wellness

Whispering, scratching and... chewing: The weird and wonderful world of ASMR.

Pretty much every night I fall asleep listening to people I don’t know whisper to me.

Except they’re not in the room.

And funny enough, I’m not the only one who does this.

ASMR is one of the fastest-growing genres on YouTube, with more Australians searching for ASMR on YouTube than ever before. 

For those who haven’t heard of it, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, or ASMR as it’s more commonly known, refers to the tingling sensation people experience in their scalp and throughout their body when a deep level of relaxation and calm is felt. 

Whispering, tapping on random surfaces, chewing noises, relationship roleplays, eating food close up to a microphone: the sub-genres of ASMR are endless.

Watch: What is ASMR? Mia, Holly and Jessie discuss on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

After experiencing loneliness, stewing on thoughts in the middle of the night, Laura Nagy would type up the four magic words into her web browser and immediately feel comforted.

“It puts you, or at least me, in a childlike state of relaxation. It kind of feels like being a child and your mum spoils you: playing with your hair, putting you to sleep. It’s super relaxing,” says Laura, a filmmaker and now the writer and narrator of Audible Original’s Pillow Talk. It’s a podcast which unpacks the phenomenon of ASMR.

“It feels comforting, almost personal. Like it was just made for me.”

For others, listening to ASMR can feel like “pop rocks down their spine,” as said on Pillow Talk

For me, I just feel bloody content and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Celebrities are also getting in on the craze, with many giving it a go via W Magazine’s #ASMR series on YouTube. Cardi B, Kate Hudson, Penn Badgley, Paris Hilton, Salma Hayek and Henry Golding have whispered, chomped on chips and even shucked a corncob. 

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Let’s explore the bizarre and beautiful online phenomenon of ASMR.

Image: YouTube. So, what exactly is ASMR?

For those who haven’t watched an ASMR video before, you must be feeling pretty baffled.

I admit, the concept of listening to a stranger whisper lines of comfort and kindness is completely bizarre. But somehow it works for me and millions of others.

“ASMR is two things: one, it’s a psychological body sensation that a lot of people have in reaction to certain auditory and visual stimuli. But secondly and equally, it’s an internet sensation,” Laura notes.

“Listening to ASMR for the first time, I thought it was funny actually. My friend sent me a YouTube video of a woman doing an eye exam roleplay video. We thought it was ridiculous: I mean it’s a three-hour video of a woman pretending to be an optometrist.”

“But the more I watched it, I did start to feel really relaxed and I guess it grew from there.”

Image: YouTube.

Amazingly, a key chemical called oxytocin is often released when listening to ASMR. 

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Oxytocin, a hormone associated with social bonding, “is known to make you feel comforted and relaxed,” says Dr Craig Richard, a Professor of Biopharmaceutical Sciences at Shenandoah University Virginia, who is also one of the world’s leading experts in ASMR.

ASMR-artist The Whispering Mother, real name Lauren Ostrowski Fenton, says for those who watch and listen to ASMR, it’s all about feeling cared for.

“It runs on empathy, and when you watch and listen, it gives you a sensation that you are actually there. It's like virtual reality. They're generally looking for love, they're looking for attention, they're looking for care.”

Laura Nagy. Image: Supplied. 

Why people watch ASMR.

Loneliness, sadness, insomnia, stress, lack of intimacy, trauma, anxiety, depression, boredom, curiosity. There are so many reasons why people seek out these videos.

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Interviewed on Pillow Talk, Frankie is someone who listens to ASMR. “I get really bad night terrors, associated with childhood and teen trauma and sexual assault. To just have a tool that I can utilise for me to relax is just incredibly healing.”

Logan, a trans man who makes ASMR YouTube videos, aims to target a young queer audience, addressing issues such as gender dysphoria, mental illness and bullying.

“It’s interesting to see why people go to ASMR. If this video is the thing that makes you feel like someone has helped ease your pain, then so be it,” he said.

Laura also shares that for many, ASMR relationship roleplay videos are a way for people to see positive interactions at play.

For example, in the world of relationship roleplay videos, questions asked by the ASMR artist can include “may I touch you?” and “are you okay?”

It’s the point of asking for consent that particularly resonated with Laura.

“It’s about what people often wish they are experiencing but aren’t finding in their ordinary lives. It can be something as benign as they want someone to cuddle when they go to sleep so they don’t feel lonely,” she shares.

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“Or experiencing consent roleplay by an actor, where you can learn how you should be treated or kind of sidenote something that you previously experienced, such as an abusive or toxic relationship.”

A 2018 psychology study in America found those who experience the sensations associated with ASMR showed a significantly greater reduction in heart rate when watching these videos, as well as feeling relaxed and socially connected.

Dr Craig Richard confirms this, saying: “There have been several peer-reviewed studies into ASMR that do show that it is very helpful in making people feel relaxed. That in turn helps anxiety and helps you to fall asleep.”

Listen to this episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues after podcast.


So, could ASMR have benefits beyond some brain tingles?  

The simple answer is yes: although ASMR should be viewed as an aid rather than a stand-alone solution.

As Lauren Ostrowski Fenton said to Mamamia in 2017: "ASMR acts as a bridge. It doesn’t negate psychology.”

“A massage may help with rehab following a back injury, but you still see the physio. So, if someone has PTSD or another serious health issue, they must see a psychologist.”

But the future looks bright.  

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“ASMR is in a really interesting place because it started out as in fringe communities online, but now the future of ASMR is growth,” Laura says.

“From a commercial point of view, we’re seeing advertising, Super Bowl ads, major Hollywood films. But I also think that with more research being done, we may see it used more in therapeutic settings.”

“A lot of neurologists and psychologists are currently studying ASMR and seeing how best we can utilise it for people who are experiencing anxiety, depression, PTSD and insomnia.”

The statistics speak for themselves. In terms of Google searches, ‘ASMR sleep’ is one of the top searches.

Laura notes, “it’s a pretty pure corner of the internet overall. I mean, these content creators make videos that help others feel good and/or sleep better”.

“It’s a complex community of whispers and words that many join to feel less alone.”

Image: YouTube.

Pillow Talk the podcast is available from October 26 as part of Audible’s Plus Catalogue
 
Audible.com.au/pillowtalk  

Have you tried or would you ever try ASMR? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Feature Image: Getty + Supplied + Mamamia.

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