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“Brain-Tingles”: A New Form of Stress Relief

How many people find themselves on Cloud 9 thanks to ASMR

By Eva Rizk

Autonomous sensory meridian response, known as ASMR, is the term given to describe the tingling sensation certain people feel from their scalp to their back and shoulders, which is triggered by specific visual and auditory stimuli. Some describe the sensation as a "brain-orgasm" and others as "brain-tingles", but no matter the description, one thing is obvious: ASMR has created an obsession with sounds.

According to Think with Google, the interest in YouTube videos linked to "relaxing" rose over 70% from July 2017 to June 2018. Ranging from under 10 minutes to over three hours, each ASMR video caters to dozens of different "triggers". Tapping on objects, mouth sounds, whispering, personal attention, and microphone scratching are only a few examples of these triggers.

Despite its popularity, this is not the first time a trend like ASMR has made people feel the "tingles". The phenomenon has been compared to frissons, a French word used to describe the sensation certain people feel in their skin when listening to music, as well as auditory-tactile synesthesia, a tactical sensation certain individuals feel when they hear music. This being said, ASMR should not be confused with those two experiences.

Brigitte Pinsonneault, a student at the Collégial International Sainte-Anne, says she used to have a hard time managing her stress before, but since her discovery of ASMR videos, she has now "found a way to escape a stress [she] couldn't escape before". Even though she occasionally watches the videos just for fun, she mostly watches them to help calm her nerves, which helps her concentrate while doing work.

Ever since she was young, Brigitte has always felt a weird unexplainable sensation in her body when someone whispered in her ear or when a teacher was writing on a chalkboard. It was only when, a little over a year ago, she was searching for a hand-massage tutorial on YouTube and fell upon a whole community feeding off of these triggers.

ASMR doesn't only help Brigitte during her most stressful times. She says she "can't fall asleep without watching a video". Her mains "triggers" are intense mouth sounds, whispering, and tapping. The types of videos that make her the most euphoric, however, are those in which the person making the video is giving personal attention to the viewer by enacting role play. She says visual triggers are a very important aspect to her ASMR experience. Whether it's paying the eye doctor a visit or a trip to the spa, she feels the calmest when watching them because she "feel[s] like [she's] in a trusting relationship with the person making the video".

Even though many people like Brigitte are obsessed with the ASMR trend, there is also a group of individuals who see it more as stress-inducing than relieving. Melissa Roussin-Cedeno, a student from Marianopolis College who deals with anxiety, has an entirely different opinion on the phenomenon. She describes ASMR videos as "disgusting and uncomfortable”.

“It's like hearing a child chew food and the worst part is you have to watch them,” she claims. Sounds like moist sounds, chewing food, or microphone scratching are the main triggers which make her feel this way. When she feels extremely stressed or is having a panic attack, Melissa prefers to be alone and listens to classical music to comfort herself. "ASMR is supposed to relax you, but whenever I watch it, I get stressed".

According to the research article "A Large-Scale Study of Misophonia" written by Romke Rouw of the University of Amsterdam and Mercede Erfanian of Maastricht University, people who experience the same type of symptoms as Melissa may have Misophonia, "…a condition in which individuals react negatively to specific patterns of sound and/or to sounds that occur in specific situations or settings…".

Even if it is seen as a temporary relief from anxiety and chronic pain, many people who experience ASMR see it as an at-home stress management program, despite others seeing it as the complete opposite. Still, more research needs to be done on the experience to truly know how ASMR, the phenomenon which has skyrocketed in popularity, can have a long-term effect on stress relief.



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