I recently realized that the sound of typing helps me concentrate on homework: kind of weird, I know. Convincing myself that googling "typing sounds" would greatly enhance my focus, I took another "productivity" break to scroll through search results. The first hit? A 38-minute YouTube video titled "Typing | Keyboard Sounds | ASMR." Extending the sweet release from midterm study guides, I looked into the cryptic abbreviation "ASMR."

What is ASMR? 

ASMR, or the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, is a distinctly pleasurable tingling sensation that starts at the back of the head or shoulders and spreads down the spine, even down to the legs. The tingling is a consistent response to certain auditory and visual "triggers," like whispering, crisp sounds, and smooth movements

Who experiences ASMR?

Only a small fraction of people seems to feel this type of tingling, and recent research suggests that the brain networks of these individuals show more blending than average; that means that those in the ASMR community may have a higher tendency to mix up senses.

Why does ASMR matter?

One of the reasons ASMR is more than just a funny feeling that has attracted a considerable online following (like the 100k+ ASMR subreddit followers) is because many say it has helped them cope with anxiety, stress, depression, and chronic pain. Even those who do not experience tingles heap praise on therapeutic ASMR YouTube videos. 

I talked to the YouTube "ASMRtist" known as Eudaimonist ASMR and a member of the online ASMR community named Shannon to learn more about the phenomenon and its effect on mental and emotional wellness. 

Spoon Duke: What are your favorite triggers?

Shannon: If I'm listening to ASMR for general concentration or stress relief, I like soft-spoken voices and page turning. For sleep, I like sounds with no speaking, especially crinkling and tapping.

SD: Why did you start making ASMR videos?

Eudaimonist ASMR: I have always been a creative person that felt fulfillment in self-expression. I am a musician, and I also love to paint and write. One night, I decided that I wanted to give back to the community that had given me countless hours of relaxation and meditation by creating video content. 

SD: How has ASMR helped you?

Eudaimonist ASMRI have found ASMR to be incredibly therapeutic as a content creator, as a consumer of the medium, and as someone who occasionally experiences the phenomena. 

One of my earliest memories is being awed by how it felt to have my brain plunged into an ASMR state for the first time. My grandmother was showing me a wooden puzzle of a U.S. map. She would point to each piece and recite the state’s name with a gentle tap. It would be about twenty years later that I would finally have a name for the pleasant feelings that had struck me so intensely then.

Shannon: I've dealt with extreme anxiety which has lead to panic attacks since I was a child. Watching ASMR videos helped drastically. I'd put on my headphones and just listen to videos to calm down. 

A couple of years ago I experienced very bad insomnia. The first night listening to ASMR while I was falling asleep I got a full 8 hours of sleep, the first 8 hour block I'd gotten in about 6 months.

SD: What misconceptions have you encountered about the ASMR community, and how would you respond to them?

Eudaimonist ASMR: One of the first misconceptions that people quite often seem to bring with them when the topic of ASMR is introduced is that the community is fulfilling some obscure, fetishistic niche.

From what little has been discovered about ASMR through peer-reviewed study so far is that it is actually a brain state, possibly a form of synesthesia, and potentially neighboring the state of “flow,” often described by high-level athletes as a state of taking in and processing information effortlessly and automatically. 

Sometimes proximity to a camera and a hushed voice can imply intimacy, which can sometimes make people uncomfortable. Once that initial awkwardness subsides, however, there is an intense calm that can be found in viewing and hearing ASMR content. 

Shannon: I've heard people call ASMR a weird millennial internet fad, and I highly disagree with that characterization. This has just put a name to a phenomenon many people have felt their entire lives. I've seen comments on YouTube videos from elderly people who have experienced ASMR for as long as they can remember, and only now realize other people feel the same thing. 

I have very clear memories of being about 5 years old and asking to go to the grocery store with my mom because I loved the calming, tingling feeling I got when the cashier pressed the buttons on the cash register. That happened before ASMR was a "thing," and thousands of people have had similar experiences.

SD: Do you think that ASMR content can also help those who do not experience tingles?

Eudaimonist ASMR: I believe that the work of the online community can still be immensely helpful. ASMR is about purposefully setting aside personal, meditative time to find quiet relaxation. I have received plenty of feedback from people who do not experience “tingles” but find my work soothing in its own way.

There is something special about simple routines like filling in a birthday card or typing on a keyboard. Though some may at first blush find them boring and obtuse, looking just a little more carefully at these things and setting aside time to appreciate simplicity can be calming in a way I think many people crave. 

ASMR is not about listening to repetitive noises; it is an approach, albeit an unconventional one, to relieving stress and tension. So, the next time you're looking for a break from a whirlwind of work, give ASMR videos a try. You might just find triggers that take your mind off of your quickly-growing to-do list.