What is ASMR, and can it help with depression and anxiety?

If you’ve been on the internet long enough, odds are good you’ve heard of or seen ASMR videos. I’ve found them to be a nice, relaxing break, one capable of helping you unwind at the end of the day, similar to relaxing meditation. But, can they help with depression or anxiety? It certainly appears that way.

First, for the uninitiated, let me answer this question: What is ASMR? It stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response.” Per the Google definition, which is pretty accurate as far as I am concerned:

a feeling of well-being combined with a tingling sensation in the scalp and down the back of the neck, as experienced by some people in response to a specific gentle stimulus, often a particular sound.

ASMR recently was seen by hundreds of millions of Americans with this Super Bowl commercial from Michelob:

ASMR can be triggered by a variety of things. For some people, there is nothing that works (like my wife, who wants to throw my iPad out the window when I watch these videos). For others, ASMR triggers include gentle sounds (like tapping or whispering) or demonstrations.

There are a ton of channels and videos on YouTube which are designed to “trigger” ASMR. It’s become an incredibly popular internet trend, one that thousands (if not millions) use to relax and unwind.

From a mental health perspective, here’s a more interesting question: Can ASMR be used to help fight off depression and anxiety?

Well, yeah. Maybe.

ASMR as a formal, intentional genre of videos is relatively new, having only been around since the early 2010s. However, there has been some research done on the subject, and the answer, so far, is yes. According to a study published in 2015, 80% of participants who viewed ASMR said that the viewing had a positive effect on their mood, while another 69% found that their depression symptoms had been improved. Another study showed that ASMR videos can reduce heart-rate and increase skin conductivity, signs of physical and mental relaxation. There are also a slew of internet reports, like this one, of people who have used ASMR to fight depression.

Just to be insanely clear here: ASMR is not a substitution for therapy or medication. Personally, I think it’s a nice distraction, a good way to unwind and temporarily ease the painful symptoms of depression or anxiety. That being said, it’s not a permanent, formal treatment. But, if you’re stressed and looking to relax a bit, ASMR can be helpful. And, even if you’re not – go enjoy it! Millions of people across the world have found themselves finding relaxation and joy with ASMR. Go search for videos and see if there’s anything there you like.

Anxiety, relaxation and HAHAHAHA

(The “HAHAHAHA” is totally sarcastic)

So, as I write this entry, my in-laws are playing with my kids and having a great time.  My wife and I have been pleasantly chatting – I’m off this week, and we’ve got some nice plans.  Everything should be relatively calm and relaxed.

And yet, I can’t relax.

To be fair, I can never relax.

Everyone around me has always noted me to be so high-strung it’s almost comedic.  And, to be fair, it is.  I’m that guy.  The guy who spends Friday night worrying about what kind of work he’s going to have to get done on Monday.  The guy who wakes up early – all the time – to get stuff done.  The guy whose favorite website is his online to do list.

So, why?  In part, I’ve always chalked up my complete and total inability to let go to my anxiety issues, which is a generalized anxiety disorder.

All of this being said, being unable to relax isn’t exclusively related to anxiety.  And being anxious doesn’t mean you can’t relax.  I do have fun. I have hobbies.  I love video games.  I write, and I have constantly found salvation in creativity.  My job is a huge source of anxiety for me, but it is also an unending source of pride.  When it goes well, it goes really well.

All of that being said, there’s no doubt in my mind that anxiety and an inability to calm down – even at moments when I am not “anxious” – are related.  That’s because anxiety and depression never really go away.  I’d categorize myself right now as in a pretty good spot – I don’t find myself actively suffering from depression, and I haven’t had a full-blown, hardcore anxiety attack in over a year.  But, that doesn’t meant that it’s ever not there, lurking somewhere in the background.  One of the hardest things for me to recognize is that anxiety and depression never truly leave you.  I’ve recently come to the conclusion that both are somewhat similar to being addicted to something.  You never truly “recover” – you are just in recovery.  And there is a big, big difference.  Being in recovery means that you are on a constant journey, a spectrum.  Recovery isn’t an end state.

Which brings me back to the crux of my entry.  And, keep in mind, this isn’t just me being whiny – check out this article from Psychology Today in 2013:

…research has shown that stress, anxiety and depression, which come on the heels of this kind of non-stop pressure to achieve, physically interfere with the body’s relaxation mechanisms.

No kidding.

So, the general conclusion of this entry is this: If you are an anxious, high-stress person to begin with, you don’t just get anxious during anxiety-inducing situations.  You can anxious – and stay anxious – all of the time.

If you are one of these people, odds are good that you know exactly what I am talking about.  If you are not, I hope this is insightful, in that it shows how difficult living with a mental health condition can be.  I frequently compare mental health with physical health.  This is another example.  Mental illness is a chronic condition.  Just like constant pain, it never really goes away.

All of this being said, anyone out there know what I am talking about and want to chime in?  Your opinions, as always, are welcome and appreciated.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!