The unusual YouTube phenom that’s quelling our anxiety
Hear that? It’s slime being squeezed. That noise – along with hushed murmurs and fingernails tapping – launched an underground YouTube trend that has become a mentalhealth movement. Now millions of “tingleheads” claim such videos ease anxiety. But is this therapy... Sound?
A charming blonde woman smiles warmly from your screen. Leaning into the camera, she traces the tip of a make-up brush against a microphone, whispering that she’s stroking your face. The bristles create a swishing sound as they caress the mic. “It’s nice to feel the brush on your ear, isn’t it?” she asks in a soothing voice. Over 1.1 million subscribers to her YouTube channel agree that it is, indeed, very nice. That’s because her movements and voice – in other videos, the 31-year-old vlogger “Maria Gentle Whispering” rhythmically taps her fingernails on a table or crinkles plastic – trigger a peculiar sensation known as autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), a relaxing, euphoric buzz that starts in the head and spreads to the neck, spine and beyond. It’s like “tingles that form on the outer edge of your brain and send shivers of electricity through your whole body,” says 37-year-old ASMR enthusiast Tamara Green. People began talking about the phenomenon online in 2007 (the first discussion thread, on Internet health community site SteadyHealth. com, was titled “Weird sensation feels good”) and the term ASMR was coined two years later. By 2010, researchers were studying it, using brain imaging and surveys that documented benefits such as reduced stress, eased anxiety and even sleep inducement. Now, ASMR has not only taken over YouTube, but is influencing ad campaigns, with brands as varied as Ikea, Pepsi and KFC using it to subconsciously link their products with relaxation. Even though it’s been called a “brain orgasm,” ASMR isn’t a sexual thing. “I get messages from firefighters and veterans with PTSD, moms who listen to my videos on speakers to soothe their babies and a lot of teenagers and young adults who use them to reduce panic attack symptoms, stress and insomnia,” says Maria. About 20 to 40 percent of people may be able to experience ASMR, says professor of biopharmaceutical sciences Dr Craig Richard. Studies have noted differences in brain connectivity between the brains of ASMR-sensitive people and those who don’t feel the sensation, so it may be that people who feel ASMR are more likely to link sensory and emotional experiences (e.g. if you associate soft sounds with serenity, you may relax when you hear whispering). Curious to know if you’re among them? There isn’t a universal ASMR trigger, so listen to a few. One woman’s light tapping is another’s fingernails on a chalkboard. There are other ways in if soft, repetitive sounds don’t make you all quivery. In Richard’s research, many people pinpointed light touch as their strongest sensory trigger. And we could all use a hug in this world of competing stimuli, even if it doesn’t bring on the tingles.