ASMR videos helping people relax, sleep, and cope with anxiety

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A trend gaining popularity online is helping some people relax, feel less lonely, and cope with anxiety.

It's called ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and it deals with sounds, whispers, sometimes music.

Some people who watch ASMR videos swear they give them the 'tingles', the only thing that helps them slow down in such a busy world.

"It's not a fetish. It's not a fad. It helps people," said Lily Whispers, who makes ASMR videos.

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response.

ASMR is a topic that has gained popularity online; recently, it was the subject of a Super Bowl Commercial.

Many people who watch ASMR videos say it triggers different sensations.

"I like to describe it as a warm shiver that kind of starts at the back of your head, goes down your spine, and you can feel it in your scalp," explained Lily Whispers. "It's a euphoric feeling, and it's comforting, and intimate."

Lily started as a viewer back in 2013; she says she was stressed out during finals week in college.

"It was my little secret thing I was doing. I was watching these ASMR videos," said Lily.

Now, she calls herself an 'ASMR-tist'.

She makes the videos out of her at-home studio in Pittsburgh.

"I bought a bigger apartment to be able to make these videos, but here I am, as homemade as I was before. It is what it is," she explained.

With every upload, there is potential for cash and equipment.

"I get paid through sponsorships, and it's the same as any big Youtuber," she said. "It's crazy to think i can do it making ASMR videos."

A simple google search, Lily Whispers ASMR, and you'll be on her page.

There is videos with Lily talking about true crime and makeup.

Sometimes, our ASMR-tist even roleplays for the 250,000 people who have clicked subscribe.

"I've been told I have this older sister type persona or something so I really try to play into that to my advantage," explained Lily.

One 'big sis' video has over a million views, but Lily hasn't always had this much support.

"When my university found out, everyone was looking at me like I had three heads," explained Lily. "They did not get it. I was made fun of. My phone number was placed on social media websites. I was getting phone calls in the middle of the night, nasty text messages. I got in trouble with my sorority."

She says that's because not everyone understands ASMR.

"You can sexualize literally everything," stated Lily. "The fact that someone is whispering to you, just makes us more prone to that."

We decided to skype a woman whose not only a consumer of ASMR but researching the subject to see why it might be becoming so popular.

"I'm interested in how the voice gets digitized," said Erin Gee, a professor at the University of Maine. "When I first saw ASMR, with these amazing practitioners, who are not only using their voice, but they were using their body to use these hypnotic visuals, like I'm doing right now... I just freaked out."

She says whispers and hypnotic visuals help people slow down.

"In this oversaturated culture, this media culture, and everything online is always trying to get your attention, and flashing colors, and notifications, and throwing stuff at you, ASMR has you forge an intimate relationship with a kind of virtual being that maintains eye contact with you and kind of slows you down and just gives you nothing but a voice to listen to, patiently," explained Gee.

It's not just about the voice in your ear.

There's tapping, blowing, scratching, buzzing, and crinkling that trigger some people - like Nicole Billito.

"I go for more sound type videos, maybe a little bit of visual, not really into the role play videos," said Nicole Billito, who also lives in Pittsburgh.

Billito is a saleswoman by day and club owner by night.

She says she is always busy.

"Sometimes, I start to feel like I'm getting anxious with everything that's going on day-to-day, and sometimes, even for my day job, when I'm doing emails... this is a new thing I started. I will be on my work computer doing emails, and I'll have my headphones on listening to some ASMR videos in the background," explained Billito.

She says she brings ASMR home after that.

"There's videos with hair, almost like scalp massages, even like an ASMR-tist rubbing somebody else's hair, massaging their scalp. It sounds funny saying it, but that really does relax me, and I can fall asleep almost instantly," she said.

Could ASMR relax someone with little knowledge of the subject?

We decided to walk upstairs to the FOX43 sales department and find out, asking our colleague to watch '20 ASMR Triggers' which features a combination of sounds and whispers.

"See, because I think it's an intimacy thing, it weirds me out, because I need to feel comfortable with someone, know them, trust them, know who they are a little bit more than have them talk to me like this," said Kyle Huntsberry.

We had Kyle close his eyes and just listen... instead of watching.

"She is tapping on like a cup... this could kind of simulate rain drops," explained Huntsberry.

After that?

"I think I just discovered something about myself...I think I like sounds that have to deal with water. That soothes me," he said. "I think this is a journey. It sounds weird... I don't mean to get too philosophical, but it's like a journey of discovery almost for me right now, since it's the first time, and finding the things I do like," added Huntsberry.

He thinks there might be something to this.

"Maybe it might help people with anxiety or depression or something like that. I can definitely see the healing attributes of this," he explained.

Lily Whispers says she hears that all the time, but it's no replacement for professional help.

"We really strongly believe in mental health. It's no substitute for talk therapy or medication," she added. "I think people need to take care of their minds just as much they do their bodies. People say, 'I went off my medication because of ASMR.' And I'm like, 'Please no! Don't do that. I'm not a doctor or a therapist. I'm just trying to make people relax.'"

It's not always easy for people to wrap their heads around the idea of ASMR, but for the people who feel less lonely, can fall asleep better at night, and relax, the soft whispers and sounds just make sense.

FOX43 found that some people have the exact opposite reaction to ASMR. Some sounds and whispers actually trigger rage and anxiety. That's called misophonia.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, there are two ways that people can experience ASMR.

  • Through simple meditation or just thinking about a scene or sound that pleases you.
  • Through watching a video or listening to a recording.

Its website reads, "As for the mechanisms at work behind ASMR, nobody is quite sure why some people react the way that they do. It could be that the videos remind you of your childhood (perhaps, for example, you watched your mom do the same action as a kid, so it’s comforting) or that the simple sounds lull you into a relaxed state."

You can read more about misophonia, here.

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