One of my absolute favorite things to do at the end of a difficult day is lay down in bed, pop in my ear phones, and listen to Maria from GentleWhispering on Youtube softly whisper about haircuts or towel folding. It sounds strange that such a mundane and otherwise completely boring task can provide such a relaxing and meditative state of mind. It is a relatively new phenomenon called ASMR, and it stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.
It is the combination of physical and psychological responses in the body from a variety of sensory “triggers” like hair brushing, whispering, nail tapping, or slow hand movements. I have several negative sensory triggers which cause me anxiety, discomfort, or meltdowns, but I also have positive sensory triggers which are activated by watching or performing ASMR activities. For example, a loud alarm causes me to have to plug my ears with my fingers or put in ear plugs because the noise is incredibly overwhelming and causes my anxiety level to rise quickly. Whispers and gentle fingernail tapping, however, have the opposite effect and are both comforting and relaxing and cause tingling sensations to begin in the back of my head and travel in waves down my neck and arms as if my nerves were statically charged. I am definitely not the only person who experiences the “brain tingles,” and I hope by sharing this magical phenomenon with others they will discover the amazing relaxation of the ASMR community.
Most people with an ASD have sensory processing disorder or difficulties coping with the way they experience sensory input day-to-day. My hypothesis is that people who have Autism are more likely than neurotypical people to experience tingles, but it isn’t specifically an Autistic trait nor is it going to occur in every Autistic person. It would make sense that those of us with more connections in our brain, especially if those connections were from auditory, visual, and tactile receptors, would be more sensitive to the cross-sensory experience of ASMR. I don’t watch the visual portion of the videos because I find the eye contact and facial expressions of the artists distract me from the auditory recording which is my trigger. The tapping sounds tend to be the best triggers for me whether they are nail tapping on a wood table or on a glass bottle, but almost all the different texture sounds will give me various degrees of tingles. The whispering voices especially in a language I don’t understand are the best as I am less distracted by that actual words and more in tune with the different sounds being produced. The soft-spoken doesn’t particularly cause tingles for me as I am often listening for words rather than sounds in that case. There are close to 50 triggers I know of off the top of my head, but more are discovered as the artists begin to experiment with new textures and methods of making sounds. If you are interested in finding your own triggers, I recommend starting with a video like this one by Olivia Kissper on her Youtube channel.
Despite the rumor, ASMR is not sexual in nature, but rather for relaxation much like a massage or a spa treatment. Rarely there are some who may have other responses to these videos, but the majority of people who watch them are seeking relaxation, tranquility, and sleep. Besides the tingling in my scalp and down my neck the triggers also cause an interruption of brain activity. There are usually several thoughts or feelings running through my head at any given moment–imagine talking to yourself but instead of out-loud the dialogue is echoing in your brain. It is loud inside my head, but once I turn on the ASMR videos the triggers begin to interrupt signals and thoughts as if each tingle is a signal being jammed and misfiring into space. Eventually the constant dialogue of processing and sensory input is replaced by a calm tingling darkness usually followed by sleep. It has been the most effective method for me to get to sleep, calm my anxiety, and recover from meltdowns even when compared to medications both prescription and homeopathic, aromatherapy, or meditation. I can only speak for myself because I experience the tingles to a higher degree, but I would venture a guess that ASMR may be particularly effective for coping with the symptoms of Autism, Anxiety, and Depression in those who are triggered by ASMR videos. It is also easily accessible for anyone with a device that can play videos with an Internet connection or download soundtracks listed in online stores. It is cheap, easy to access, and has no harsh side effects like some medications making ASMR a better choice for those who need mild sleep aids or calm therapy. I am not suggesting it will replace any behavioral therapy or prescription medications or even be effective at all for some people, but I would suggest trying it to see if there are any additional benefits that can be gained by it. You aren’t out anything besides a few minutes for trying.
ASMR isn’t for everyone, but those who enjoy it are definitely in love with it. It might not make sense to a lot of people who don’t experience tingles, but anyone with Autism knows that just because there are people who don’t understand something doesn’t make it any less powerful or amazing. Seriously, give it a try and see if your brain doesn’t thank you for taking time to relax and listen to a little bit of magic.
To read more about ASMR click here.
For some of my favorite ASMRtists click the links below:
Maria– Gentle Whispering
Corrina– ASMR Massage Psychetruth