ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, describes a phenomenon that produces a tingling feeling throughout your body.
Different audio and visual triggers, such as whispering, fingernail tapping, or watching a brush stroke a surface, can provoke this tingling sensation.
It’s similar to frisson, the chills some people get when listening to music, or the tingling you might experience when looking out at a vast, beautiful landscape.
Aside from just making you feel good, ASMR might also have the potential to help with feelings of anxiety.
ASMR’s entry into public consciousness is still fairly recent, and experts are only just beginning to explore the potential benefits of the phenomenon.
Existing evidence largely focuses on self-reports of people who watch ASMR videos for various reasons. Several studies have found promising results, though study authors generally agree on the need for more research.
“Depending on your sensitivity and receptivity, the ASMR experience is said to provide a sense of calm and well-being,” explains Sadie Bingham, a clinical social worker who specializes in anxiety and provides therapy in Gig Harbor, Washington.
According to research from 2015, some people find experiencing ASMR helps relieve negative mood symptoms, including feelings of depression or stress. It also appears to help reduce chronic pain for some people.
Additional research from 2018 supports these uses, noting that other viewers found ASMR videos helped them:
- unwind and relax
- get to sleep
- feel comforted or cared for
- experience less anxiety or pain
- feel better when sick or upset
Watching the videos may also serve as a distraction from anxious thoughts while also promoting feelings of increased relaxation.
Researchers don’t yet know exactly how or why ASMR happens for some people. But, as Bingham notes, “any time an experience doesn’t cause harm to you or anyone else, and may produce a sense of well-being, it’s considered beneficial from a therapeutic standpoint.”
You might notice a similar tingling when you do everyday things, like stroke a purring cat, get a haircut, or hear someone whispering (especially into your ear).
There’s a whole corner of the internet dedicated to recreating these triggers.
Some triggers don’t work for everyone, even among people who do experience ASMR. Plus, not every trigger produces the same response, so it may take some trial and error before you find the ASMR triggers that work best to relieve anxiety.
That said, some triggers may be more helpful for anxiety than others.
Many people report videos of certain sounds help them unwind and feel calmer and less anxious:
- Whispering. The ASMRtist (AKA the person in the video) slowly whispers specific phrases or words you can’t make out, often while performing another ASMR trigger, like brushing the microphone.
- Tapping. You might hear fingernails or fingertips tapping on various surfaces, from a desk, to a glass bottle, to a candle. Alternatively, some videos might also include tapping of keyboard or typewriter keys.
- Page turning. You might hear smoother sounds of glossy magazine or textbook pages, or the more papery sounds of a typical book.
- Crisp sounds. This might include things like paper crumpling, foil crinkling, or leaves crunching.
- Personal attention. You might hear affirming phrases whispered to you, telling you that you’re appreciated, safe, or that everything’s OK.
- Writing. The sound of a pencil or fountain pen scratching across paper is calming for many people.
Many videos combine a few visual and audio triggers, but you can also find videos of visual triggers without sound.
Some visual triggers reported as helpful for relieving anxiety include:
- Folding laundry. Some people find this calming because it reminds them of childhood.
- Stroking a pet. Watching a happy pet receive cuddles, particularly when combined with the sound of purring, can help people feel relaxed and comforted.
- Small movements. These might include writing, face touching, or slow hand gestures.
- Brush strokes. This might involve a makeup brush stroking a surface or the movement of a brush as someone paints. Some ASMRtists use brushes on the lens to simulate brushing your face.
- Hair brushing. Ever felt relaxed as someone combed, stroked, or played with your hair? Hair brushing videos provide a similar sense of comfort and calm for many.
- Paint mixing. Many people report that watching colors blend feels relaxing and satisfying.
Here’s the catch: ASMR doesn’t work for everyone.
Research from 2017 suggests it may relate to specific Big Five personality traits.
People more likely to experience ASMR tend to:
- score higher on measures of Openness-to-Experience and Neuroticism
- score lower on measures of Conscientiousness, Extraversion, and Agreeableness
People who don’t experience ASMR often report the videos make them feel creeped out, unsettled, confused, or bored. Even in people who do experience ASMR, certain sounds or visual triggers may not have the intended effect.
Some people also note that while certain triggers help relieve their anxiety, other triggers sometimes intensify their symptoms.
The ASMR experience appears to be
These sounds vary from person to person, but common misophonia triggers include repeated sounds like:
- chewing, drinking, crunching, or other eating sounds
- breathing or sniffling
- nail clipping
These sounds could make you feel anxious, stressed, panicked, or even enraged. An ASMR video that includes tapping or breathing might provoke these feelings instead of relaxing you.
If you try watching ASMR videos and don’t notice any response, exploring different triggers could lead you to more helpful videos. Just be sure to use your best judgment, Bingham recommends.
If you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or experience other negative reactions, it may be best to “stop or proceed with caution,” she says.
While ASMR helps a lot of people work through mild symptoms of stress or anxiety, it’s not a replacement for therapy or other anxiety treatments, like medication.
“There is rarely one thing alone that will resolve any problem,” Bingham says. “This is especially true with mental health.”
That said, if experiencing ASMR provides enough relief to reduce your anxiety and improve your well-being, ASMR may be sufficient, she goes on to explain.
It’s worth noting, however, that some people report that they develop a tolerance to certain triggers over time and need to take a break in order to feel the benefits again.
If ASMR only relieves your symptoms temporarily, or stops having as much of an impact on your distress, it’s best to reach out to a therapist who can offer professional support and guidance that can help you manage your symptoms in a more lasting way.
Even if you do seek therapy, there’s no reason to stop using ASMR as a coping strategy alongside treatment, as long as it continues to work for you.
Researchers still have more to learn about ASMR, including how and why it works. It’s clear, however, that it does seem to help some people.
If you don’t experience ASMR, watching trigger videos may produce nothing more than a sensation of boredom or unease. But these videos could help you disengage from anxious thoughts and feel more relaxed.
At the end of the day, it’s a low-risk alternative approach to coping with anxiety and related issues.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.