Cara Szkudlapski sits on her overstuffed blue couch in her downtown apartment, comfortable in sweatpants and an oversized Big Ten Championship shirt, a heavy gray blanket draped over her legs. She plugs her earbuds into her laptop and heads to YouTube with a purpose.
Szkudlapski is looking for videos that trigger her Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, also known as ASMR.
What is ASMR? The videos consist of “triggers,” pleasing sounds or visuals that cause the viewer to feel relaxed, sleepy and even tingly on the scalp or limbs. ASMR can also help with insomnia, anxiety, depression and other mental ailments, which may explain why many college-aged people use these videos to deal with stress.
“I use it when I can’t fall asleep at night and I need to relax,” said junior athletic training major Szkudlapski. “Your body just relaxes.”
ASMR has taken over the internet, primarily YouTube. The content creators, or “ASMRtists” have millions of subscribers and billions of views between them. Many people who have ASMR, or the ability to respond to the triggers, can’t put the name ASMR to what they feel when responding to the noises.
Junior psychology major Henessys Paulino watched a famous painter that relaxed her before she was aware of what was happening. “I actually watched Bob Ross videos, and then my friend was like, ‘You like Bob Ross? You should look at ASMR videos on YouTube,’” said Paulino.
Szkudlapski said that her roommate showed her the previous year, and she has been hooked ever since.
While watching the videos can have a soothing result during viewing, they do not offer long-term solutions for mental health. Most ASMRtists put this in the descriptions of their videos and advise seeking professional help if the viewer is struggling.
Paulino said that she believes it has valuable short-term effects, like when she needs to fall asleep, but relying solely on viewing it is not a viable long-lasting plan. “I’m not just not anxious all the time because of ASMR,” said Paulino.
Many popular videos include whispering or soft speaking or tapping on surfaces. Other videos are role plays. The viewer may be made to feel as though they are being tucked into bed or having their hair brushed. For many, ASMR can simulate childhood experiences, thus adding a feeling of comfort or security. Several videos appeal directly to college students, including positive affirmations about taking exams or even job interviews.
“When you’re falling asleep, you can feel the physical effects of it, and I obviously fall asleep,” said Szkudlapski. “If it’s not playing, it’s not going to work.”
Junior human development and family studies major Matilda Coolick said that while many of her acquaintances use and enjoy ASMR, she does not feel the same attraction. She said that the main triggers do not work for her. “I’m not a big whisper fan,” Coolick said. “That freaks me out that someone sounds that close to my personal space.”
Coolick, who has dealt with her own bouts of depression, said that she does believe the videos can offer healing properties for others. “I think if you are someone with short attention, it’s a way to bring you back and calm you down,” said Coolick.
Many ASMRtists have dabbled in making videos for children who may have trouble falling asleep, experiencing depression or are dealing with trauma. Coolick is minoring in child maltreatment and advocacy studies and said that she believes these videos could help kids. “I think it would be really good for kids who are hyperactive because it gives them something to focus on,” said Coolick.
For stressed out college kids and elementary school kids alike, anyone can find a video for everyone out there. Maria, better known as GentleWhispering on YouTube, said, “It’s simply a matter of finding the trigger that speaks to you.”