Squish, Squish

Women's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - By Me ira vDev ash

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.

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