Does ASMR Affect Mental Health? Here’s What The Research Shows
There's an old saying: The best way to get someone's attention is to whisper. Enter Zoe Kravitz's ASMR ad for Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold. It's all whispers and taps, and it has my full attention. Not because of the beer — I'm a wine girl, personally — but because ASMR helps calm my anxiety and depression. So much so that I'll gladly listen to Kravitz read me the phone book if she does so in those hushed, soothing tones.
If you're not in the know, autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR, includes things like whispering, tapping, and slow hand movements that are good for your mental health, according to a study published in the journal PLOS One in 2018.
"ASMR is the sensation experienced by some people in response to specific sights and sounds, described as a warm, tingling, and pleasant sensation starting at the crown of the head and spreading down the body. The 'tingles' — sometimes described as 'brain tingles' or 'brain orgasms' — are typically accompanied by feelings of calm and relaxation," a press release about the study explained.
This is why everyone is bananas over Kravitz's commercial. Personally, I haven't watched a commercial voluntarily in years because there is so much yelling. (In fact, the heightened noise on commercials upsets me so much that I pay extra for ad-free Hulu and Spotify.) Science says this stress response isn't uncommon.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, "Being frequently yelled at changes the mind, brain, and body in a multitude of ways including increasing the activity of the amygdala (the emotional brain), increasing stress hormones in the blood stream, increasing muscular tension, and more."
On the other hand, for some people, ASMR can reduce heart rate and promotes feelings of extreme relaxation, the study, from researchers at the University of Sheffield in England, reported. "What's interesting is that the average reductions in heart rate experienced by our ASMR participants was comparable to other research findings on the physiological effects of stress-reduction techniques such as music and mindfulness," Dr. Giulia Poerio, of the University of Sheffield's Department of Psychology, said in the press release.
What's more, Lily Brown, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry at the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania, noted on the Penn Medicine News site that ASMR can provide short-term relief for people living with anxiety and depression.
"There may be something to having these videos as part of a patient’s treatment," Dr. Brown told MaryKate Wust for Penn Medicine News. "When dealing with emotional dysregulation, having a suite of activities or behaviors at the ready is very important. I can easily see ASMR videos fitting into that package for people who feel relaxed while watching them."
Whether you need help falling asleep or want to calm down after a stressful day at work, YouTube is filled with eleventy million ASMR videos featuring everyone from Lady Gaga hosting an ASMR meditation to people dedicated entirely to the relaxation practice like Gibi ASMR, which you can also listen to on Spotify.
"I think we are in a time of great mental stress. ASMR is an amazing option for people because it’s accessible, it’s free, and it’s safe. I suspect, and experience, that ASMR is tied to nostalgia and a childlike mental ‘safe space.’ ASMR provides that platonic intimacy that most people can only relate to how their mothers or parental figures made them feel," Gibi told Casey Kleczek writing for The Cut.
When it comes to ASMR, there is literally something for everyone. Even if ASMR doesn't give you a body buzz and brain tingles — not everyone experiences it this deeply — it can still be hella relaxing. And hey, if Zoe Kravitz whispering makes you want to have a beer while you watch or listen, go right ahead.