As a child, I distinctly remember feeling deeply relaxed when my mom read books to me. Her voice was soothing and I instantly felt calmer when she read aloud. As I grew older, I noticed that some teachers’ voices also had relaxing effects on me; while some teachers lectured, I could quite literally fall asleep at my desk.
I realized there was a distinct pattern to my drowsiness: people with soft, quiet voices and/or accents had the ability to knock me out, or at least bring my energy down to a level where I stopped fidgeting and was transfixed on their every word. I had no idea what autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) was then, but I knew that certain auditory experiences could relax me into a near-coma.
Fast-forward many years into late high school, and I found myself poking around on YouTube for videos that could help me sleep and focus while I studied. I remembered my obsession with soothing voices and foreign accents as a child, so I typed “relaxing voices” into the search bar and went from there.
What I found was an ever-growing ASMR community. ASMR is a feeling of euphoria, “tingles,” or extreme relaxation that some people feel when they experience certain voices, sounds, calming hand movements, or activities that require precision and care, such as cutting hair or drawing. These are called “triggers,” and can range from creating zen gardens to giving foreign language lessons to folding towels.
Essentially, the ASMR videos I found on YouTube are created with the intent to “trigger” relaxation, tingles, and sleep. These videos are almost always made using either quiet or whispered voices; some are made with no talking at all, and focus exclusively on gentle sounds.
The ASMR YouTube community has grown to include personalized, soothing role plays that resemble interviews, grocery store check-outs, acupuncture and holistic health treatments, gaming, meditation, and much more. Basically, if there is some mundane task that you find extremely relaxing, you can probably find an ASMR video of it. Watching a video of these mundane tasks seems really weird, but for people in the ASMR community, they’re exactly what’s needed to chill out.
Over the years, many ASMR “artists,” or the creators of this content, have invested in high-tech equipment to make the experiences as soothing and as realistic as possible; many people view ASMR as a craft, and not just “weird” videos of people talking.
People seek out ASMR videos for a variety of reasons. Some people find them helpful for depression, anxiety, PTSD, general stress, studying, meditation, insomnia, and positive self-affirmation. Personally, I do not feel “tingles” in my scalp or spine, so I technically do not “truly” experience ASMR in the traditionally understood sense. Instead, I find soothing noises and voices help me sleep, reduce my anxiety, and help me focus, so that’s what I use the videos for.
ASMR is a phenomenon that has only recently gained traction in mainstream medical spheres and in the mainstream media. Many people who are not familiar with its relaxing effects, or do not find the “traditional” ASMR experiences soothing. A lot of people think the videos are creepy or weird, which is understandable as some of the content produced is a little out-there, to say the least.
Another snag that people run into is assuming that ASMR is somehow sexual. Some people associate soft speaking or whispering with sexual arousal and assume ASMR and sex are intertwined. Another reason ASMR videos are often construed as sexual is that the role-plays featured in the videos portray interactions between the creator and the viewer that is often construed as very intimate.
It doesn’t help that ASMR is sometimes called a “brain-gasm” or an orgasm for the mind. But it’s really not about sex at all and it’s definitely not what the majority of content creators have in mind when they make videos.
If you having trouble sleeping, studying, or reducing your stress levels, or you’re highly sensitive to sound, like me, I urge you to check out ASMR with a totally open mind. It’s been super helpful for me.
If I can’t sleep at night, I’ll find a video of someone speaking softly in a foreign language or making soothing noises, like turning pages in a book. These sounds act like white noise for me. If I need to study or get work done, I’ll find similar videos to listen to in the background because they relax me and prevent me from becoming distracted.
I get that the videos sound kind of weird, but I promise you, it’s not as weird as it sounds, and it could really change your life.