What’s your “mental massage” of choice?

Morning, friends!

I recently discovered an Internet fascination that’s apparently been around for years: slime videos.

These are videos where slime influencers — people who are really really good at slime — post slime being played with, rolled around, formed, sliced, and manipulated in infinite ways.

On the bus home from work one day I went rabbit hole deep on this phenomenon on Instagram. When it had enraptured me all the way to my destination, I was … alarmed. What was wrong with me? So I googled it. And what I found was that 1) this is a very common tendency; 2) the “oddly fascinating” fascination was thoroughly covered by the media way back in 2018. So I’m behind the times.

The phrase “oddly satisfying” has been investigated at length, and even The New York Times is on it: 

“The videos seemed to scratch an itch I didn’t know I had. If I watched long enough, I felt lightly hypnotized, as if one of those disembodied hands had reached in and massaged my brain.”

Some have coined that “mental massage” as ASMR, or “autonomous sensory meridian response.” Like, watching certain videos can literally send pleasure shivers down your spine.

So why is this? When you watch a video that has this effect, you’re momentarily fixed on its sensory stimulation, which represents a highly relatable activity that mirror neurons can then translate. In other words, if manipulating play-doh is something you find soothing, calming, fun, and enjoyable, then watching a video of it will also translate those qualities in your body, just maybe at a lower intensity—like a Xerox copy. Our brain is basically ripping off of someone else’s “flow state” experience. And we know that there are two things that happen when your brain is in such a state:

  • the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex lights up a lot less—that’s the part of the brain charged with self-monitoring and impulse control and also serves as our “inner critic”

  • Large quantities of norepinephrine, dopamine, endorphins, anandamide, and serotonin flood our system. These are all the pleasure-inducing chemicals.

So, I wondered is this “OK”? Like, are we doing ourselves a disservice by spending so many hours a week soothing ourselves with videos of paint swirls and jello molds?

My expert opinion is that it’s an opportunity to tap into our own mood, preferences and habits. If you find watching time lapse baking videos oddly satisfying, does that mean you should try baking more often? If you love watching slime videos, does that mean you need to go back to your Nickelodeon kid roots and get yourself some slime?

Ultimately though? You have my permission-you-never-asked-for to enjoy these oddly satisfying videos. Whatever kind strikes your brain’s fancy. Meanwhile, we know what corner of the Internet I’ll be hanging out.

Try this at home.

The next time you reach for your phone or computer to self-soothe with some slime (or whatever your mental massager of choice is) take 10 seconds to check in with your body. What are your hands doing? Your jaw? Your face? Take note. Then go ham on your slime. When it’s time to put your phone away, do another quick 3-breath check-in. Any differences? Anything the same?
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New additions to the playlist. Let your ears enjoy. 
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