If you’ve been on YouTube lately or you’ve glanced over the Explore page on Instagram, you’ve probably stumbled across a video tagged “ASMR.” Heck, big brands like KFC are using it in marketing campaigns, and celebrities are getting in on the fun, too.
Needless to say, it’s everywhere right now. But what is it, besides someone whispering into a microphone? And does it actually do anything? Or is it just a gimmicky fad?
ASMR, or autonomous sensory meridian response, is the tingling sensation that occurs at the base of your skull and down through your neck and shoulders when hearing or seeing something pleasing. (It’s the feeling a lot of people got while watching Bob Ross back in the day, though there wasn’t a term for it yet.)
The internet trend began when someone mentioned the experience on a health forum in 2007, but gained its footing as a YouTube experience in 2009 when WhisperingLife became the first official ASMR channel.
It didn’t take long for scientists to pick up on the idea and bring it into the lab. The first study, done at Swansea University in Wales in 2015, showed that a majority of listeners felt the videos decreased stress, pain symptoms and depression.
Many internet users today find the sounds and visuals relaxing, comparable to yoga or meditation. It can also have euphoric effects for some people. ASMR offers the calm mindfulness of a yoga after-glow, but with no required movement and sometimes more engaging and versatile content, depending on what you’re into.
The benefits sound appealing but admittedly, it can be a little tricky for a newcomer to navigate. It takes some time and patience to hone in on what ASMR “triggers” work best for you.
It can also be intimidating. Listening to a stranger whisper or watching someone folding a towel for 15 minutes might feel uncomfortable at first. The results, however, are worth giving it a try.
To expedite the process of finding ASMR content that’s right for you, follow these steps:
If you’re interested in the basic ASMR experience and want to really test what suits your brain best, look for videos that provide a wide variety of sound triggers, like this one. Your typical triggers consist of crinkling plastic, flipping through books or paper, water pouring or moving, tapping, brushing and more.
Lots of ASMR content includes whispering, which can be a bit off-putting or even creepy for the uninitiated. But don’t worry—plenty of videos have zero talking. If you’re really intimidated by the intimacy of ASMR, you can also find videos where you cannot see the person making the sounds, like this one.
One of the best parts of ASMR is that a lot of videos are binaural: Creators use dual microphones, moving sound from one side to the other to foster a more triggering interaction with the listener. This is best experienced through headphones.
If you’re looking for a more interactive experience, role playing videos or theme videos are the way to go. Just like a meditation or yoga video on YouTube might cover a specific topic, such as yoga for runners or meditation for career anxiety, ASMRtists often create incredibly in-depth videos that are both entertaining and personal.
A large subset of the community focuses on clinical role playing such as a visit to an esthetician, psychologist or doctor, but if that’s too serious or uncomfortable for you, you can find haircuts, makeup appointments or airport terminal videos.
A number of ASMRtists, sponsored by companies or not, also often include educational material in their videos—about art, cooking, gardening, beauty, you name it. One good thing about ASMR: Whatever you’re looking for, it probably exists.
If the ASMR community is anything, it’s supportive. A lot of videos are tailored toward stress reduction, personal attention, mental health and interactions that make you feel involved and acknowledged. There are also videos that focus on reiki cleansing, chakra alignment or crystals, should you want to take that kind of spiritual approach.
The act of conversation is at the crux of many videos. Though it may be one-sided, it’s nice to hear positive affirmations for 60 full minutes after a long day. The videos are often simple, using only whispers and fluid hand movements to create a one-on-one experience. Suspend your disbelief and check out a few examples—you might get hooked.
An exciting breakthrough in the ASMR world is its introduction to Instagram. The two biggest ASMR trends on this platform are slime and floral foam videos, and they’re a little more accessible than the ASMR formats I’ve mentioned so far.
Slime videos focus on the creation of slime and the addition of beads, glitter, color and more that give it varying squishy or crunchy sounds. The ASMRtist will blend and fold the slime on camera, which can be surprisingly soothing to watch. (A fun bonus: You can often purchase the slime straight from the ASMRtist.)
Floral foam, the green, spongy blocks found at craft stores used to hold flower arrangements in place, offers a similar crunching sound when either crushed dry or wet, often with glitter. These videos are great for a quick 15-second to one-minute ASMR fix. You can find them by searching for the slime or floral foam tags on Instagram.
Once you find what’s right for you, ASMR can be a soothing and satisfying experience. The process of discovering your niche takes time and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone, but the relaxation or mood-boosting you might find makes the search well worth it.
Natalie Maggiore is a journalist and teacher living in Chicago, whose passions include aggressive hockey watching, a quality bowl of queso and learning about the infinite void that is outer space. Her writing mainly pertains to pop culture and entertainment, but she enjoys creating content pertaining to mental health, social service, human interests and nature. Follow her on Twitter @nataliem31 and Instagram @natmag31.