One of my biggest struggles in healing from childhood trauma is managing ruminating thoughts and intrusive memories. Like a broken record my mind simply keeps replaying the past over and over again.
How does one overwrite these painful memories and feelings that constantly overwhelm my present?
Using our will-power and trying to force them away does not work. Our monkey brain needs something that will distract our mind from letting those thoughts take a life of their own. ASMR works perfectly by overriding angry and depressive rumination with soothing, calming sounds thus changing our brain wiring.
I have discussed how sound healing music and guided meditation has helped me change my thoughts and beliefs. However, ASMR goes one step further – its effect is psychobiological. ASMR brings on a tingling sensation in our bodies which begins at the top of the head moving through our spine and entire body. This is so relaxing and pleasurable for the mind and body.
So What is ASMR?
ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) or tingles is that tingly feeling you experience when you hear or see something soothing It is also called having a brain-orgasm – you feel the nerves on your skin tingling which releases the feel-good chemicals in our body making us feel relaxed and euphoric.
ASMR is closely linked to past experiences, with the sensation resembling feeling nurtured as a child. This can be comforting to some.
It has been compared with auditory-tactile synesthesia (the ability to see music )and may overlap with frisson (musical chills/goosebumps).
Physical sensations include sparkly or static-y tingles or waves in the head which may flow to other areas of the body. Feelings include relaxation, comfort, calmness, sleepiness, peacefulness, happiness, and/or euphoria.
Common ASMR triggers are usually soft or accented voices, personal attention, ambient sounds, or watching people work silently. According to YouTubers, there are around 100 known ASMR triggers but one will never know.
The 3 Main Types of ASMR Triggers
Tactile – includes light touch, massage, hair touching, grooming, and physical examination.
That is why going for a facial or hair-color or even a doctor’s visit can be relaxing. That soothing feeling one experiences when the doctor puts his stethoscope on your chest and asks you about your ailment. That is enough to trigger your body’s healing mechanism into action.
Visual – includes eye gazing and observing slow hand movements.
The visual type ASMR that targets our mirror-neurons tricking us into being the recipient of feeling comforted and cared for. This is because mirror neurons also connect to the ‘body map’ and motor areas of the brain Mirror neurons activate when watching someone doing a motion or task, and are thought to mimic the movements that are seen. These include massage, reiki, hair-washing, and styling, applying make-up.
Auditory – includes vocal types (eg soft, whispering, slow, gentle, increased pitch, caring, monotone), oral sounds (eg mouth sounds, chewing, blowing), and object-related sounds (eg tapping, scratching, cutting, crinkling, caressing, handling, crystal/Tibetan singing bowls).
For stimuli to be ASMR they have one or more of the following traits: methodical, repetitive, steady pace, steady volume, and/or non-threatening.
ASMR tingles may last up to several minutes and the intensity changes from intense tremor to a mild tingle. Most Youtube videos alternate between soft whispering and humming to simple, relaxing sounds like brushing, tapping, folding, tearing paper.
That Loving Feeling Releases Feel-Good Chemicals
ASMR soft whispers and gentle grooming visuals activate the biological pathways of inter-personal bonding. This triggers a sense of safety and comfort. Our heart-rate slows down and we feel connected and loved.
The psychobiological change in our mind and body stimulate the release of feel-good chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin
However, everyone is different and so each one has different ASMR triggers. In fact, what one person finds pleasurable will leave someone else cold or worse could aggravate his state of mind.
According to many theorists, ASMR pleasurable physical response is intricately connected to our implicit memories buried deep into our subconscious. Maybe your mother spoke in that calm tone or your father combed our hair oh, so lovingly. My father, before my mother died did a very good job combing my hair, so I feel amazingly relaxed watching hair-styling videos.
Whether tingles are caused by auditory-sensory conversation, or mirror neurons, or something unknown, they feel incredibly wonderful and are deeply relaxing.
Unintentional ASMR is the Best
You can also be triggered by what is called unintentional ASMR like this Welsh Stone Carver (Tapping Gently & Sharing Wisdom. Or watching painter Bob Ross in The Joy of Painting calmly and soothingly give instructions while adeptly moving his brush on the canvass creating beautiful masterpieces.
In many ways, the unintentional ASMR is always the best! Soothing, authentic voice along with tapping, rustling, scraping, moving. I remember watching my grandmother going about cooking with slow, easy, movements, and feeling a deep sense of calmness.
Visual ASMR triggers areas of the brain associated with the reward and emotional arousal.
My favorite visual ASMR is watching the numerous cake decorating videos on Instagram. The sheer poetry, skill, and finesse in transforming an ordinary cake into a work of art send tingles up and down my spine.
How ASMR Overwrites and Rewires Our Brain
Craig Richard, founder of the ASMR University explains how ASMR triggers work. The stimuli activate the brain center known as called the somatosensory cortex. This strip of brain tissue is essentially a body map. Each area of the body is represented along the strip, from head to toe.
Additionally, listening to an ASMR video with inaudible or unintelligible whispering likewise forces the listener to focus and concentrate on the sound and voice itself. This helps shut down our stress-response while activating the parasympathetic nervous system. As our brainwaves slow down so do those internal ruminating voices.
Visual ASMR creates a flow-like state through mirroring the similar state of intense focus performed by others and diminished awareness of the passage of time
The soothing auditory-visuals magically causes a mind-shift thereby overwriting those angry, helpless, devaluing noises with calm subterfuge. We are lulled into listening to those soothing voices and sounds that we forget to think about what we felt compelled to think about. Before you know the rumination has stopped and we can actually control what we think. Rather than feeling we are controlled by some demonic voices in our head.
Gradually, this changes how the neurons in our brain fire. We need just a few moments at a time to shift our mindset and rewire our brain.
ASMR is a Personal Thing
Though I have found ASMR quite helpful and is part of my healing toolkit, I was surprised to learn that there are people who are immune to it. In fact, there are some who find it very distressing.
Those who hate ASMR and can’t stand it could be suffering from misophonia or hatred of sound. Instead of feeling relaxed, they feel negative emotional reactions to a particular sound. This creates a feeling of raised alertness. That’s because the brain is releasing stress hormones.
For those of us who have experienced childhood trauma some sounds and voices remind us of our painful past and cause us to have painful flashbacks. Then there are those on the autism spectrum who suffer from SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) may experience anxiety, discomfort, or in some cases have meltdowns.
ASMR and misophonia may be two ends of the same spectrum of synaesthesia-like emotional responses. And our genes and past experiences determine what we like or hate.
Personally, I find anyone whispering into my ear very irritating, while when my son puts his arm around my shoulder, I feel I’m in seventh heaven.
ASMR triggers are deeply personal – there will be some sounds which you will find relaxing while others may push you over the edge. It is all about finding your OWN bliss.
Healing Trauma – Stopping Rumination
Most people who have not experienced trauma tell you ‘let it go’, ‘move on’. But however, much we try our brain is stuck like a broken record – ruminating thoughts keep us locked in our childhood misery. Those voices keep replaying those loopy feelings which were not allowed to be expressed.
Trying to heal from trauma has been a long, painful but enlightening self-healing journey. Since the lockdown due to coronavirus, I had to give up my nature-walks and find other ways to release those blocked emotions in my body. The recent discoveries that have worked for me are EFT-tapping and ASMR. Both have been very effective in shifting my thoughts and feelings from stressed to calm.
However, a word of caution too much of anything creates tolerance i.e. ASMR reactions decrease or disappear if you overdo listening/watching videos. So, change the videos you watch or take a break and indulge in creating your own ASMR-like experiences – being mindful while doing your cooking or baking or cleaning. Focussed awareness while using your own two-hands creates a zen-like state. The Japanese have perfected this in their tea-ceremony. Create your own real ASMR-life situations -nothing beats the real thing.
Image Source: Pixabay
Unwind Your Mind: The Life-Changing Power of ASMR –Emma WhispersRed