I was diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder (now called Sensory Processing Disorder) when I was 10 years old. That is a very long and complicated backstory, and I don't have a musical number prepared or any backup dancers on hand, so we'll kind of gloss over most of it and just say that there are a lot of sensory things in life that make my brain angry or make it just kind of...melt. I went through occupational therapy for many years of my childhood to help correct what was wrong, and while it helped a lot of things, there are still many things, like repetitive noises, flickering lights, and overwhelming scents, etc. that can throw me for a loop. Now granted, I won't go into a complete meltdown, but it can completely distract me to the point where I can't think about anything else, and if I'm not careful it can make me very irritable. Chewing, in particular, is a sound that I still absolutely cannot handle even today. I either eat with you, or I usually need to be at least a room or two away or have headphones on so I can't hear you chew. Otherwise? I plan your slow and brutal murder in intricate detail.
A couple years ago I was looking into 3d and binaural sound. It was a unique concept to me, and I was fascinated by the idea. (This video is a great example, and this one, though a bit cheesy, is perhaps an even better example.) I kept following bunny trails from 3d sound play videos on YouTube and eventually ended up watching my first, real ASMR video by an artist called Ephemeral Rift. The video was completely unlike anything I thought I knew about ASMR. (I'm pretty sure for a while there I thought ASMR was something sexual or kinky...) When I first watched the video I was interested but thought that it wasn't really doing much for me. But, when I thought that and started actually paying attention to my body, I realized it was doing a lot for me. It felt like I was outside of my body. And my brain? It was very pleased. I wondered if this was what it is like to be high. The effect has never been that strong for me again, but what an amazing introduction!
So I thought ASMR was weird and really not something I would be into at all, but as it turns out it...well it is a little weird sometimes, but also something I am totally into. I almost immediately became an addict. As soon as I got up in the morning all I could think about was how much I wanted it to be night so that I could go back to bed and watch another new ASMR video.
So what is ASMR? The acronym stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. The best description I have found comes from the ASMR artist Marno ASMR, and states, "Autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) is a term used for an experience characterized by a static-like or tingling sensation on the skin that typically begins on the scalp and moves down the back of the neck and upper spine. It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia. ASMR signifies the subjective experience of 'low-grade euphoria' characterized by 'a combination of positive feelings and a distinct static-like tingling sensation on the skin.'
I describe it as being like the goosebumps you get sometimes when you hear a really good piece of music or a really epic line in a movie, except deeper and more sustained. I also like to think of it as a brain massage. As much as chewing noises make my brain angry, ASMR makes my brain happy and relaxed.
What's the point? ASMR videos are often used for relaxation, and many ASMR artists (aka ASMRtists) advertise their videos as help for relaxation, sleep, concentration, busy minds, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I have found ASMR to be a great way, for me personally, to relax, to fall asleep, to concentrate, to stop my brain from looping Bad Thoughts™, and to relieve anxiety and occasionally even help migraines.
How does it work? Evoking the sensation can include the use of sounds (most common), but also motion (like hand or light movements), performing detailed tasks, and personal attention. A lot of videos out there are very straightforward, the artist goes through several "triggers" with usually minimal or no talking. There are also plenty of videos that include roleplay, such as ASMR head massages, salon visits, videogame characters, created worlds, etc. The hand and light movements also seem to be gaining some popularity, (and I think that is based on its relation to EMDR...which is a whole other topic, but you can find out more about it here, here, here, and you can semi-experience it here). And even if the physical response isn't always there (some people become immune to the tingling sensation after a while), the other mental and emotional effects can still be just as good.
#1 - Marno ASMR - (Male) My favorite ASMRtist whenever I need pure comfort. Also the only ASMRtist I've seen that uses "layered sound," which I find to be a fun and unique concept. (Basically, he is doing one thing but you might be hearing something else.) This artist also pays more attention to visual triggers than most others, with some videos dedicated wholly to hand movements, etc.
#2 - Goodnight Moon - (Female) Very comfortable feel similar to Marno, (surprise, they're together!). Has a wonderfully eclectic mix of videos, including my favorite series of roleplays, The Babblebrook Series. I also love her celebrity assistant videos and her "Quite a Strange _____" videos. She, and her videos, are quirky, fun, and just so, so comfy and calming.
#3 - Ephemeral Rift - (Male) Videos range from 2-minute trigger focused videos to hours long roleplays. What his channel is probably best known for is his roleplay videos that are based in what has been termed the Rift World. The Rift World is described as "Relaxing ASMR videos that revolve around an original cast of characters and storylines created by Ephemeral Rift that often incorporate and crossover various real-life fictional works from books to video games and more." These are based very much around Lovecraftian style lore and are basically amazingly professional, hour-long movies. (Here's a link to his website where you can find a wealth of information on his world, characters, etc. LINK) His channel produces a wide range of ASMR outside of the Rift World as well, including (but not limited to); nature videos, beer and wine tastings, comedic ASMR, ASMR by Groot, Dad jokes, ASMR Let's Play Skyrim, video game roleplays, etc. etc. etc. You know what, just take a look at his playlists to get an idea of what all he has to offer. And it is all amazing. I love this guy. High-quality stuff. He is really good at personal attention, whereas some other artists I have found either never look at the camera or have a hard time holding eye contact with the camera for extended periods. And he also occasionally combines hand or light movements with the sounds, so he really achieves the trifecta!
#4 - ASMR Bakery - (Female) Fantastic mid (30 minutes) to long (4 hours) videos with no talking. Great for studying, relaxing, or falling asleep. Videos cover a range of triggers or focus on a single trigger/style.
#5 - asmr zeitgeist - (Male) This guy has some of my favorite long (two and a half to three hours) videos packed full of triggers. He will often talk during the first half of a video, and then for the second half spend longer with each trigger and not talk.
#6 - Phoenician Sailor - (Male) This one is hard to describe. I love him. He has a phenomenal voice. He does some roleplay videos, but the majority of his videos are...philosophy? But like roleplay philosophy or rambling philosophy or...I don't know. Honestly, I don't understand most of what he says. I'm sure it's very deep and very philosophical but I cannot grasp it for the life of me (usually because I'm falling asleep). And that's OK. I am perfectly OK with that. It's what helps me fall asleep, and I love it.
And just like any other thing you get involved with, you want to try and figure out your preferences as you go. For instance, I have discovered that:
Wood triggers are some of the best for helping me fall asleep.
Visual triggers are my favorite and can knock me out so fast.
I go back and forth between in-ear and over-ear headphones. They both work well, but sometimes one will work a little better than the other depending on my mood.
Many ASMRtists repeat words when they talk to hear how the words sound, and I do not prefer that.
If I am just a little chilly (close to goosebumps but no goosebumps yet) then I am WAY more susceptible to getting tingles.
Roleplay videos are the best for silencing my anxiety or a brain that just won't stop running in circles, as the story gives me something to focus on that doesn't let my brain wander to The Bad Place.
No-talking trigger videos are great for background noise and helping me focus when I am working or writing.
A roleplay video I have already watched can do wonders to calm me down if I'm stressed or to put me to sleep if I just need a little extra nudge.
If I am chewing (especially gum) it tends to negate the effect of the ASMR I am watching/listening to.
ASMR videos of people trying to solve puzzles may sound appealing, but they just frustrate me and by the end I am wide awake because I am working way too hard to solve the puzzle myself.
A link to a playlist of my favorite and most helpful ASMR videos here.
In the End: 5 out of 5 stars. Don't knock it 'til you try it.
(Best with headphones, obviously!)