Joanna Gaden

In the midst of the chaos that was life as a fifth grader, I loved when we had quiet reading time.  I was a huge bookworm, excited every year to pick out another Roald Dahl or Magic Treehouse book at the Scholastic Book Fair, which I would be avidly absorbed in at the dinner table.  Despite my unquenchable desire to transport myself to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory or travel back in time in a magic treehouse, I mostly looked forward to listening to my friend in class lightly read.  Whenever she read, a relaxing, tingly, goosebump-y sensation on my scalp and arms would calm me; I would become so entranced with these ‘tingles’ that it was difficult for me to keep my eyes open.

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Since I started experiencing these sensations, I kept it a secret.  I didn’t understand what was happening, and I was afraid of being ostracized for my ‘weird obsession’ with hearing light whispering sounds.

When I was a freshman in college, I attended a slumber party with the other girls in my a cappella group.  Even though I was exhausted by the end of the day, I dreaded finding a comfortable enough position on the hard floor to fall asleep, especially considering I frequently suffered from stress-induced insomnia.  While I was getting ready to settle down, anticipating a night of restlessness, one of the girls brought up how she relaxes with ASMR videos, which feature all kinds of sounds that ‘trigger’ people to feel tingles and fall asleep.  That night, familiar whisper sounds lulled me to sleep as I listened to ASMR for the first time.

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (more commonly known as ASMR) is a physical tingly sensation some people feel upon hearing certain sounds (e.g. whispering, tapping, or crinkly paper sounds) or seeing certain actions (e.g. hairbrushing, massaging, or hand movements).  Most people who experience or ‘have’ ASMR feel ‘tingles,’ goosebump-like, chill sensations on their scalp, neck, and along their back, but others have reported feeling relaxed all over their body.  Some describe ASMR sensations as feeling similar to receiving a scalp massage or having their hair lightly brushed or played with.  Others listen to ASMR videos simply to feel relaxed without experiencing tingly sensations.  ASMR is used by thousands, if not millions, of people to relax and decrease depression, anxiety, and insomnia.  Most ASMR creators, self-identified as ‘ASMRtists’, can be found on Youtube, but the growing popularity of ASMR has also resulted in the creation of apps (such as ‘Tingles’) and inclusion of ASMR audios on listening platforms, like Spotify and iTunes.

If this concept sounds weird to you, you’re not alone.  Not only do some people find it difficult to understand ASMR or extremely strange upon watching videos (likely because they do not experience the so-called tingles), but some viewers even find ASMR videos irritating.  Misophonia, or a strong annoyance resulting from certain sounds, is quite the opposite of having ASMR; those who have misophonia may feel angry or highly uncomfortable upon hearing ASMR videos, especially those that include mouth sounds, gum chewing, or eating.  I personally enjoy whispering or ‘inaudible whispering’ videos, but cannot stand listening to eating sounds.  So, it really depends on where your relaxation stems from.

Another common hesitation about ASMR comes from the perception that ASMR is inherently sexual.  Most ASMRtists are women, and some of their channels are subtly or explicitly sexualized, either by themselves or by their Youtube viewers.  Reading comments under ASMR Youtube videos can be quite cringe-worthy due to some viewers’ perception that ASMR is for sexual stimulation or fetishization.  However, members of the ASMR community, including myself, find this perception inhibiting, as we feel that it gets in the way of spreading knowledge about the relaxing and non-sexual aspect of ASMR videos that aid so many of us in getting a good night of sleep.

 I suffered from frequent insomnia, overthinking, and restless sleeping for years, but since starting ASMR, I rarely experience these symptoms.    

Due to the lack of research and concrete findings on the biological causes of ASMR, even neuroscientists do not fully understand why ASMR occurs.  Some have speculated that ASMR is a genetic trait, while others attribute the phenomena to finding comfort from kindness, personal attention, and being read to sleep, which may stem from nurturing childhood experiences.  For more information, check out The New Yorker’s compelling video about ASMR research.

I suffered from frequent insomnia, overthinking, and restless sleeping for years, but since I’ve started listening to ASMR, I rarely experience these symptoms.  Not only has ASMR become a valuable outlet for relaxation, sleep, and de-stressing, but it has also provided me with an online community that similarly grew up feeling confused and strange for experiencing tingly sensations from certain sounds and actions.  Members of the ASMR community tend to emphasize that ‘you are not alone’ for finding certain sounds relaxing, and even describe feeling lucky for being able to physically feel tingles from auditory stimuli.  If you would like to know more about ASMR or are curious to find out if you experience ASMR, check out this assorted trigger video by acclaimed ASMRtist, The One Lilium ASMR.      

 

Joanna Gaden is a recent college graduate from the University of Michigan who moved from her small town in the Detroit metro area to pursue big city living in Manhattan, NY.  Her interests include psychology, jewelry making, cats, barista-ing, and exploring the world one bite at a time.

 

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