual, and video content intended to create an Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
In 2015 researchers from the Department of Psychology at Swansea University conducted the first study focused on ASMR. They surveyed people who use AMS media to learn why they use it. Participants stated to what extent they agree or disagree with a range of statements:
82% agreed that they used ASMR to make it easier to go to sleep
70% reported they use ASMR to manage stress.
One misconception is that people frequently use ASMR for sexual stimulation. Yet, according to this study only 5% reported using ASMR media for sexual stimulation while 84% disagreed with that statement.
It is believed that AMSR provides much needed relief from conditions like anxiety, depression and chronic pain.
While researchers still haven't explored every detail of ASMR, it has already been embraced by some marketers and advertisers in their audio and video advertising. For example, the restaurant chain Applebee's produced a one-hour YouTube video featuring "Soothing Grill Sounds – Sizzling Meat."
This isn't the only major brand experimenting with ASMR. Sony, IKEA, Dove, Glenmorangie whisky, and Pepsi are also incorporating ASMR.
YouTube now has lots of ASMR videos designed to trigger the response via visual and auditory methods. One of the most peopular ASMR artists goes by the name GentleWhispering but there’s many others doing the same. Just search “ASMR” on YouTube to find them.
Negative responses to ASMR-videos
Not everyone responds positively to ASMR-videos, and as a matter of fact, especially some sounds can bring about feelings of rage. This phenomenon is called 'misophonia' (hatred of sound).
For instance, sufferers report that noises made by humans, such as ‘loud breathing or nose sounds’ of any volume can produce feelings of disgust, anger, or hatred in a manner which cannot be explained by previously learned associations.
There are distinct similarities between the experience of ASMR and Misophonia. In both phenomena, triggering sounds originate from human movements and behaviours. Reactions to these stimuli automatic in both cases, unexplained by previously learned associations, and have some consistency.
Relation of ASMR with synaesthesiaASMR seems to be closely related to another phenomenon called synaesthesia, which is best known for 'seeing' certain letters and numbers with a specific colour. However, the combination can be with any other sense, in which what we see, can be felt or heard.
Both ASMR and synesthesia follow somewhat similar patterns; particular inducers (external stimuli, such as whispering, close attention, etc.) produce internal sensational experiences in a somewhat predictable manner. In the case of ASMR, tingling and relaxation, which is perceived as positive. ASMR and misophonia are probably two ends of the same spectrum of synaesthesia-like emotional responses.
It may be that ASMR is the positive end of a spectrum of a sound/emotion synaesthesia, and that this tingling sensation is a secondary phenomenon resulting from intensely positive feelings, rather than the primary concurrent. The data collected seems to support this, as many participants reported feeling relaxation and positive emotions even in the absence of a tingling sensation.
However, there is no mention in misophonia research of any negative counterpart to the tingling sensation found in ASMR. If one were looking for a truly polar opposite sensation, it may be expected to observe numbness in the skin or an irritating sensation present. It must be considered, however, that perhaps the opposite of this tingling sensation is not irritation, but actually the general level of sensation that might be expected in typical individuals.
Rather than this aspect lying on a continuum from irritation to typical sensation to pleasant tingling, it is a smaller continuum between typical sensation and pleasant tingling, with many shades of grey between the two.