During Election Night, as MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki manically bopped around in front of a heat map, tens of millions of Americans clenched their fists and collectively tried not to stroke out from anxiety. The antidote to that: a 22-minute YouTube video of a woman pretending to brush your hair.
“I know you’re feeling super anxious and super stressed while you’re waiting for the election results,” the woman purrs in the video. “There’s nothing we can do now; we’ve done all we could. We voted. It’s just a kind of waiting game now to see what happens.” She then utters the words most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, wanted to hear: “whatever the outcome of this, we will get through it together.”
The video is “ASMR Let me calm your #election night nerves,” by 41-year-old YouTuber MinxLaura123ASMR. It’s one of a small cottage industry of election-themed YouTube videos intended to facilitate ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response), a sensation that has been described as a tingling, relaxing feeling in the head, spine, and extremities. Though ASMR is a little-understood phenomenon, the existing research does indicate that it can have some salutary effects in treating anxiety or insomnia — two conditions that were obviously rampant during the nail-biter of Tuesday night. (Indeed, according to Google Trends data, YouTube searches for ASMR videos peaked wildly at around 2 a.m. ET.)
In an Instagram video chat interview, MinxLaura123ASMR, who’s based in the United Kingdom, tells Rolling Stone that she was inspired to create the video after receiving countless messages from American viewers stressed about the election. “They said that the election is causing them sleepless nights, and their anxiety levels have gotten really bad, and they can’t focus on their work,” she says. “So I tried to visualize what I would say to someone in that situation.”
After posting her video last night, she saw that it almost immediately got a positive reception, ratcheting up views to her channel by 62 percent. Its popularity was in part, she says, due to the fact that she kept it nonpartisan, for fear of alienating subscribers and imbuing the pursuit of relaxation with a political bent. “At the end of the day I’m here to help them with anxiety,” she says. “I’m not there to judge who they vote for.”
Past election-oriented videos, such as a 2016 post-election “Need a hug?” video by ASMR doyenne GentleWhispering, have skewed similarly nonpartisan. “I try to be as neutral as possible because I understand what my channel brings to people and and they’re not here for the news or for truly my opinions on things,” she previously told Rolling Stone. They are here for another service that are provided and it’s for the most part to help them relax. If anything I help them stay shielded from the politics and different discussions that happen every day everywhere in the world. I provide them a sacred place away from it.”
One of the people who benefited from watching ASMR videos on Tuesday night was A.Z. Madonna, 27, a music writer in Boston who has been watching ASMR videos to help alleviate her insomnia and anxiety for nearly a decade. “I’d stayed up till about 1 a.m. watching returns and then decided to try to sleep. I didn’t actually watch the video, just listened to the audio on my headphones,” she explains. “It helped me turn my brain off and stop ruminating about everything I’d seen and everything that could go wrong.”
As the election results continue to unfold, with crucial swing states like Pennsylvania and Nevada still counting the votes and Trump actively threatening to contest any results favorable to Biden, Americans’ stress and anxiety will likely only continue to mount. In this milieu of fear and desperation, Laura thinks cable network anchors could take a tip or two from ASMRtists like herself. “I’d like to see Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo do a bit of whispering in my ear,” she admits. “I’d be a lot more relaxed.”