For my first column of 2021, I would like to share something that may sound strange but helped me get through 2020: autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR). Until mid-2020, I had never heard of it, but, ironically, my twin sister and business partner read about this audio and video phenomenon in an Austrian newspaper. To say I was skeptical in the beginning was an understatement, but 2020 was such a tough year that I promised myself I would try anything that offered what I was looking for: rest, relaxation, and meditation. If you’ve never heard of ASMR, you might be in for a treat. It might sound like new age hocus-pocus, but at its most basic, ASMR is visual or auditory stimuli (e.g., a series of sounds or softly spoken words) that help you relax and/or sleep. It’s a bit hard to describe until you’ve practiced it yourself, but I will take a stab at it.
When I want to relax, I usually listen to some of my favorite classical music on the Idagio app or meditate. I also use the Calm app to hear the soothing sounds of nature. Yoga is another favorite. I also recently discovered sound baths (where you are “bathed” in sound waves) that feature calming sounds produced by a variety of sources, including gongs, chimes, tuning forks, or the human voice.
I was hooked on ASMR the first time I tried it and can already anticipate the relaxation by merely thinking about it. Many friends and colleagues are hooked as well. One friend listened to ASMR before a big interpreting exam, which she aced, and partly credits ASMR for getting her in the right mindset.
ASMR involves so-called brain triggers in the form of gentle sounds (tapping, etc.), gentle whispering, or a combination of both. Essentially, these stimuli are meant to produce a “tingling” sensation in your brain that causes you to relax. Just keep in mind that not everyone reports feeling this sensation. (Don’t worry if you’re in this category because there are also special ASMR videos for tingling-resistant folks!)
There are a variety of ASMR channels on YouTube, some of which have become quite popular in the past year with millions of subscribers. One of my favorites channels was created by YouTuber Tingting. She is Chinese but presents her videos in English. I’ve enjoyed ASMR videos in languages I don’t understand, as it’s not about the words but how the words make you feel.
I find when I listen to ASMR videos, I’m instantly relaxed and feel energized and either ready to tackle my day or go to sleep, depending on which video I chose. I sometimes also listen to ASMR during my daily hour-long walks and find it really calms me down and puts me in a positive mindset, which we all need these days. Another YouTube channel I really like is called Gentle Whispering. You may have to try different channels until you find one that really speaks to you, but there are hundreds from which to choose. Some ASMR channels focus on role play, meaning the speaker will be simulating a head massage, a visit to the hairdresser, or some other relaxing activity. Those are generally less compelling for me as I tend to prefer softly spoken videos or those featuring only sounds or words.
I certainly don’t blame you if you’re still a bit skeptical, as this column perhaps isn’t the best medium to describe an audio and video sensory experience. However, I wanted to share the information about ASMR widely because I bet many of you will really like it. It’s also entirely free on YouTube, although you can choose to financially support some of the hard-working content creators through Patreon.
I’ve listened to ASMR before complicated remote simultaneous interpreting assignments, right after waking up, before I go to sleep, and before conference interpreting assignments. It works like a charm and I feel energized just thinking about it. I think this is a healthy addiction that many of us might really enjoy in 2021. After you try ASMR, I would love to know what you think.
Tingting YouTube: http://bit.ly/ASMR-Tingting
Gentle Whispering YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/GentleWhispering
Cline, John, “What Is ASMR and Why Are People Watching These Videos?” Psychology Today (September 6, 2018),
Kelles, Jamie. “How ASMR Became a Sensation,” The New York Times (April 4, 2019), http://bit.ly/ASMR-sensation.
Kwong, Emily. “What Causes ASMR? What’s Behind the Feeling?” National Public Radio (October 17, 2019), http://bit.ly/ASMR-tingle.
Judy Jenner is a Spanish and German business and legal translator and a federally and state-certified (California, Nevada) Spanish court interpreter. She has an MBA in marketing and runs her boutique translation and interpreting business, Twin Translations, with her twin sister Dagmar. She was born in Austria and grew up in Mexico City. A former in-house translation department manager, she is a past president of the Nevada Interpreters and Translators Association. She writes the blog Translation Times and is a frequent conference speaker. She is the co-author of The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation.
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