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Cardi B ASMR
Cardi B does ASMRCourtesy of YouTube

New research proves ASMR can reduce anxiety

‘It has been consistently reported to help people to feel more relaxed, feel less stressed, and fall asleep more easily’

ASMR videos are a bit like Marmite. For some people, hearing an ASMRtist repeatedly whispering the word “relax” into a Blue Yeti mic might give them the creeps. But for others, it can trigger an intensely relaxing feeling known as the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response – aka ASMR.

During ASMR, a person experiences a tingling sensation that usually begins on the scalp and moves down the neck and spine. Everyone is different: not everyone experiences ASMR – some actively hate ASMR videos – and those who do experience it often have different ‘triggers’. While acrylic nails on glass might work for one person, a makeup brush stroking a microphone might work for another.

ASMR ‘tingles’ have often been suggested as a way of treating symptoms like stress or insomnia, but for years, there’s been little more than anecdotal evidence for the mental health benefits of ASMR. Millions of people have reported that listening to ASMR videos has helped quell anxiety or brought them a sense of calm, and this much is clear from the popularity of many ASMR YouTube channels: ASMR Darling has amassed over 2.5 million subscribers, while Gibi ASMR has nearly four million. Even Cardi B is a fan: “I love ASMR,” she revealed in 2018. “My husband thinks it’s very strange and weird that I watch ASMR every single day to go to bed.”

Now, new research has vindicated anyone who, like Cardi B, has been ridiculed for listening to videos of people whispering and tapping things. A study has affirmed that ASMR really can help people with their mental health: Charlotte Eid and researchers at Northumbria University found that when volunteers watched a five-minute ASMR video featuring a range of triggers, those who experienced ASMR reported reduced feelings of anxiety. The study also found that people who suffer from anxiety and higher levels of neuroticism are more likely to experience ASMR in the first place.

The findings suggest that ASMR could serve as an intervention for individuals who suffer from neuroticism or anxiety. Dr. Craig Richard, founder of ASMR University and host of the Sleep Whispers podcast, told Dazed: “ASMR has been consistently reported to help people to feel more relaxed, feel less stressed, and fall asleep more easily,” he says. “Even people with severe conditions of anxiety and insomnia are reporting benefits of ASMR.”

Cassie, 23, started watching ASMR when she was in her late teens. “It was when I was at school, doing my A-Levels, and I was just depressed, anxious and stressed all the time,” she recalls. “I had really tense shoulders so I went on YouTube and looked up ‘how to massage your neck’. And then I came across this one video from PsycheTruth: her voice was just so relaxing, I fell asleep to it.” Since then, Cassie has continued to watch ASMR. “I just started watching them all the time when I wanted to relax, and then I started watching them every night before I went to sleep.”

“I used to really struggle with falling asleep,” she continues. “Night is the worst time to think about things – I used to try to fall asleep but my thoughts would get away from me and I would end up tumbling into some sort of panic,” she says. “So ASMR was just a really nice way of watching something to distract myself, but also not keep me awake like a TV show would.”

Sam*, 22, is another fan of ASMR. He started watching ASMR a year ago: “The videos I started on were tapping ones and those are the ones I still like to this day. Tapping, touching, scratching on stuff – anything to do with materials.” Like Cassie, Sam says that ASMR helped him to sleep.

“I used to smoke a lot of weed and I wanted to get off smoking weed,” he recalls. “Obviously, one of the main withdrawal symptoms is insomnia. So I was up for loads of nights, trying to get to sleep. I really couldn't get to sleep – I was looking everywhere to try and find something to help, then I found ASMR. Watching tapping videos and getting all the tingles helped me drift off so much easier, and the withdrawals were nowhere near as bad.” Dr. Richard affirms Sam’s experience, explaining that ASMR can be used to help those struggling with addiction: “Overcoming addiction often includes the major withdrawal symptoms of stress and sleeplessness: ASMR may help to buffer those withdrawal symptoms.”

Evidently, long-time fans of ASMR have been using it to self-soothe for years now, and these findings won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s experienced the bliss of tingles. But at least it’s now been scientifically proven that there’s nothing weird at all about falling asleep while watching Victoria Pedretti cut up a piece of paper, actually.

*Name has been changed