Could ASMR be used at work to decrease stress?

The workplace can be a stressful environment for most professions.  Work-related stress can result in poor performance, job dissatisfaction, and missed workdays.

One field that struggles constantly with job-related stress is health care, especially for those who work in surgical Intensive Care Units (ICU).

The word “intensive” is practically a synonym for the word “stress”.

Here is a crazy experiment: give these ICU workers one hour off in the middle of their workday to meditate, perform yoga, enjoy relaxing music, and watch soothing ASMR videos – then see if that helps their stress.

Well, one team of researchers almost did that exact experiment and just published the results in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

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ASMR research and music therapy research

Relaxing music and ASMR triggers have their similarities and their differences.

Similarities include: both can induce relaxation, both have strong auditory component, and both can induce a type of chills or tingles.

Differences include: music is almost all auditory (vibrations can be another sensory input method), the type of chills induced are slightly different, and music may have a stronger emotional component.

And then there is the biggest difference of them all.

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The potential involvement of GABA in ASMR

It has been widely reported that many individuals find ASMR helpful to reducing their anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

If there was one neurotransmitter that was known to reduce all three of these disorders then it might be appropriate to theorize the involvement of that neurotransmitter in ASMR.

Well, the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) may be a terrific candidate.

GABA is a neurotransmitter that is widely released throughout the brain.  It is well understood to have an inhibitory effect on most neurons.  Another way to view this is that GABA tends to calm, comfort, and soothe other neurons.

Is GABA involved in treating anxiety disorders?  Yes.  Drugs like Xanax and Valium are benzodiazepines which are anti-anxiety medications.  These kind of drugs reduce anxiety by enhancing the effect of the patient’s natural amounts of GABA.

Is GABA involved in treating sleep disorders?  Yes.  Benzodiazepines are also widely used to treat insomnia and other sleep disorders.

So are benzodiazepines widely used for depression?  No.  The most common type of medication used to treat depression are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).  These drugs increase the amount of the patient’s natural amount of serotonin.

So GABA has not been viewed strongly as being involved in the therapeutic role of SSRIs for depression.

But a recent research publication in the journal Science challenges that view.

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