- ASMR is a massive subculture on YouTube where creators whisper, eat, and flutter their fingers softly into a highly sensitive microphone.
- Many fans say they experience “brain tingles” when they watch and listen to ASMR.
- There’s growing evidence that ASMR is both relaxing and might have physiological benefits too.
- In this unprecedented time of anxiety and stress, ASMR might be something you could try if you’re having trouble with stress and sleeping.
- Karuna Satori ASMR and The ASMR Psychologist spoke to Insider about their channels and how ASMR can help people’s mental and physical health.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
In Margaret Atwood’s “MaddAddam” trilogy, the idealistic, genetically-spliced humanoid species created by genius-turned-mad scientist Crake can purr at a frequency that soothes the mind and heals physical wounds.
While humans in the real world don’t possess this ability, millions find similar comfort in watching ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian responses) videos – a subculture on YouTube characterised by soft noises and effects, often using a highly sensitive microphone, that trigger relaxation, meditation, and sleepiness.
As well as stimulating relaxing “brain tingles,” emerging research has found there could also be a physiological benefit to the finger flutters and whispering. In this unprecedented time of anxiety and stress, ASMR might be something more people can turn to.
ASMR can provide relief from anxieties and stress
Insider’s UK Entertainment Editor Tom Murray first came across ASMR when he clicked on a viral video of a woman eating a pickle. Since then he’s been an avid viewer of people getting their heads massaged or scratched, bartenders silently crafting elaborate cocktails, and the tapping and scratching of various objects.
He’s been watching even more ASMR than usual since the lockdown was enforced in the UK to “unwind from the stress” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I find that ASMR is something of a cheat code for relaxation,” he said. “While it might take you a while to sit down and get lost in a book or a TV show, the effects of ASMR are almost instant, like a soft, mental tranquilizer.
“As soon as one of my favourite creators flutters their fingers, scratches a surface, or whispers softly, my eyes glaze over and the tension of quarantine life recedes like a tide.”
People all over the world are struggling to find a way to deal with their new-found isolation from friends and family, and anxiety levels that are running higher than ever.
“Human beings don’t like uncertainty, and it is really making things quite unmanageable,” Dr Emma Grey, a psychologist and YouTuber told Insider. “There is obviously a physical risk to COVID-19, but the biggest risk outside of the financial and economic one is the psychological risk because people are cut off from their normal ways of coping.”
Whether your usual routine calls for keeping super busy, or sitting in a park, that’s likely been taken away from you without much warning at all. ASMR could be a new tool to relax and stop the tossing and turning at night, Grey said, even for those who have never considered it before. That includes people who don’t get the “brain orgasm.”
“ASMR gives that immediate, immediate relief,” she said. “Lots of people say, I don’t get tingles, but it’s still relaxing. So it’s not just for tingly people. I think it can be for everybody, which is good if we want to kind of promote it as a compliment to therapy.”
Becoming an internationally recognised treatment
Grey, whose channel The ASMR Psychologist has about 35,000 subscribers, first looked up the term in 2019 when people kept telling her she sounded like other ASMRtists because of her soft voice.
“I looked it up and then realised that actually ASMR was something that I had experienced all my life,” she said, right back to when she was at school and a Reverend would come in for assembly.
“My first memory I think of ASMR was him speaking,” said Grey. “He was very softly spoken and the way that he spoke was very purposeful. I can’t remember a word of what he actually said, but I can remember really looking forward to Friday assemblies because Reverend White was coming in.”
Grey also wondered whether people with mental health problems were finding refuge in ASMR videos, and whether it could boost existing therapy treatments to help improve the therapeutic relationship.
“One of the biggest problems in psychology is engaging your patients, getting them to feel comfortable enough to trust you and work with you,” she said. “And it got me thinking that maybe ASMR could be used to improve that, and kind of speed up that connection.”
Grey is now conducting a study on the reasons people seek out ASMR videos and what they like about them, whether they get the tingles or not.
“I’m really hoping that this will enable us to kind of take ASMR from sort of a niche thing on YouTube to sort of an internationally recognised treatment,” she said. “Because it is an international phenomenon. It’s in every country. And it seems such a waste that it’s not being used.”
The current working hypothesis is that ASMR triggers feel-good endorphins like dopamine, which can help improve mood in the short term. But in the long term, it needs to be combined with therapy that helps you to tackle why you feel bad in the first place.
“One of the problems we have is when you see a patient, you can’t make them feel better instantly,” said Grey. “You say, ‘I can help you, but you’ve got to hold on, you’ve got to wait two, three, four, five months until you feel better.’ And that’s too long if you’ve been suffering for so long.”
But combining psychological treatments with ASMR tackles both the immediate and the long term, she said, making it a “comprehensive, complete therapy.”
‘It helped me get my life back together’
Karuna Satori, who recently hit a million followers on her YouTube channel, got into the ASMR world through watching massage videos. She was having trouble with insomnia after getting clean from a heroin and Oxycontin addiction, until she stumbled across videos that gave her relaxing chills all over her body.
“It helped me sleep and it began helping me get my life back together,” Satori told Insider. “It’s like when I finally got to settle down at night, ASMR was like clarity for me. It was being able to sleep, it was being able to relax. It was being able to, I guess, make my own little safe space, watching these videos for the hour that I had before my baby woke up.”
Rather than lying awake for hours, ASMR was lolling Satori into sleep in 15 or 20 minutes. The massage videos led her onto an account called MinxLaura123 ASMR that opened up her horizons of what ASMR could be. She then decided to set up her own channel in 2014.
Satori thinks part of the relaxation that comes from ASMR is through the bond between the artist and the viewer. One recent comment said it was amazing how much trust you have watching a video because at any moment the artist could “scream bloody murder into the microphone” and completely ruin the viewer’s experience.
“I definitely think what is so appealing or relaxing or what’s so helpful is the personal attention,” said Satori. “We find in our lives whether we have our significant others or friends or anything else that we’re not getting that kind of attention often. So just watching somebody give somebody that full-on hundred per cent attention is relaxing and comforting. It’s a form of safety so you’re more likely to relax.”
It’s similar to Reiki and hypnosis, she said, which are also all about being up close and personal.
“Watching somebody just be so intent on what they’re doing kind of puts you in a trance,” Satori said.
Satori has seen her views skyrocket 30-40% in the last few weeks, which she puts down to people needing ASMR “more than ever” among the global chaos.
“It can help people at this time because, I mean, everybody’s scared,” she said. “We’re stuck indoors, we fear for our children and our family members, and it’s like we’re collectively experiencing a traumatic experience. Whether we want to say that or not.”
ASMR is simply a feeling
Relaxing is a skill, said Grey, so it takes time to learn to do it effectively. That’s why some people may find ASMR irritating at first – they battle their subconscious with the power dynamic of truly letting go.
“If you have been struggling with anxiety over an extended period of time, you’ve got chronically high levels of stress hormone cortisol in your system, and it’s quite hard to relax,” she said. “So if you are watching the videos for the first time and you are in quite a stressed-out state, I would always recommend you just sit and listen, with no expectations.”
Satori recommends looking up “ASMR triggers” and “how to get ASMR” on YouTube as a place to start. But she said to also be wary as the community is very over-saturated right now with creators who don’t necessarily have their viewers’ best interests at heart.
There’s a lot of incorrect stigma around ASMR being sexual, or weird, or about eating live animals, and Satori wants people to know it’s none of those things. It’s simply “a feeling” some people seek because they’re in need of some “purring” more than others.
“I just want people to truly know that ASMR is not just a trend,” Satori said. “It truly is helpful. It can be healing. It can be what you want it to be. And I really just think if you can have an open mind and go into ASMR and give it a chance, you could really find that it could help you.”