What is it?
Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), sometimes auto sensory meridian response, is most commonly described as a tingling sensation that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. I have experienced this feeling since childhood, but I did not know what it was until a few years ago when I stumbled upon an ASMR video on YouTube. The video was from a channel called WhispersRed, and it featured a basket full of crinkly and cozy Christmas stuff. When I watched it, it felt as if someone was gently tapping the top of my head and it was different from how I had experienced ASMR before. Throughout childhood I usually felt little shivers going down my spine, but I never felt anything on the top of my head. ASMR content on YouTube has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and some channels have even surpassed a million subscribers.
How can it help mental illness?
I suffer from severe anxiety and dysthymia (also known as persistent depressive disorder), and listening to ASMR helps in a lot of ways. Depending on the content, whether it is just white noise, a show-and-tell type of video, or just a body-doubling video, it really helps me out in my everyday life. If I’m stressed and start dissociating, I just put on my headphones and distract myself with a show-and-tell type of video which takes my mind off of whatever it is that trigger my stress response. If I’m working or trying to study, I love putting on body doubling videos, or ambient sounds related to that activity to feel like there’s someone else in the room with me. Body doubling is also great for ADHD as can help you focus. Just having someone ramble on in the background can also make you feel less lonely, and that is very important during a pandemic. It is way too easy to feel lonely when we are all shut off from each other. Listening to ASMR provides a supportive friend for me whenever I do my little arts and crafts too, like journaling or painting.
What to be wary of?
Some triggers (triggers in this case means whatever makes your head tingle) might be overwhelming for some people. Personally, I can’t listen to anything that includes mouth sounds, like chewing, spit sounds, licking and similar. I also can’t listen to very metallic sounds, like for example playing with the aluminum on pill packets, it just makes me want to shrivel up. It is also common to experience what is called “tingle immunity”. If you’re exposed to a lot of ASMR over an extended period of time, it is likely that you won’t experience as much tingling as before. Your body gets used to it, and the sensation is a lot weaker. I have found that regular breaks of a few days, if possible, helps prevent this from happening.
ASMR is of course a very subjective phenomenon, and some may not experience it at all. Whether you do, or you experience tingle immunity, or have an adverse reaction to it, it is valid. ASMR is not for everyone, and that is completely okay! If you love it, great! If you don’t, that’s completely okay, too! If it’s not really your thing, I would recommend listening to something like lo-fi playlists to help you focus, or guided meditation to help calm your anxiety. Do you have any experiences with ASMR? Whether they have been good or bad, I would love to hear all about them!
Disclaimer: I’m absolutely not a mental health professional, I’m just sharing what has worked for me, and what might work for people who suffer from similar illnesses. There is no cookie cutter cure for anything, and it is all a subjective experience.
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