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The Bipolar Brain – A Radio Station You Can’t Turn Off

November 23, 2012 Natasha Tracy

Earworms are songs you can't get out of your head and they seem to affect my bipolar brain in a big way. More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

Ah, the human brain. It’s a wondrous thing. It calculates, it categorizes, it makes connections and it remembers the square root of 144. I’m constantly awed by its power.

But one of the annoying things that can happen to a brain is that somehow, a song gets stuck in it. Somehow, even though its great power and ability, the catchy hook of the latest pop song gets stuck inside some errant neurons and plays over and over.

And this causes a lot more trouble in my bipolar brain than it does for others.

I Have Justin Bieber Stuck in My Head; I’m Thinking of Cutting it Off

I find myself with songs stuck in my head all the time. Like, every day, all the time. And they aren’t songs that I like or even songs I have heard that day they are just random songs that somehow fight their way into my consciousness long enough to create a groove there. And once they’re there? Good luck getting them out.

My Bipolar Brain and Earworms

According to Wikipedia, this phenomenon is known as an “earworm,” “musical imagery repetition” or “involuntary music imagery.” In Germany, they have a special word for it – Ohrwurn – “a type of song that typically has a high, upbeat melody and repetitive lyrics that verge between catchy and annoying.”

Earworms are completely natural, of course, and apparently, 98% of people experience them. Women seem to experience earworms for longer and are more irritated by them. Songs with lyrics account for about three-quarters of earworms.

My Earworm Moved In

Unlike the experience that most people have, I have earworms much of the time. Sometimes it’s one song that repeats for days and sometimes it’s many songs in a day, but predominantly they are there.

I have found no research suggesting people with bipolar disorder have more incidence of earworms than others but there is research that says people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) do and as I’ve remarked previously, OCD and bipolar disorder may be linked. And earworms on hypomania? That is your brain on extra-crispy-crazy.

Admittedly, it is a very obsessive thing my brain does. It feels like an obsession with the invisible. I can never see it so it never goes away. And I find this highly troubling.

Like, highly troubling. Like I could see someone wanting to ice pick his or herself just to make the blooming song in his or her head shut the heck up. It’s that much of an anxious obsession. It’s crazy-driving obsession. Sometimes I feel like I’m begging my brain to think of anything else but it laughs and carries on with the 30-second loop.

Holy macaroni is it ever frustrating.

So, my question to you is this: How often do you experience earworm? Is it troubling to you?

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, November 23). The Bipolar Brain – A Radio Station You Can’t Turn Off, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, April 11 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2012/11/bipolar-brain-radio-cant-turn-off



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook and YouTube.

Brandon
October, 30 2017 at 9:27 am

Aloha all, I have this too. Since I was a kid. Quickest way to get rid of it for me was to sing another song in my head. Queen, "We will we will Rock you!" Maybe because that was the very first song to ever get stuck in my head. Singing it out loud worked the best. Your own voice is your best remedy for healing.
Anyway other stuff that works is:
-Being barefoot in the forest. Walking slow through the forest barefoot. It is soo quiet!
-Grounding sheets, I am typing on them now. 1 on feet other on wrists. Its the only way to concentrate.
Nutritional help:
Vitamin C powder, like 2-5K/ day
Iodine: either from salt or seaweed
oh and I am a guy/male :)

Anne Rogan
October, 24 2017 at 3:41 am

I also have a song playing in my head morning, noon, and night. It is very annoying and sometimes I have anxiety thinking that something has to be wrong with my brain. I am not bipolar, or maybe I am and I am only on the fringe. I do have Hashimotos Disease so I have an autoimmune thing going on. I meditate and do yoga regularly which does not help. When I read (daily) or listen to music I have a break from it. If i run (long distance) or swim, the song stays in rhythm with my steps or stroke. It is awful. I do have an intrusive thought in my head of piercing my brain with an ice pick when I have an especially bad day. If I ever do find a remedy, (and I will keep searching), I will let everybody know about it!! I wish peace and quiet to you all . . . . treat her better. Gotta let go of all my . . . . .

Dan
October, 16 2017 at 5:39 pm

I wish it would stop! I noticed it gets worse with anxiety or if I'm having an inflammatory flare up. Also seems the lyrics are related to how I'm feeling or what I'm thinking about. If I'm deeply engrossed and focused on something, it temporarily goes away.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Nikki
October, 20 2017 at 7:11 pm

Wowowowowow!! I was diabiaed biploae type 2 when I was a teen but later dljbd out I have hashimotos thyroiditis so in went on hormone supplements and it's been 10 years since then and I just chalked up my symptoms or bipolar to thyroid problems. But. When I have a thyroid immune flare up I get symptoms for a couple weeks to a month of a radio playing in my head, anxiety and panic attacks. Mania. What is the link between an autoimmune flare up and these bipolar symptoms. I thought I was the only one. Im blown away.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Nikki
October, 20 2017 at 7:13 pm

Ugh new phone that doesn't have auto correct. *I was diagnosed bipolar type 2 when I was a teen

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
October, 23 2017 at 5:02 am

Hi Nikki,
I can't tell you for sure what the link is between autoimmune disorders and mental illness. What I can say is that in my experience, if one gets worse, so does the other.
- Natasha Tracy

Jess
October, 14 2017 at 9:42 am

I'm in the process of being diagnosed with possibly bipolar. I've been on antianxiety and antidepressants and both caused me harm. I constantly have songs playing in the back of my head. It's very overwhelming and hard to focus in school

Kara
October, 11 2017 at 1:31 pm

I have them all the time but I'm convinced the majority of my brain is occupied by lyrics. I can sing, word for word almost any song on the radio. It leaves my husband in awe.

laurie
October, 8 2017 at 12:36 pm

have it too.
question - how many hours per week do you peeps read a book?
Read a book, specifically a book, reading it. not blogs etc.
Book.
thnks

Wendy L
October, 8 2017 at 12:24 am

I have this as soon as I wake up there's a song playing, morning noon & night its driving me insane, I'm going to listen to some classical music I don't mind that so much, it's the music with words that drive me loopy most.

solimantary
October, 5 2017 at 1:27 pm

Dee, and Natasha, maybe transcranial magnetic stimulation (or inhibition in your case) can help to stop the music. Also, you can marvel because you have a personal soundtrack :)

Dee
October, 4 2017 at 9:56 am

I'm not exactly sure when the music started, but I noticed about 10.5 years ago that it was REALLY bothering me!!! My brain is a radio station!!! When I try to shut the music off, it just switches to another song!!! I can't ever just meditate...the music won't stop!!! Even when I try to pray in silence, it's there!!! Sometimes, if I'm preoccupied with something else, it's less noticeable... I've met one other person with this affliction, but she only hears one that gets louder!!! I do have depression and whenever I've mentioned this affliction to my doctors, they are just as puzzled as I am!!! Some days I feel like I'm going to go insane!!! As unfortunate this condition is, I find relief knowing that other people are dealing with this, and that I'm not from another planet!!!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Sandy Searls
October, 16 2017 at 3:40 pm

I've been dealing with this longer than I can even remember. Glad to hear I'm not alone. The only relief that I get is when I'm watching TV or concentrating really hard on a book I'm reading. Keeps me up at night ?

Christian
September, 23 2017 at 5:18 am

I know what it's like.
I've been hearing music play constantly in my head for the past two weeks and I'm exhausted. I can't sleep for more than four of five hours every night. My heart is racing most of the day because of my anxiety. I'm in pain. It all started while I was away on a Vipassana ten day meditation retreat. I was supossed to have come back more alert and calm but now I'm a nervous wreck. ¿Does anybody know of any treatment? I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alan Leak
September, 25 2017 at 10:43 pm

I totally sympathize with your situation and I wish I could tell you there's a magic cure for this - but, sadly, there isn't. There are things you can do, and various coping strategies to try but, at least for the moment, medical science is in the dark ages on this one.
I have suffered with this awful condition (on and off anyway) for 50 years and, believe me, I have tried everything I can think of. My life has been tainted with this foul 'condition' and I think I will be taking it to the grave. I have been on the edge of despair so many times; all I can do is get through every day as best I can.
I don't wish to be negative but, after such a long time, it's difficult to be otherwise. For the record I have tried hypnotherapy, psychotherapy, meditation, medication, spiritual healing, and pretty much anything else you can think of.
At the moment I am having a course of acupuncture treatment as I am told it can be useful in treating OCD and similar problems. I don't feel really optimistic but I am still prepared to try anything that offers a glimmer of hope.
I'm sorry I couldn't be more helpful and will keep the blog updated on the acupuncture treatment.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Christian
September, 29 2017 at 6:36 am

Well, thank you for the reply. I'm still holding on and trying different things but I really do hope something will work. Take care.

Brittany
September, 10 2017 at 8:13 pm

Nice to know I'm not the only one! Sometimes I like the fact that I can hear music in my head. It's amazing to me how I can remember all of the parts to the song, down to each instrument and change in vocals! I just wish there was a way to change the song on command. Hearing the same damn song on repeat drives me absolutely crazy. Especially when it's a song I don't like or don't know very well so that the only part that plays is the damn chorus.

Leslie
September, 6 2017 at 2:11 am

Oh, how I can relate. My kids are amazed that I know all the words to every song from 70's to present. I've found some audio that I find soothing, so when I'm super manic (which has been the case for going on 5 months now) I play it to calm myself.

Mary
August, 29 2017 at 11:52 pm

I count my benign earworms as a blessing since I recently lost my son and thinking about him will keep me from sleeping any given night!!! Pat Metheny /fusion jazz lulls me back to sleep from those wakeful moments when I dangle between sleep and impending doom /no sleep. Im not OCD, bipolar, or ill!

Kim Smith
August, 24 2017 at 1:54 pm

I have music and chatter 24-7. It will NOT stop!! Is there a supplement or medicine that would help?

Janet Hope
August, 20 2017 at 7:12 pm

I have this problem all the time. It has gotten so bad I can't sleep. Finally I had to stop listening to music completely because I was so exhausted all the time.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Franc
August, 21 2017 at 11:47 pm

I have the same problem. I don't want to stop listening to music but I find it is always going on in my head. I find I can think of something else (eg. my son is taking a trip in 2 weeks) but the song is playing in the background for no reason at all. I don't even know when the last time that I even heard the song

April B.
August, 20 2017 at 6:37 am

Everyday and night. I find I can sometimes change to radio station, so to speak. I found a CD called Gama Meditation II (or very similar name). I haven't tried it yet for earworms but it works effectively when my brain is in hamster mode, for lack of a scientific or layman's term. It's provided immense relief. At other times, the same CD is highly annoying; when I am not experiencing "hamster brain". It might work. I do not have the CD on my person now, or I would try it out.

Cameron Taylor
August, 11 2017 at 2:59 am

I have music in my head all the time. It can be annoying but I sometimes use it as a way to stay focused. I do have severe depression and have quite a few OCD tendencies so that's probably where it's from. After a while of a song going through my head, and most of the time it's a few lines, I have finally worked out what the lyrics to the whole song are.

Stef
August, 10 2017 at 4:16 pm

Ever since I could remember, I have had music constantly stuck in my head 24/7. I've been researching and trying to find a name for it everywhere. Every single day without fail, there's a song stuck in my head, and it changes every once in a while. I've actually been woken up from a certain song in my head in the middle of the night, or I would wake up and remember a song playing in my dream, the same song that would be stuck in my head when I woke up in the morning! I may have some form of OCD but I'm not diagnosed. Do you (or anyone reading this) have any idea what it could be?

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alan Leak
August, 26 2017 at 10:00 pm

I don't think anyone really knows but, as far as I can tell, it's some weird form of OCD/bipolar disorder condition

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

T
September, 9 2017 at 5:07 pm

I wish I did, I understand your pain! Especially being woken up in the middle of the night, sometimes it's only a single line on a song but I can't stop from saying it over and over. Just want to turn it off

Todd
August, 7 2017 at 1:35 pm

Beethoven was deaf and think of the music in his head. Count it as a blessing.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alan Leak
August, 26 2017 at 9:58 pm

No offence but if you think this is a blessing then, believe me, you have no concept of the torture this condition can inflict. There are no words to decribe this mental agony...

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Christian
September, 26 2017 at 3:39 am

You should check brokenrecordsyndrome.blogspot.com.

Daphne
August, 6 2017 at 8:26 am

This is pretty much a continuous thing. Even in my dreams I have songs going and wake up with them stuck in my head for hours. Sometimes I don't even have to hear a song for it to get lodged in my brain. Sometimes just a word or two in normal conversation can pop a song and next thing you know, I'm moving about singing the lyrics. I keep telling my family that it's not a normal thing and there should be a name for this.

Jan
August, 4 2017 at 9:21 am

The constant tune in my head began 2 years ago when I found porn on my husband's devices. Hasn't let up and has been much worse lately. It's exhausting. It starts the second I wake up, even in the middle of the night. I don't have a history of bipolar, but I take Prozac and admit to a moderate amount of OCD and anxiety. I weaned myself off Xanax and Vyvanse earlier this year. I'm 63.

Margaret Di Pasquale Fox
August, 4 2017 at 4:52 am

Oh me too,over and over,driving me potty I don't want to say anything I just can't stop the music in my head music in my head and it's like different tunes and all the time repeat over and over and if I myself kind of breathing the tune out breathing it like in the music and if I'm wrong thinking about something I want to stop doing this and I'm doing it while I'm trying to think about stopping it I think it's sending me crazy

Makayla buck
July, 31 2017 at 4:09 pm

I have it all the time! My songs that play in my head are full songs and it will just repeat and i end up getting like 8-13 songs played in my head a day ive counted, like today at the dinner table i sat down and all of a sudden "beauty school dropout" started playing in my head and i havent seen grease in 2 and a half years! When it happens i have trouble hearing people like i cant concentrate on 1 person or if there is noise coming from something around me and i have that stuff playing in my head while someone is talking to me i only get parts of what they say.? and i get frustrated and end up breaking down and crying cause no one knows whats happening in my head and they judge me for it. Im going into 10th grade and i struggle in class because of it.??

Melissa
July, 28 2017 at 12:33 pm

The dang song won't shut off!! Over and over and over.. ridiculous

trevor
July, 21 2017 at 2:51 pm

I have ASD and lately I've had "There will be applause" stuck in my head. To counter it I play Daft Punk's Around The World on repeat. It's more repetitive but non-annoying to me.

Lino
July, 17 2017 at 6:07 am

I've had two songs that seem as if they constantly play in my head. Perhaps they are not constant and only play when I think about them. Maybe they are constant and I have somehow managed to push them to the background. They are "Evacuate the Dancefloor" by Cascada [I absolutely hate this song] and "Toes" by LIGHTS [which I love]. When I have a moment of silence around me, I start humming either of these songs. I do get other songs stuck in my head from time to time. I even dream about them. But they eventually disappear. These two however, never seem to go away.

Robert
July, 16 2017 at 7:34 am

Good Lord yes! It's been something I've lived with since I was 14 (46 now). It only got worse during and after military service. It can get so bad that I even get a DJ in it. It's usually unintelligible compared to the songs but its there. Sometimes the DJ is breaks back to military radio comms. Then the "music" starts up again. It can get so bad that it triggers other things in PTSD and bi-polar. Sometimes I can counter it by a quick meditation but it can interrupt that. But if I go over Korean vocabulary said aloud over and over that tends to force it out. (Korean terms used in martial arts). I second the person that said classical/instrumental music can help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alan Leak
August, 4 2017 at 11:47 pm

one thing that has been helping me a lot with this problem is listening to meditation type music/lucid dream music and the like..

Sterling
July, 14 2017 at 9:17 pm

I have that problem. Incessant loud music, all types. I have bipolar and ocd. I m on antiosychotics. They don t really help the music bit. Music and TV detox does work. No more charts or electronic music and NO commercials with jingles likely to stay in my head for days. This earworm phenomenon is massive. I ve been checking online for years now and there are more and more entries dealong with this. With the bipolar i have issues of self harm and wanting to commit suicidd but I can say honestly this ear worm problem is the worst of all the aspects of my condition and if there is one thing that will push me to harm myself it s incessant music that won t stop. I hit my head against the wall or furniture on and on but it s doesn t go

Summer Rain
July, 9 2017 at 5:18 am

If you want to stop it then do a music cleanse. You have to listen to music for 2 - 4 weeks with no lyrics. Mostly classical music and then it will stop. Probably way before then. I've had the same problem and it got so bad I was waking up in the middle of the night with songs in my head as well. I also stopped watching TV and I read. I did this as a 30 day cleanse. I strongly suggest this. Music and TV heighten negative thoughts and puts all kinds of negative, submissive @ repetitive thoughts in ones head. All the luck to you guys. BLESS

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Alan Leak
July, 11 2017 at 2:04 am

Hi whilst this will probably help some to a certain degree it is just one of dozens (if not hundreds) of 'strategies'
that people develop to try and alleviate the symptoms of this horrendous condition.
Personally I have suffered with this for over 50 years, so there is little I have not tried during that time:
pyschiatrists, pyschologists, hypnotherapy, medication, spiritual healing, and anything else you can think of
(including most, if not all, of the suggestions within this section).
I have no real idea why this happens to people; I can only surmise that it is some form of OCD/bipolar disorder
(very little else seems to fit the bill).
One thing, however, is certain: despite all the amazing advances in the medical sciences over the last 50 years or more,
there is still no real 'cure' for this problem. Hopefully, at some future point, we may know enough to help those who suffer;
in the meantime I guess we have to try and cope as best we can.
I wish I could be more positive about this but it's very difficult - especially after 50 years!
Anyway I truly hope that everyone here will eventually enjoy the peace of mind that is so often taken for granted by the
millions of 'normal' people out there.

Gordleg
June, 27 2017 at 4:45 pm

I'm in my 52nd year and, until recently, I thought everybody had this. I can tune out the 'record' quite a bit, or even sometimes make my own - I used to be a musician and, actually, I'd rather keep this 'malady' than be cured of it. I am most sorry that others find it distressing.

Kendra
June, 22 2017 at 10:10 am

This is torturing me. Bloody Barry White for 4 days straight now. I feel like I notice it more as I get older. I wonder if I'm going insane, feeling like I'm trapped in my own brain.

Jay
June, 22 2017 at 12:45 am

I experience it every night. Its like a radio in my head. I can change the song but i cant turn it down or off. It causes me to have trouble sleeping at nighr because of it and im looking for answers. Please someone help.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Victoria lawyer
June, 28 2017 at 1:58 am

This is the same thing that happens to me but I don't even hear the song although it still plays in my but if I try to stop it just even the thought will add another song.as I type I have 2 songs playing in my head.I've heard them before but not during the or even this week and its not like its the while song it just one part.I'm only 13 and this has been happening to since I can remember its troubled my sleeping hours and my consintration.it really starts to mess me up when its guite.like when I was taking test I would have 2 or 3 songs in the background.I don't know what's wrong with me but I've tried to stop it by listening to the end or the song but it feels like I have 2 control sticks over my mind.and like one of them is jammed.and its always jammed until I even think of something that can relate to this it just gets stuck like a broken record.pin really getting tired of this to the point when I'm alone and this happens I scream in my own mind.but it won't shut up.ever.I don't know how to stop it.but if anyone could say that it wasn't a big deal then clearly its never happen to them.although it may just be justin bieber to Beyonce it still their.and won't stop.I feel as if its gotten so bad for me my mind has just started to reating a number of words in the same order that I heard that same day.I swear I need help this has just got out of hand.

Veronica
June, 3 2017 at 11:34 pm

With me it is always the last song I heard, but the way I am different is that I substitute lyrics about hatred or my ass or something obscene or vulgar. I sing constantly about hating Jesus because of my suffering and the suffering of others in the world. I cannot turn it off. It is worse when I am alone, because then I actually sing this crap out loud for hours (or however long I am alone). I don't know what is wrong with me, but clearly I need help.

Otto Schmorgle
May, 30 2017 at 5:49 pm

I have the same problem but its always the last song I hear. I am careful to turn off certain commercials I hear or the stupid music will loop. It does turn off if I substitute something like watching something on Youtube.

Mailliw
May, 25 2017 at 4:07 am

I've been trying brown noise to counter this but sometimes my mind will overcome it and I have to turn the volume up, the music usually lasts for a while, especially when I take a shower or do something menial. Thanks for writing this, I'm thinking of getting help for my (undiagnosed) borderline personality disorder and this just gives me another reason to stop delaying.

C
May, 17 2017 at 11:27 pm

Thank you so much. Wow

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