ASMR: What is it and why am I a fan?

When I was a young boy I would often find myself mesmerized by a how-to painting program on PBS called “The Joy of Painting”. Its host was a uniquely recognizable figure, with a tall, skinny frame, a 1970’s style, and his most identifiable quality – a white man’s afro. The man was Bob Ross, and his basic, half-hour, instructional painting show became a regular addition to my Saturday afternoon viewing schedule. His soft voice, super-positive attitude, and the sound of his brushes sliding across the canvas had such a relaxing and calming effect. Some times I would get these little tingles at the base of my skull that would seem to flutter down my back as I slowly sank into an afternoon nap. I never had any idea of what these “tingles” were or truly thought much about them. I just knew that I liked the feeling and the calming nature of clearing my head and putting me at ease.

What I didn’t know then, that I found out in my mid-twenties, was that I have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. What “The Joy of Painting” did for me when I was a kid, and now as an adult, was to calm my brain and give it a chance to rest. As I better understood my health, and the anxieties of adulthood grew exponentially, I searched out other Bob Ross style antidotes. It was this search that led me to ASMR.

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. What is it…well you’ll find an array of answers, but to me, I call it the “Bob Ross Effect”. I like my definition because, like ASMR, it’s as scientific of a definition as it is anecdotal. There is no overwhelming scientific body of evidence on ASMR one way or the other. It’s also not something that everyone can experience just as some “triggers” affect people in different ways. A trigger is the commonly used term for the sounds/actions/whatever that induces tingles or the experience of ASMR. What I do know for sure is that the phenomenon of ASMR is absolutely real. I’ve experienced it just like many others have. Is ASMR the right term, is it actually something else, is it all just in our mind (no pun intended)…maybe, but I’m not sure that an “official” answer is what the end goal should be. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see more scientific research on the topic, but at the end of the day, when I’m trying to shut my brain down and just need to chill and relax, that’s not what I’m concerned with. I’m concerned with the fact, that for me, there are avenues available for me to experience ASMR and drift off to sleep versus staring at the ceiling all night.

A note of caution, there are some who would argue that this is sexual in nature. For me, this argument is fairly ridiculous since the phenomenon is rooted in an inherently relaxed state and, for those who experience them, tingles, are not carnal in nature – in fact just the opposite. It’s a case where correlation does not equal causation. For example, I enjoy the calming sound of whispering and soft-spoken voice. Are there experiences and videos of a sexual nature that have whispering and soft-spoken voice in them…absolutely. Does the human body and brain act differently when it is preparing for sleep than it does when it is gearing up for a sexual experience…absolutely. While the vast majority of ASMR videos would never be confused with sexuality (crinkling paper, painting on canvas) I can see how it would be easy to misinterpret the meaning of some ASMR videos if taken out of context (whispering to the viewer). I actually hate to even spend time on this paragraph because taken in context this is absolutely a non-issue, but hey, there are also warning labels on chainsaws telling you not to touch the blade while it’s running, soooo….

The best way to figure out what ASMR is, what’s it about, and to see if it’s interesting to you is to check out some of the videos. Below are some of my favorite ASMRtists:

  1. Gentle Whispering
  2. Massage ASMR
  3. ASMR Requests
  4. Relaxing ASMR
  5. Whispers Red ASMR

There are many other people making ASMR videos, podcasts, albums, etc. so if you find that it might be something you’re interested in but the ones above aren’t for you, I encourage you to seek out others that might be more up your alley. Between YouTube and Google there is absolutely no shortage. Happy Tingles and Relaxing!