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Does ASMR Help Ease Anxiety?

Can listening to someone whisper on YouTube ease your anxiety?

Somewhere between the YouTube’s cute puppy compilations, product reviews, and fail videos is another genre: ASMR videos. Though they may appear pointless to some, ASMR videos have gained a following, captivating audiences who claim that listening to them triggers a “flow-like mental state” that also helps to temporarily ease depression, chronic pain, insomnia, and stress.

For the uninitiated, ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s sometimes referred to as a “head orgasm” or “brain tingles,” though the sensations associated with ASMR can be felt in the neck, shoulders, limbs, and the rest of the body. In addition to the physical reaction, people say ASMR leaves them feeling emotionally content, relaxed, sleepy, calm, peaceful, and in some cases, euphoric.

While almost anything can trigger ASMR—watching a dance performance, getting a haircut, and “crisp” sounds, such as paper crinkling—YouTube videos have become a popular tool. The creators of these videos refer to themselves as ASMRtists.

You don’t need to seek out ASMR to experience it. According to some proponents, ASMR encompasses any sensory stimulus that feels relaxing. Naturally, this varies from person to person. Some people experience ASMR while watching Bob Ross paint; others experience it while listening to a cat purr.

There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that ASMR can ease symptoms of anxiety. In a Bustle article published last year, Alana Saltz described how listening to certain sounds eased her anxiety symptoms. Other bloggers have reported similar effects, while ASRM-related Reddit forums are filled with avowals of the benefits of ASRM therapy.

But the scientific community is still playing catch up. To date, research on ASMR is lacking. Some of the first studies on ASMR were focused on simply describing the sensation and its triggers.

One study suggested that ASMR might be related to other sensory conditions, such misophonia, and synaesthesia. The same study found that engaging in ASMR could temporarily improve symptoms of depression and chronic pain.

Another study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, found that individuals who experience ASMR tend to show similar scores on Big Five personality traits, scoring significantly higher on Neuroticism and Openness to Experience and significantly lower on Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness. So, ASMR might be associated with certain personality traits.

Others are skeptical that ASMR even exists and are wary of purported experts selling ASMR videos without backing up the claims they’re making about the related benefits. Back in 2015, an ASMR video producer told the U.K.’s The Daily Mail that the videos trigger the release of oxytocin, a pleasure hormone—there’s currently no evidence that this is the case.

Still, the people currently studying this phenomenon are excited about its potential as a therapeutic treatment for common mental health disorders, such as anxiety. While it’s far from a cure, it could help. And for YouTube’s ASMR disciples, it already has.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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