ASMR Videos Make Me Feel Less Alone During Social Distancing
The soothing auditory-focused videos can deliver stress-relief and a feeling of connection — even over the internet.
I slump into the faux leather sofa in my parents’ living room, the corner of the house that has become my pandemic office space. My copious internet interactions are still leaving me feeling lonely. I pull up Youtube and search for an “ASMR chit-chat” video to drown out my people-deprived angst. Nothing can replace the enthusiastic, in-person banter of friends and coworkers, but still, listening to the soft-spoken chatter of a stranger over my headphones fills the room with a sense of calm for me.
In simple terms, autonomous sensory meridian response, better known as ASMR, is a sensation that is often described as “tingling,” or intense relaxation, experienced when someone is exposed to satisfying visual or auditory stimuli. ASMR creators on Youtube, cleverly known as ASMRtists, help viewers tap into these sensations by performing “triggers,” such as tapping on objects, pretending to apply makeup to the viewer through the camera lens, or simply chatting in a soft-spoken voice.
You might recognize ASMR from Visit Philadelphia’s ASMR video featuring the beloved Aunt Terri, or from the Instagram of Holly Simple, a local artist who gently taps on handmade, eclectic charms and art pieces with her fingernails and hones in on the satisfying sounds of a sharpie sketching on the lid of a cardboard box.
While the scientific benefits of ASMR (like whether the mysterious sensation has any merit as a treatment for conditions like anxiety and insomnia) are still up for debate, a 2018 study from researchers at the University of Sheffield found that viewers who experience the tingling sensation had a decreased heart rate while watching relaxing videos.
Additionally, unlike other popular Youtubers that address their viewers as a collective, ASMR content creators often take the approach of speaking through the camera as though you’re the only one watching. It can be as though for the fleeting minutes you’re viewing the content, it was made only for you. You may be the one watching, but amazingly, you can’t help but feel seen.
North Philly-based ASMRtist, Abby Stoetzer, known as Abbystar ASMR on Youtube, discovered ASMR during her sophomore year at Temple University when she heard the buzz surrounding its insomnia-subduing benefits. Stoetzer’s love affair with the whisper community continued for a year before she tried her hand at producing her own ASMR content on Youtube. Only a couple weeks after posting her first upload, a lo-fi whispered video filmed on her iPhone, the clip had amassed about 100 views. A year later, the video stands at over 35k views.
Now at 21 years old, Stoetzer had been producing ASMR content part-time between an on-campus office job and gig as a student worker at WRTI 90.1 — which has since been brought to a halt due to campus closures. On Youtube, Stoetzer interacts with viewers to create content that speaks not only to their need for relaxation but that also addresses their growing need for some TLC and platonic intimacy.
“Anxiety and feelings of loneliness are very intimate experiences that people don’t always feel comfortable sharing or talking about,” Stoetzer tells Be Well. “ASMR is an open and safe place and community where the ASMRtist recognizes that people do suffer from these things and are willing to help. That builds the trust of the viewer. There are certain triggers that do help with intimacy and emotional intimacy like personal attention videos where some ASMRtists address the viewer specifically.”
If you’ve never fallen into the ASMR rabbit hole on Youtube before, you might be surprised at your reaction to the audio. That tingling feeling that would run down your spine as a child when a loved one would whisper a story until you fell asleep or the soothing sound of the clippers softly snipping away during a haircut can viscerally remind us of the loved ones and experiences the pandemic has temporarily deprived us of.
Humans thrive on intimacy, and whether it be through touch, verbal connection or laughter, we’re all struggling to get through the long days of social isolation to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. For many Philadelphians, this means going weeks without seeing intimate partners, close friends, and family — instead, relying on our phones to keep the silence from getting too loud. While nothing can replace the in-person connection we’re being deprived of, the online ASMR community has provided solace for those struggling with loneliness and anxiety for years. Now, it’s providing comfort and digital intimacy to those who are alone during the coronavirus pandemic.
As one of the top ASMRtists on Youtube, Pennsylvania-based Karuna Satori (her Youtube name derived from the Buddhist concept of compassion) has amassed a following of over one million subscribers on her channel since its start in 2014. Warmly referring to her subscriber base as “family,” Karuna desires to foster a sense of intimacy and connection with her viewers, as many are separated from their own families during the pandemic. Some of her followers even update her on their daily joys and struggles in the comments section — a far cry from the comments section on most of the internet.
“As someone who has been a hermit for the better part of several years, these people who’ve come across my channel and have given me a chance, they’ve become like family to me,” Karuna tells Be Well of her relationship with her viewers. “Besides my husband and children, they are all I have. My [goal] is to give them a sense of intimacy, a feeling that they are connected, that they have a place to go, that they are not alone. They are my family.”
This deep connection can feel as if it extends beyond the typical exchange of entertainment for views that we see in other spheres on Youtube, such as vloggers and beauty gurus. Karuna is an open book and shares her most personal struggles with her Youtube family, such as her experiences with addiction, family relationships, and mental illness. By creating a space for vulnerability, her platform is flooded with support not just for Karuna, but for others.
If you want to give ASMR a try, you can follow one of the makers above, or search on Youtube for other versions of this auditory tool. You can also try following the #ASMR hashtag on Instagram for bite-sized calming content. If your mind is swirling with all the COVID-19 updates of the day, try putting on a relaxing “no talking” ASMR video before bed. It’s not a fix for your problems, but watching ASMR videos can be a soothing practice and stress-relieving tool to adopt for yourself.