Written by Ella Glover
New research from Northumbria University has found that ASMR can help ease anxiety. An expert explains how to use the tingling audible triggers effectively to help you relax.
If you use the internet and haven’t heard of ASMR yet, where have you been?
ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, is a subjective feeling some people experience when they listen to specific audible triggers. It’s often characterised by a tingling sensation on the skin and can cause people who experience ASMR a sense of pleasure and relaxation.
For those people, getting an instant release is far from difficult. ASMR videos have been around online since 2010 but have gained an undeniable increase in traction during the past three years when Google searches for the term began to surge.
It’s understandable, too: new research from the University of Northumbria has found that those who benefit from ASMR are able to “experience a deeply relaxing sensation” that “reduces anxiety”.
Holly Matthews, a self-development coach who uses and creates ASMR meditations for her clients, says people who feel ASMR enjoy it because it “taps into the feeling of being ‘cared for’.”
She tells Stylist: “It’s the same feeling we might get at the hairdressers as our hair is washed – that grooming, gentle, personal attention that releases oxytocin into our bodies and just makes us feel good.”
Lejla Dauti, who uses her Instagram platform to advocate against domestic abuse, began using ASMR when she was in an abusive relationship. “I had already been diagnosed with anxiety in my mid-20s but it was sky-high during the domestic abuse,” she says. “I needed something that would help me relax and switch off. I found a video of an ASMR artist on YouTube and it immediately helped me. It triggered all the tingles in my body and it allowed me some escape from my life.”
Starr Wattam, 24, also uses ASMR to help stop her intrusive anxiety that causes insomnia. “I find myself awake until 5am because my intrusive thoughts are the worst at night, and I realised it’s because my body is in a heightened state of arousal. Even if I push the thoughts away, my body is still reacting to them,” she says. “When I listen to ASMR it soothes my autonomic nervous system like a mother cradling a crying newborn baby.”
For a lot of people, ASMR is a great tool to help to destress, relax and find peace, even for a short while. The Curiosity Academy asked Holly, Lejla and Starr for their advice on how people can use ASMR to soothe their souls.
Find the right ASMR for you
There are literally millions of ASMR videos on the internet, from whimsical whispers into a microphone to cooking videos and even animals nibbling on food. To find the best ASMR video to suit you, Leija suggests thinking about how you usually like to wind down in real life: what makes you feel relaxed?
“Maybe it’s a back or head massage, having your hair played with, listening to someone whisper or even the sound of rain,” she says. “If you think about your favourite way to feel relaxed, you can go on YouTube and search for ‘back massage ASMR’, for example, and go from there.”
It’s also good to test out some different types of ASMR before you dive straight into one video, Holly adds. “Have a listen to a few ahead of time and see which ones you like the sound of, paying special attention to whether you like the sound of someone’s voice. There’s nothing more jarring to your relaxation than getting 10 minutes into it and focusing on what you dislike about someone’s voice or way of delivering something.”
Time it right
When it comes to any kind of meditation or relaxation method, it’s understandable to want to optimise the practice as best as you can. While there’s no perfect time to listen to ASMR, Holly suggests finding a moment where you want to relax and have long enough to listen to or watch some ASMR that will actually be effective.
“Find a time in your day when you hope to wind down and relax. Set time aside and pop in your headphones,” says Holly. “There isn’t a set time you should listen to ASMR for, and videos and podcasts online can vary hugely, but you could start with a shorter 15 to 20-minute session and work your way up to longer periods of time if you feel you need it.” If you listen to ASMR regularly, Holly says,you might “end up needing less to achieve the results quickly.”
Find a safe listening space
When it comes to any kind of relaxation method it’s crucial to be in the right frame of mind, so you can set yourself up for success. Holly suggests starting to listen to ASMR somewhere you feel safe and relaxed, like your own home or bedroom.
“I would make it a fully immersive experience of being in comfy clothes, a warm soft blanket and smells in the air that also brings joy to your senses,” Holly says. “This will enable you to fully let yourself bask in the sounds and let go of other daily noise.”
If you do want to listen to ASMR when you’re on the go, perhaps in between daunting meetings or on your way home from work, Starr suggests finding a place to sit down to immerse yourself in the practice. “Always try to remember that you’re safe,” she adds.
Breathe into it
For Starr, who uses ASMR to fight off insomnia at night time, awareness of your breath and body is key to really feeling relaxed, just like with yoga or a body scan meditation.
“Lie flat on your back, take five deep slow stomach breaths and sigh it out slowly,” she says. “Then, notice how the sounds make your different body parts tingle. Feel where the stress and anxiety are trapped in your body. Unclench your jaw and release yourself to the sensation of calm soothing noise.”
Build ASMR micro-moments into your day
Holly’s final tip is to incorporate ASMR micro-moments into your day as part of a mindfulness practice.
“As you get more comfortable with ASMR, you may be able to boost your day by having a smaller moment of ASMR, perhaps when anxiety flares or just to practise self-care or mindfulness throughout your day,” she says.
“If you know a certain sound gives you the tingles and calms you, then having your favourite recording to hand to dig out when you have ‘that meeting’ or you need to make ‘that phone call’ is an amazing tool to have in your tool belt.”
Find more expert-led guides and tutorials on The Curiosity Academy Instagram page (@TheCuriosityAcademy).
Images: Getty, Kayleigh Pope.
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