How ASMR and music therapy can generate well-being and help those with anxiety – 05/11/2022

The practice known as ASMR, which stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response”, has gained more and more adherents. A success on the internet, the method consists of sensory stimuli through whispers, mouth sounds, touching surfaces and visual aids.

There is still very little scientific research, with empirical data, that shows why these sounds bring so much well-being to some people, which limits the understanding of this experience. However, a study by researchers at the University Northumbria, in the United Kingdom, and published in February in the journal Plos One, showed that people who suffer from anxiety disorders are the most benefited by the technique. Among the participants who said they were repeat users of the videos of ASMR a drop in anxiety level was observed after watching the practice videos.

Tauily Taunay, psychologist and professor of psychology courses at Unifor (University of Fortaleza) and UFC (Federal University of Ceará), explains that it is a sensory phenomenon, that is, a psychophysiological response to specific sound and visual stimuli, in the which individuals experience chills and chills that start at the back of the neck and spread through the scalp, down the back, and can manifest in the limbs and other areas of the body.

Overall, Tauany believes that ASMR can act as a stimulus inducing well-being and positive emotions. “Its practitioners often report feelings of relaxation, helping to relieve symptoms of anxiety and stress. Obviously, it cannot be an exclusive therapeutic tool to treat such conditions, but it seems to help temporarily reduce these symptoms, as an adjunct to treatment”, he says. .

Music is an ally of physical and mental health

Music, on the other hand, the subject of extensive academic study over the last few decades, is proven to be a positive stimulus for the brain. There are several impacts on our emotions and behavior. According to Patrícia Vanzella, coordinator of the Neuroscience and Music project at UFABC (Federal University of Grande ABC), listening to music can motivate us, change our mood, modulate our perception of pain and even stimulate prosocial behaviors.

“Studies indicate that this is because music appears to mess with neurochemical systems that regulate the availability of substances directly related to reward experiences, regulation of excitability and stress levels, immune responses, and the perception of social affiliation,” says Vanzella.

The expert claims that the moments of intense pleasure generated by listening to music are accompanied by an increase in the release of dopamine in the reward system. This brain activity is usually accompanied by changes in our autonomic nervous system, which regulates some body functions, such as changes in heart rate, breathing rate, body temperature, skin conductivity and pupil diameter, for example. “If you’ve ever experienced a nice shiver when you hear a piece of music that made you feel emotional, it’s because the music messed with all these parameters,” she says.

Another response that occurs automatically when we listen to music is the impulse to move. This becomes quite obvious when, for example, we enter an environment where there is lively music playing in the background. We often begin to “time stamp” with our feet or nod our heads to the beat of the music. “Our nervous system, without our being aware of it, extracts the regularity from the pulses of the music we are listening to and, when we least realize it, we are moving. This is because in our brain there are neural circuits that connect auditory brain areas to motor areas and, when listening to music, there is an automatic activation in regions that prepare us for movement. Hence that desire to dance”, he explains.

Patrícia says that responses to music go beyond activations in brain areas related to the reward system and emotions. When we look at the brain that enjoys or makes music, we see a pervasive activity throughout the entire brain, which involves virtually all mental functions (such as attention, memory, motor planning, perception). “For this reason, music can be a highly effective tool both in treating certain medical conditions and in promoting mental health and well-being,” she says.

Senior couple dancing happy, old, old, elderly, elderly woman - iStock - iStock

Music can also improve our mood. In fact, this is one of the main reasons why people listen to music or engage in some kind of musical activity.

Image: iStock

What is a music therapy session like?

Accepted by SUS (Unified Health System) since 2017, treatments that use music are already used to help patients with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), T21 (Down Syndrome), Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Parkinson’s disease, pain chronic disease, people who have suffered a CVA (cerebrovascular accident) and people in a coma.

“At the same time, there has been an increase in works focused on prevention and health promotion, such as music therapy with pregnant women, babies and early childhood; music therapy in active and healthy aging; organizational music therapy; music therapy in mental health”, says Luisiana Passarini , music therapist and master’s student in the postgraduate program in neuroscience and cognition at UFBABC (Federal University of ABC).

She explains that what predominates in Brazilian practice is active (or interactive) music therapy, in which the patient is invited to interact musically with the music therapist. “The ‘invitation’ is done through music therapy techniques of composition, improvisation, recreation and/or listening,” she says.

In a session it is possible to sing, play, dance or express the silence, the pause. The proposals are personalized and carried out according to the therapeutic plan of each patient, established in evaluations throughout the treatment. “Simple, easy-to-handle musical instruments are used, with the intention of facilitating expression and communication between people who experience music together. That is, the patient does not need to have musical knowledge, know how to play an instrument or sing in tune to be attended in music therapy”, he emphasizes.

When the noise is bad

Unlike our eyes, our ears don’t have lids to close when we don’t want to receive information and, therefore, are constantly receiving stimuli, such as horns, noises from cars passing on the street or construction works.

According to Patrícia Vanzella, there is evidence that repeated exposure to excessively noisy environments can be harmful and lead to hearing problems, sleep disorders, cognitive overload and even stress. “Urban noise levels and in organizational and hospital environments (ICUs, mainly) should be the agenda in public health programs. As they are not and the subject is little discussed, we need to take individual measures whenever possible”, she says.

Music therapist Luisiana Passarini recommends, for example, that we pay attention to the different sound environments in which we spend most of the day and gives some tips: “Whenever possible, keep your home or work as quiet as possible: turn off a device, turn down a volume etc. When it is not within your reach to improve the ambient noise level, a good earplug or headphones can help, with music that is pleasant for you (but at an adequate volume so as not to damage your hearing)”, he suggests.

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