Can ASMR help in curing anxiety and depression?

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9 February
10:28
13 February
17:52

Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a term coined in 2010 by Jennifer Allen. The term is used to describe a “weird sensation” which was first discussed in 2007 on a website forum which grew to involve hundreds of individuals.

The ASMR sensation has been commonly and widely described across the internet by thousands of individuals since 2007 as being deeply relaxing and comforting, and usually accompanied by tingling sensations in the head. Popular triggers for inducing ASMR are getting a haircut, being attended to by a clinician, watching someone paint skilfully, hearing someone whisper, and listening to crinkling or tapping sounds. The ASMR sensation can still be induced if the stimuli are recorded and experienced through an audio or video recording.

ASMR may have therapeutic benefit to those struggling with anxiety or depression. There are not yet any published clinical studies which provide direct evidence for this, but there is culminating support for ASMR having health-related benefits.

The strongest documented support is from a research study published in 2015 which collected information from about 500 individuals who watch ASMR videos. The research participants reported that they watched the ASMR videos to relax (98%), to deal with stress (70%), and that watching ASMR videos had a positive effect on their mood (80%). Additionally, those with a higher risk for depression reported a larger improvement to their mood.

  • Whispering voices are one of the most effective ASMR triggers (Pexels)

Preliminary data collected in another study (by the author of this post) from over 10,000 individuals also provides support for the helpfulness of ASMR. The majority of participants in the study reported that experiencing ASMR helped them to relax, have less stress, and to fall asleep. A preliminary analysis has also demonstrated that the majority of those in the study with clinician-diagnosed anxiety reported ASMR as helpful to their condition.

Another strong area of support for the potential helpfulness of ASMR are the thousands of comments posted on online forums, Facebook groups, the ASMR subreddit and especially YouTube videos. Although this type of anecdotal evidence is considered to be weak, the sheer volume of it has helped to bring attention and focus to the potential therapeutic value of ASMR. Reading these online stories also provides a direct and personal understanding of how ASMR may already be helping people.

One specific place to read online testimonials about the potential health benefits of ASMR is the Voices of ASMR project (created by the author of this article). Visitors to the project are invited to respond to this question, “Does ASMR help with stress or anxiety?”One of the participants, self-identified as Kate, posted:

“Yes, it does help with stress. When I am very stressed out and need to relax, I listen to calming ASMR videos. Usually not role plays, because my mind is already moving quite fast and it is hard to follow along with them. When in this state, I prefer ASMR of just talking; comforting in a soft spoken voice or whisper, and sometimes giving advice on anxiety or panic attacks. I discovered it when I was very anxious for a long time and was struggling to find ways to cope. I looked up “ASMR Anxiety” and was pleasantly surprised to find many ASMR videos regarding anxiety help. I have PTSD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, so ASMR videos alone do not do the trick. But they are a great help when I need to calm down and other coping skills are not working. I have not told my clinicians about this.”

Another question in the Voices of ASMR project includes, “Does ASMR help with a down mood or depression?” Someone self-identified as Peggy replied with, 

“It truly helps both with depression or simply having a bad mood. Personally I’m usually sad and went through depression about a year ago. ASMR played a big part in getting me out of that state emotionally. Daily. The sensation of ASMR itself is very soothing, and I always say that apart from the pleasant relaxing goose-bumpy-feeling on my skin, what I feel while watching ASMR videos, is peace, trust, safety, knowing nothing will hurt me. Things that fight anxiety, and things that everyone should feel in their day/life. So, managing to make my mind feel at ease while, feeling generally sad, is just like sweeping a dirty floor. It will soon need sweeping again but for now it’s pristine. In the long run, one can see just how much ASMR helps with anxiety, exactly because it takes a while until someone realizes, that the relaxed minutes/hours of their day they spent feeling ASMR really, REALLY made a difference. Either that is from a video or in real life. It took me some time to realize that myself, but now I use ASMR as a natural, beautiful remedy. For everything. It’s the most natural and effective medicine for the mind.”

All of the survey data, anecdotes, and testimonials about ASMR provide compelling support for it’s potential health benefits. But none of these are clinical evidence that ASMR is as good or better than currently approved therapies for a specific individual. If you think that you may be suffering from anxiety or depression your first step should be to talk to a clinician. Talk freely with your clinician about ASMR, they need to understand ASMR so they can make the best informed decisions for your health.

Overall, there is still a lot to be learned about ASMR and the journey to a complete understanding will be filled with moments of clarity and moments of confusion. Arriving at a clearer understanding of ASMR will be best served by quality research being done by a variety of scientists, in a variety of countries, with a variety of methods, and testing a variety of theories.

Explore Dr Richard's website to find out more about ASMR.

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