Why Listening To Soft Whispering Can Help Calm Your Anxiety
There are a lot of methods out there to lower anxiety, from deep breathing exercises to working out to meditating. Of late, another method has popped up in the mental health vernacular, which studies have found can be an impactful stress-reducer: ASMR. In case you’re not familiar with it, the acronym stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. “ASMR is a deeply relaxing feeling, often accompanied by light and pleasurable brain tingles,” Craig Richard, professor at Shenandoah University and founder of the website ASMR University, tells TZR in an email. “Someone is most likely to experience ASMR when a kind person is giving them positive, gentle, personal attention, while also talking softly, moving gently, and creating light sounds.” For example, you may feel tingling sensations as someone brushes your hair or whispers to you.
He says the voice or presence can be in-person or virtual, via video, podcast, recording, etc. “One example that many people can relate to is Bob Ross, star of the TV show, The Joy of Painting,” Richard explains. “His personality, kindness, soft voice, and gentle painting sounds have induced ASMR in many viewers.” That said, designated ASMR YouTube and audio channels are increasingly popular — many celebs fans include Cardi B and Eva Longoria, who goes so far as to make her own ASMR videos. In such videos, you can watch (and listen) to people doing all kinds of things, from whispering to crinkling paper to chewing food — you-name-it. Richard himself has some ASMR podcasts, including Sleep Whispers & Calm History.
The Link Between ASMR & Reducing Anxiety
When it comes to anxiety, ASMR comes into play since it helps people relax. “Anxiety is not just a feeling of stress, but a feeling of stress that tends to impair some aspect of a person’s life, such as work, health, relationships, school, and so on,” says Richard. “Anxiety is a mental state that involves high neuronal activity, resulting in a strong feeling of being overwhelmed. So it is likely that ASMR helps to reduce neuronal activity, resulting in a feeling of calmness and relaxation.”
To his point, he cites a brain scan study he helped conduct that showed those specific areas of the brain that are active when someone is experiencing ASMR and its associated tingles. “Some of these regions highlight the likely involvement of oxytocin, also known as the love hormone,” he explains. “It may be central to ASMR, because the behaviors that trigger oxytocin release — which stimulate feelings of relaxation and comfort — are similar to the behaviors that trigger ASMR.”
Other published studies, too, support that ASMR is helpful for decreasing stress, getting more sleep, and lowering heart rates. “This early research on ASMR supports that it may be helpful for any individuals looking to increase their relaxation, reduce their stress, or fall asleep more easily,” Richard says.
Therapists, life coaches, energy healers, and other trained professionals sometimes recommend ASMR to their clients, as well. “I'd recommend it to help them alleviate anxiety if they tended to be more auditory in their communication patterns or were attracted to sound,” Intuitive Healer Terrie Huberman tells TZR. “This modality involves the senses — it allows us to get back into our bodies while anxiety pulls us out of it.”
She also says ASMR gives us an opportunity to pause and bridge back into ourselves, especially since we're still living in a world of uncertainty these days. “And because we push so much of our energy outside of us trying to keep up, ASMR gives us that moment to stop, collect, and reconcile our feelings,” she adds.
Huberman herself uses ASMR as a calming source. “I consider myself a mad scientist in a sort of way, so if I hear of a technique that can reduce anxiety, I jump at the opportunity to try it to see how it works on me,” she says. “I'm very auditory, so for me, ASMR feels comforting and cozy. I feel connected to the energy and frequency of sound, and it brings me back into my hearing senses.”
She adds that if she’s watching an action with a sound — like watching someone brush their hair — she gets to use her sense of sight, too. “This is another way to collect my energy back into my body if I'm feeling anxious,” she adds. (One ASMR video she prefers is one involving an eardrum massage)
Maria*, who creates ASMR content on various online platforms, including YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok, says she first learned about ASMR when experiencing some health issues while living in Spain. “I was living far away from my family and feeling unable to relax properly,” she tells TZR in an email. “So I looked for something on YouTube to help me sleep and relax — and that's when I came across ASMRMagic [who has nearly 1.5 million subscribers as of this writing] and Nature Flight ASMR. I then became hooked on their voices and the sounds they made in the videos, and wanted to learn more about ASMR.”
This prompted Maria to start making short ASMR clips on instagram, as a way of “giving back to the community,” she explains. “Then one of my followers encouraged me to make longer videos and start a YouTube channel — so I did.”
Maria doesn’t simply aim to help those who watch her videos, but also continues to care for herself. “I suffer from anxiety, and I find that ASMR videos help to distract me from anxious feelings and relax me, especially if I'm having an anxiety attack,” she says. “The personal touch of certain videos can also help to feel like someone is there with you and calming you down.” And, when she was living in Spain, she felt like there was a time when her anxiety worsened, but ASMR helped her through the rough patch. “And engaging with other ASMR viewers and creators helped, too” she adds.
She’d recommend trying ASMR — by looking on YouTube and Spotify, or even for in-person ASMR sessions in your city — especially if you’re looking for a way to relax. “I’d suggest it to anyone who deals with anxiety or depression, or who suffers from insomnia,” she says. “Or even anyone who just wants to find something different to relax to.”
But, Maria points out that she’s not a medical professional, so she’s not suggesting that ASMR replaces medical treatments for anxiety, depression, or insomnia. “ASMR videos might work for some people, but not for everyone, and they shouldn't be used in place of medication to treat mental health issues,” she says. “Also, it's worth noting that not everyone experiences ASMR. Plus. the sensation can be experienced differently from person to person. Some people might dislike certain sounds, speeds of sounds, or visuals — but others may find that they get triggered from them (in a good way).”
Creating The ‘Right’ ASMR Environment
Richard notes that creating an environment suitable for relaxation and sleep is as important as accessing and using ASMR content. “You should begin with a focus on decreased physical activity, easily achieved by just crawling into bed,” he says. “This initial stage is just about being still, so watching ASMR videos on YouTube can be a great first step to getting relaxed.”
Next, after about 15 to 30 minutes, you should turn off all sources of light, such as room lights and mobile screens, and switch to ASMR audio, such as an ASMR podcast. “The voices, sounds, and stories in ASMR podcasts will help distract and relax the brain even further,” Richard explains. “It is likely you will still feel slightly awake when the audio begins, but then your brain will quickly shift to a much more sedated state once it is deprived of light and visual input. And if someone else is within earshot of your audio, there are pillow-friendly headphones that can keep your audio from disturbing others.”
A 2022 study showed that ASMR videos can help lower anxiety for those who can experience ASMR. “The data from this study encourages individuals with anxiety to try ASMR videos or ASMR podcasts if they have never done so, because they may find ASMR content helpful at reducing their anxiety,” Richard explains.
As Maria noted, it’s a matter of trial and error, and all comes down to what works for you — or what doesn’t. And with all the content (and anxiety) out there, it may be worth a try.