As a breast cancer survivor, I feel relaxed, comforted, and relieved from health anxiety when I watch ASMR videos. But the experience isn’t the same for everyone.
I’m curled up in bed, watching a video on my phone. On the screen, a young woman softly whispers as her long, colorful nails gently click against a glass bottle of facial serum. She opens the serum container, slowly taps the dropper against the bottle neck, squeezes a few drops onto her fingers, and pretends to apply them to the face of the viewer.
I feel my body relax as a pleasant tingling sensation spreads from my scalp to my neck and onto my back. She continues to whisper and “apply” various skin products to my face, and I feel a deep sense of calm replacing the tension that previously gripped me.
That relaxing tingling sensation is known as an autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). The sensation can be triggered by certain stimuli, including sounds, visuals, and close contact with another person.
ASMR trigger videos have become a huge trend on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram in recent years. But ASMR didn’t enter the collective consciousness until around 2007, when people began discussing their experiences in an online forum.
In 2009, a YouTube user called WhisperingLife started recording videos of herself whispering because she enjoys the relaxing sensation she experiences when listening to it. In 2010, YouTuber Jennifer Allen coined the term “ASMR,” kicking off a new genre of online content that now encompasses more than 5.2 million videos on YouTube alone.
ASMR videos are more than just a social media trend, though. They can be a useful tool for people living with chronic illness and health anxiety. As a breast cancer survivor, I use ASMR to help manage my everyday stress and health-related anxiety.
Research on ASMR is limited, but early studies identify a number of potential benefits from the sensation. A small 2019 study with 10 participants suggests that ASMR may trigger the brain to release dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins, which can make you feel comforted, relaxed, or sleepy.
In a 2015 study, 80% of the 475 participants reported mood improvement after exposure to ASMR. Some participants living with chronic pain reported symptom relief that lasted up to 3 hours after ASMR exposure.
I’ve also found that when I really focus on ASMR videos, I tend to zone out and forget the worries of the day. The 2015 study suggests that ASMR can help you enter a state of “flow,” when you’re in deep concentration and lose track of time.
Another small 2019 study with 15 participants suggests that listening to binaural beats with ASMR triggers may help induce the brain signals required for sleep. I love watching ASMR videos while taking a bath or lying in bed before going to sleep. It helps me wind down and fall asleep faster, similar to meditation.
So, how do you reap the benefits of ASMR? The first and most important step is figuring out which triggers work for you. When I first began watching ASMR content, I mostly looked at tapping videos — a person tapping their long nails against an object or a keyboard, often whispering at the same time. But I didn’t get it. Was I supposed to feel something?
Turns out, tapping isn’t one of my ASMR triggers, which vary from person to person. There’s no one-size-fits-all ASMR video. Beyond tapping and whispering, ASMR videos can include scratching and crinkling noises, like the sound of someone opening product packaging.
Other videos feature slow hand movements, repetitive tasks, and close personal attention. With the latter, I discovered a subgenre of ASMR content that brought me the relaxation I craved: spa and skin care videos.
As I watched creators open their Sephora hauls and virtually treat me to a skin care routine, I began to feel the soothing, tingly sensation that a spa visit can bring. These personal care videos are my ASMR trigger. They allow me to tap into a restorative spa experience when I don’t have the time or money to get an actual facial or massage.
ASMR triggers vary from person to person, and the response or lack thereof can vary too. Some people feel nothing when watching ASMR videos, while others may experience stressful or even unpleasant sensations. ASMR videos might not be the right tool to add to your self-care routine, and that’s OK.
ASMR videos don’t replace other coping strategies in my life, such as therapy, medication, and meditation. But they have added another layer to my self-care routine. ASMR complements other ways I manage my everyday stress and health-specific anxieties as a breast cancer survivor. And for those of us living with chronic illness or other health issues, ASMR content offers a free, easy-to-access tool for improving our daily lives.
Medically reviewed on June 28, 2023
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