IMAGINE being able to harness a feeling of pure euphoria and relaxation, and then induce that feeling on demand – completely for free. Sounds pretty ideal, doesn’t it?
Welcome to the online YouTube world of ASMR.
ASMR, or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is the name for the intense “tingle” around the scalp when a certain sensory trigger is provided. Many experience this sensation when their hair is being played with, or when they are listening to soft sounds. While the feeling normally starts in the scalp, it can reportedly spread to the neck, spine and even limbs (asmruniversity). Not everybody experiences it, but for the thousands who do, the ever-expanding ASMR community online seems to be a lifesaver.
Since being coined in 2010, the term ‘ASMR’ has suceeded in creating an entire online community. “If you feel cold, how would you say it without the word ‘cold’?” analogises Emma, otherwise known as English YouTuber WhispersRed ASMR. Her channel now reaches 256,742 subscribers (as of Jan 2017) with total views hitting just under 58,000,000. Her videos range from hair brushing and whispered makeup tutorials to flavoured tea collections – all with soft lighting and soft noises designed to induce relaxation in any gender and age group.
Growing in followers by the day, these channels upload videos designed to trigger ASMR in viewers and listeners. Thousands of hours’ worth of content packed with stimuli to make you feel hypnotically relaxed and to battle insomnia – sounds like any stressed student’s dream.
“On every video, there’s at least one comment saying ‘I’m studying at the moment’”, Emma tells me of her viewers. She recalls, “When I was studying I was super stressed… If I had had a YouTube app on a phone that would have been absolutely amazing.”
Just the ticket for anybody mid-exam stress, then – but it’s worth mentioning that the ASMR corner of YouTube is often, at first glance, a bizarre haven. First-time viewers can find videos surreal, confusing or downright disturbing. “The weird stigma’s always going to be here,” says 22-year-old Tony of ASMR channel TonyBomboni (ASMRer), which has racked up over 193,000 subscribers and a total of 53,000,000 views since its creation in 2012. It is eclectic to say the least, from spiritual guides and a ‘sassy maid’ role play to videos about herbs, ice cream shops and jewellery – a range he explains is purposeful to cater for his varied audience. Still, he doesn’t hesitate to admit that it’s not always immediately understood. “When people first approached my videos they were like, “What the hell is this?” Then I see commenters come back and say “I love you and this is amazing.””
So if it’s helping thousands of people relax and battle stress… Why the stigma at all? Emma suggests that natural childhood reactions to comfort, closeness and safety become linked more and more to sexuality as we grow up. Of her own childhood, she says, “I’m from up North- there weren’t people meditating or doing yoga! We’re worried about what we should be thinking, not what we are thinking. With all the advertising and films, when a woman comes up close to a camera [people assume] it’s because she wants to turn you on.” Tony adds that he tries “to look past the five percent who finds it a disturbing thing, a creepy thing.”
Even in the face of judgement or criticism, there is no shortage of positive testimony. ASMR could well be life-changing, especially in times of acute stress such as experienced by overworked students. “Thankfully I discovered [ASMR] when I was finishing up my senior year of high school,” says Tony. “I began feeling less depressed, less anxious because of the community.” Meanwhile, both ‘ASMRtists’ are inundated with messages of thanks for the support and help they have provided viewers. “Helping them stop taking their medications for anxiety was a big one for me,” reveals Tony, although crucially Emma cautions that “if you are anxious or depressed and you need help, seek some counselling – but [ASMR] could help you sleep as a complement.”
Rightly so. A relatively new and little researched phenomenon, it’s difficult to prescribe ASMR as the missing piece of the puzzle. “The main thing we could know is what chemical reaction happens,” Emma says of potential ASMR research. “But the thing is, it takes a long time for a study to be published.” So far, the most cutting edge knowledge can be found at asmruniversity.com.
Yet for those who experience ASMR, anecdotal evidence seems quite enough. Even if the ASMR stimuli don’t provide the “tingles” that fill the comments under each video, it still seems a sacred, happy community in the vicious consumer world of YouTube. “People don’t go to videos like this to be told to ‘subscribe’ or to ‘buy this’ and ‘buy that’,” Emma reassures me. Both ‘ASMRtists’ sing the highest praises of the community and its supportive members – and it’s certain that although the odd internet ‘troll’ is sadly inescapable, they are almost non-existent under ASMR videos.
Thinking ASMR might be for you? Emma and Tony are both adamant that watching a range is essential. “You have to find what works for you,” Emma advises. “It’s worth trying – just be open minded!” And it certainly seems that if it does work for you, it could be an absolute game-changer.
So if you feel ready to keep that open mind and have a go at something that really could revolutionise the way you handle stress, concentration or insomnia… Grab your best quality headphones, turn off autoplay, and settle down with a sturdy wifi connection. Here are my top picks to try out ASMR:
- Hair Brushing, Scalp Massage ASMR – WhispersRed
- The Most Relaxing ASMR Video Ever Made – Tony Bomboni
- Brushing, Massage, Crinkles – WhispersRed
- Older Sister Roleplay – LilyWhispers
- Men’s Shave – DR PHILL
6. Intense Tapping – Fred’s Voice
7. Tapping Nails – BlossomASMR