That Good Tingly Feeling
People with ASMR use sensory triggers for therapeutic purposes.
By Hali Ortega
Sitting in the local coffee shop while catching up on some reading and enjoying a regular cup o’ joe, the barista’s voice reaches you from across the room, gently asking for the next customer’s order. A pleasant tingle from the back of your head runs down your spine and into your limbs as she speaks. This sensation is Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR).
ASMR, the tingling sensation described, can occur in the head, scalp, back or limbs and is triggered by any taste, sound, touch, smell or sight. And while it is not widely known or understood, its popularity has grown as online groups have been created to share ASMR stories and triggers.
Found all over the Internet, especially Reddit, Skype and YouTube, ASMR communities consist of watchers and creators of ASMR videos. These videos, intended to trigger ASMR sensations to calm and relax the viewer, include soft, calm sounds like getting a haircut, typing, drawing on paper or soft whispering.
In online communities, ASMR video creators are known as ASMRtists; they create videos with sounds requested by people who experience ASMR.
Tony Bomboni is an ASMRtist. He began creating content for his YouTube channel ASMRer in April 2012 as a way to give back to the ASMR community for helping him relax. With over 20,000 subscribers, Bomboni has given back in a huge way.
“The ASMR community in general is a very open, loving and kind group of people who are constantly open to sharing new ideas together and looking out for each other,” said Bomboni.
Not everyone is as open to ASMR, however; the sensation has many skeptics. Neurologist Steven Novella believes otherwise and wrote in a Neurologica blog post that similar to a migraine headache, some people don’t experience certain phenomena, but that doesn’t negate its validity.
Lauren Ostrowski Fenton, a counselor and life coach from Victoria, Australia, has experienced the calming effects of ASMR herself. She found growth and development in ASMR treatments after her marriage ended, specifically watching Ilse Blansert’s ASMR videos. A huge ASMRtist from Toronto, Canada, Blansert has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine and ABC World News.
After about eight months of watching ASMR videos, Fenton began producing videos herself and with a Master of counseling from Monash University in Clayton, Australia, she started implementing them into her counseling.
Fenton uses ASMR videos as a supportive therapy, meaning they serve non-diagnostic treatment but have been found helpful for some individuals.
“I started using ASMR because it was clearly, for many reasons, comforting,” Fenton said. “It reduced pain for many people. It helped to clarify and still the mind, so that the individual can find their own answers within that stillness.”
Her clients and YouTube channel fans include ex-veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and young people experiencing depression — particularly those who cut themselves or have contemplated suicide. She advocates the use of ASMR videos in hospitals, orphanages and schools to manage stress.
ASMR is yet to be a proven therapy solution, though Fenton has found in her research that ASMR produces oxytocin and serotonin.
“Oxytocin may not lead to sleep, serotonin may. We still need to know more about that, we’re in the infant stages,” Fenton said. “Oxytocin can be stimulating, comforting, make you feel good. This needs to be backed up with medical research, but the experiential research indicates that.”
Bomboni, too, said not enough people were aware of ASMR for research to have been done in the past. But, now, as ASMR has entered the public eye, there is hope for research development.
“There still needs to be a lot of research and attention brought on ASMR,” Bomboni said. ”Our story is not going to be over any time soon.”
Photos courtesy of Jeff Golden, Tony Bomboni & Lauren Ostrowski Fenton
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