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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.

Oliver
May, 9 2016 at 2:25 pm

don't pay attention to what i said. not saying i was wrong about classical music helping though.

Oliver
May, 9 2016 at 2:23 pm

i don't know though

Oliver
May, 9 2016 at 2:22 pm

never mind

Oliver
May, 9 2016 at 2:21 pm

Classical music seems to help me. mozart maybe

wendfy
April, 29 2016 at 9:17 am

I always have had trouble with earworms off and on, but they've become nearly 24-frickin'-7 since I started on anti-depressants (fluoxetine, then bupropion) over a year ago. I remember when I started the meds, and I remember the moment the inner DJ pushed the play button. I didn't expect the problem to last over a year. I'm thinking of weaning off just to get rid of the inner DJ.

Amy
April, 28 2016 at 2:17 pm

I have depression and anxiety and I am on medications for those, but I have never been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Earworms have always been a nuisance but the past year it's so bad I find myself humming one line of a certain song over and over, mostly silently, not out loud. I've read tips on how to get rid of earworms but nothing works. It's been so bothersome lately I Googled it and found your post here. I guess I might mention it to my psychiatrist and see what he says.

jin
April, 25 2016 at 7:32 am

thank you so much everyone I've been having problems a long time and i think ive found my answer here

Lonnie
April, 12 2016 at 9:07 am

Thanks so much for opening this dialogue, and thanks to all of you who have posted your experiences and ideas for helping the problem.
I'm female, 70 years old, and was diagnosed as bipolar about five years ago. When I did exhibit manic-depressive behavior, I really jumped in, psychotic and far removed from this world. After medicines and counseling, I thought most of my problem was over. Silly me.
I should add that I'm prone to be tense even when I don't have a reason to be, and I am profoundly deaf in speech frequencies. I have no disks at all left in my back, and take strong painkillers (I follow doctor's instructions religiously) for that and scoliosis, as well as curvature of the spine. All of my tension settles in my neck, shoulders, and jaw. I clench my teeth when I sleep and sometimes when I'm awake, until I notice it and consciously relax.
Well. Like everybody else, I've had songs stuck in my head for three or four days now and then. But last week I started something new. I hear something like a trumpet-setting for an organ in my right ear only. I hear a melody note and a harmony note, never anything else, and it goes on and on. At first it started only after dark, when I was tired. It has gradually gotten worse until I, like some of you, wake with it.
I'm only on a low-dosage mood stabilizer, so of course I was instantly paralyzed with fear that my mental illness was worsening (when I first experienced bipolar problems, I literally "heard" a radio station that played '40's tunes). This time the music is clearly in my head. I hear hymns (traditional Lutheran ones), Christmas songs, "Jesus Loves Me," and worst and most frequently, Brahms' "Lullaby." They are always in the key of C major. (My mind is rather limited musically, it seems.) I can change the songs at will, and they usually shuffle on their own, but they never STOP!
I don't want to go back to see my psychiatrist, because my family will be all a-flutter. I've never been the least violent, but some of my kin are scared of me at the very best. It ain't worth it, unless I really can't bear this any more.
Finally, conclusions: I agree that stress and tension contribute to the problem. Just before all this started, I was badly humiliated and hurt by an in-law, and my mind kept replaying the scene. In addition, I started using 4mg Nicorette instead of 2mg, and drinking gallons of coffee (decaf, but not caffeine free). I hadn't really put it all together until I read the comments here--in fact, when I searched "constant melody bipolar" I didn't expect to find a thing! Now I know what I need to try. I need to drastically cut down on coffee and nicotine and spend time just relaxing. I've already tried the deep breathing, and it does help! Thank you all so much.

Kara
March, 19 2016 at 6:32 am

I've been trying to find a name for this for a VERY long time. When I first realized that I have music stuck in my head 24/7 and that nobody else does, I got very annoyed. I eventually learned that it's never going to go away so if I have a good song stuck in my head, I make sure it stays there as long as possible before another one pops in my head. Do any of you know what it's called? I'd really love to know.

BD
March, 13 2016 at 10:24 am

Hi ... I'm really sorry to hear everyone suffering, I have experienced this once in awhile but nothing like what some of you are describing. Please do not kill yourself, you are needed in someone's life. Here are some tips I have learned over the years, maybe it will help.
....
Once you notice your song, force yourself to take three slow deep breaths (4 counts in/out), really expandingflattening your abdomen all the way it can go. Try your very best to stop the song from interrupting.
Obviously your song will start up again, once it does, use your brain to guide the song into a slower pace by keeping your breath slow and allowing only one word per breath part ... so for JSH the example is
She'll (In-2-3-4) Be (Out-2-3-4) Coming (In-2-3-4) Round (Out-2-3-4) The (In-2-3-4) Mountain (Out-2-3-4) ...
For as long as possible, leverage the non-singing part of your brain to slow down the earworm to match the slow deep breaths. If the earworm takes over again, just smile and simply start again (don't judge yourself, it's going to happen). The brain is a muscle and over time you will be able to do this more easily.
You can learn more about this style of technique through this link http://www.audiodharma.org/series/1/talk/1762/. At least listen all the way through parts 1 & 2. Another place to learn about these techniques is called MBSR http://palousemindfulness.com/selfguidedMBSR_week0.html.

M
March, 3 2016 at 7:31 pm

I fail to see how this thread is unique to or more of a problem for bipolar.
But I can see how it could be more of a problem for someone with OCD
If you ask around you'll find ear worms is common among the general population. You don't need to have bipolar to have earworms

eimeria
March, 3 2016 at 2:40 pm

I have earworms 24/7. Not really troubling, but makes it hard to concentrate sometimes.
Although, come to think of it... Whenever my brain wants to rest -- hello little movie theater (I also experience constant CEVs) that just never ever shuts down.

Kathy
February, 29 2016 at 5:05 pm

I have had the song, "it's your thing, do what you wanna do, I can't tell you, who to sock it to" on my mind for the past 10 years..... It's driven me insane... It plays and I hum it while I'm watching television... Even when I'm being silent, it plays quietly inside my brain, and the beat of the music, makes me take step and hold my breath in other to sync myself to it. This song has controlled my whole life.... I'm nearly to the end. Please does anyone know anything, any medicine, ANYTHING that will quiet my mind.??????

Angie
February, 22 2016 at 8:08 pm

Ive only skimmed the previous comments fearing one of your worms will get stuck in my head (you'd think there would be a more reasonable term for it. Ear worm doesnt really make much sense to me). Anywho, I'll get a doozy stuck in there once or twice a month. ALL day and again the second I wake up. Ive always wondered if it ever really shuts off when I sleep. It starts again even when I get up for a bathroom run and, of course, the second my alarm goes off. The same with phrases or words that strike me as the original author mentioned. Am I the only one that reinacts them in my head over and over and over regarding what I 'should have said or acted in response'? Talking to myself about those aren't normal. Lol. Good thing I live alone; or is it?

Irene Munoz
February, 17 2016 at 9:12 pm

P.S. I do change the "tracks" also; I am really dating myself. I usually change to play Hallelujah, meaning Praise the Lord in Hebrew. This brings me comfort and peace. He does promise in His Word that He will give sweet sleep.

Irene Munoz
February, 17 2016 at 9:04 pm

Wow!...it is 1:46 and this is second time I am up with "Loving Arms, Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson". This song has been playing now for a week, non stop. Used to love this song. I just came out of the past. Woke up to it one morning and googled it; had not heard it in years. First, want to say, thank you out there; I live alone and I early retired myself because of my health and I am really lonely. I do believe it is due to lack of communication in my life and interaction that this problem has gotten worse. If you have read all writings above, I will take a little from some. I take antidepressants. My songs get worse when I have allergies; currently have sinus infection. Rita and Kris currently keeping me awake; usually if I am having some fever. I call it my brain short circuiting.Please, those suicidals out there, just don't. I have said a prayer for you. Be encouraged you are not alone, there is ultimately an answer out there. Actually, already there; has not come to light yet but keep the faith and the hope. I am "religious"; I have a personal relationship with the creator of this universe and He created me so I hang in there and wait. Hope delayed does not mean hope denied. There is an upside always. People with "disabilities" are some of the most brilliant writers, actors, musicians, artists, etc. Embrace it and try to work with it. I too have read a strange new language in my mind. I am good with languages. I am a good writer. I am articulate and a good speaker. My brain with the "glitch" does that. When unable to read because caught in "looping" I find a very easy almost elementary book that is not too tasking and push myself to move forward. I am 62 and it has not been an easy life. Not the best physical and/or mental health I think due to survival mode in a PTSD. Blessings, everyone! Maybe I can put "Rita and Kris" to bed and I can get some sleep now.

victoria
February, 14 2016 at 5:22 pm

I have found that focusing on the song or melody and panicking about when they will go away only increases the problem and raises the stress level. The stress level causes more problems in the sympathetic and parasympathetic neurotransmitter balance. In general, the parasympathetic system is responsible for promoting ‘rest & digest’ functions, and the sympathetic system is responsible for promoting ‘fight or flight’ functions. The balance be further thrown off by using Norepinephrine Dopamine Reuptake Inhibitors. (NDRIs) are drugs that function by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. This leads to increased neural concentrations of these activating neurotransmitters, resulting in increased stimulation of the central nervous system. Certain NDRIs inhibit reuptake of norepinephrine to a greater extent than dopamine (and vice versa). The use of chamomile tea and other teas that relax the nervous system along with meditatation and yoga help to aleviate the over stimulation and balance the two systems. I was unable to sleep because of the repeating song until I just excepted that my brain needed to workout the imbalance and this was the way it kept from total melt down. I reassured myself I would sleep again accepted what I could not change at the time and then did research on the the two systems and what would bring them to homeostasis. Diet and exercise help. Too many stimulants dumped into an already imbalanced nervous system heighten the problem. Too little vitamin B , too little magnesium a thyroid disorder and/or hormonal imbalances can all add to the over stemming of the nervous system. ://www.openanesthesia.org/autonomic_neurotransmitters/ http://www.balancingbrainchemistry.co.uk/peter-smith/73/OCD-Natural-Treatment..html http://psychcentral.com/lib/natural-and-herbal-supplements-for-common-mental-disorders/ht… http://www.aafp.org/afp/2007/0815/p549.html I wish you all well ' please do not panic...empower yourself with knowledge of the human anatomy and feed your body what it needs to heal its problem. It is a cry for help you are hearing, your nervous system needs attention. It is no easy task to change ones patterns in life , but it is essential if you want relief. Try healing before killing.

Lynn
February, 13 2016 at 11:55 am

Yesterday I woke up feeling ill. I had a headache and had difficulty keeping my left eye open. I took some paracetamol and went to work as usual. After a few hours I felt better. However, it was the first day that I can ever remember waking up WITHOUT having any music in my head. I have it there 24/7. It's there when I go to sleep and when I wake. Yesterday was so quiet. The music that I have is quite repetitive. I can't change the tune usually. So good to know that other people get this too - thought I was he only one!

Melinda
February, 10 2016 at 12:25 pm

I also have this problem. I constantly hear music in my head 24/7. It never stops. It starts as soon as I wake up in the morning. It will be one or two lines of a song that repeat over and over and over. The songs do change. It may be something I have heard recently but if I haven't heard any music it will just be some song that starts up from nowhere. This has been going on for about 3 months. I feel like I am going crazy. The only time the music stops is when I read. It doesn't stop by watching TV. If anyone finds out what causes this or what can be done I would love to hear it.

Leah
February, 4 2016 at 5:43 pm

Waltzing Matilda. I had it stuck in my head for years, but I only really heard it at night, when I was quietly in bed. I was diagnosed as Bipolar Type II several years ago, and once I went on medication (Lamictal), the ear worm went away. Completely. So weird.

Charles
January, 30 2016 at 8:38 am

I can't believe this is a Phenomenon, but here I am reading it now. I am 23 have bipolar and constant earworms. I wish there was a treatment that would make it go away.

brief history
January, 28 2016 at 5:09 pm

Well, i haven't earworms, but something like this... Five months ago, i was going to the college, and my brain start playing a track that i've just heard days ago(and like), as soon as I tried to stop (cause i didn't want react to this in public), but i couldn't. I ever had moments that automatically come a track that i heard, but after this day, this is very often, so i think a sound neutral sound, and this sound gets playing for a time. This comment doesn't explain fully my 'problem', but i tried. I can't focus on things like before.

Wendy
January, 26 2016 at 9:10 am

It is good to know I am not the only one suffering through this. I think Peter has a good answer to what is going on with the brain. My mind was extremely occupied for several weeks. Now that I am at a slower pace, I got no sleep. It was Queen's Tenement Funster all night and all day. I never want to hear that song again. I've had this happen before, but not so extreme as this.

paul
January, 26 2016 at 5:27 am

never had a ear worm until about 4 years ago woke up one morning and had one ever since its not one particular song just the last one i here 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days of the year drives me absolutely crazy some days. hard to find any info on whats causen the earworm doctor is useless .never suffered with stress or anxiety until the ear worm appeared now feel like shit most days it effects every day of my life and im not the same person i once was. cant concentrate no imagination its worse when im tired and stressed theres a small bit of medical explanation saying that the problem is linked to the inner cortex of the brain but no info on cures or were to get help more studies should be done to help people who suffer from this condition as it is debilitating and suicidal please help

Destiny
January, 21 2016 at 9:28 am

Wow..i'm really not alone. Just asked my doctor about this yesterday. He said it was a phenomenon and very rare...called me unique. He said it was definitely my brain. I have not been able to listen to music for over 2 years now..nothing...not even kids songs...they get stuck in my head for up to a week...wake up to them ...I was very ill with mold 7 years ago and it had a debilitating affect on my mind...not sure if this is why I am dealing with this...read somewhere that it can be caused be lesions in the brain..which is what mold does to you...who knows...thanks to everyone for sharing...

patti
December, 27 2015 at 2:27 pm

OMG
I thought it was just some weird thing . That it was just me. I was diagnosed BP2 when i was 26 but i had symptoms and issues my whole damaged life. I have earworms every stinkin day. Sometimes its more in the background and sometimes i think im going mad. Its so nice to have somebody say they get it too!

Hilary
December, 18 2015 at 12:57 am

I have bipolar and get wonderful earworms when I'm high. I love it. It's my own disco. The main problem is that I have to use a lot of effort not to sing out loud with it or dance with it in public- all part of being high. I did find that the song would often reflect an issue I was thinking about or the mood I am in, or would be triggered by someone saying a phrase...for example today when I hear someone say "hello" I then 'hear' Adele singing her recent hit.
I thought I was possibly hallucinating music but on discussion with my psychiatrist it's just an exaggerated earworm experience.
Hello from the other side.....

Lisa
December, 17 2015 at 2:57 am

I'm trying to figure out how to stop my humming and singing. Although I actually am a very good singer and DO like to sing for people what I want to stop is the constant repetitive humming and singing looped segments of songs over , over and over alllll the time.
I live alone which may have something to do with why I do it? Ive noted the places I sing or hum more will be the kitchen, I can be laying on my bed using my iPad like I am this minute then I get up n go to the kitchen to get a drink and within seconds of being in the kitchen I'm doing the repetitive hum /sing thing. It's exhausting, gives me an actual headache, stresses my throat too I'm sure. When I realise I'm humming yet again I even say out loud...Lisa ! Shut up! Then a sec later il start but I find I'm interrupting myself abruptly by saying....SHHH!... Lol...funny I guess but it's not really coz I drive myself mad.
If I go shopping with a friend and we wander off to different parts of the store, they say they can always find me coz they hear me humming or singing a tune. Other shoppers have commented also. All I can do is apologise.
I've taken mine a step further also but the fact I not only sing radio songs or usually looping only parts of but I invent my own tunes sometime with lyrics and repeat them over and over. Then taking it even further, I invent my own language in a way, for example I don't know German but I know the sound of the language and I'm VERY good with accents so I make up words or lines that sound German or just another language and use them to make a short song or verse, usually short lines tho.
I've repeated the short lines so much hat I have made a joke of it and said its another language...it's like I'm teaching MYSELF another language...I work in aged care and have even joked around with residents teaching them some words in this made up language.
I'm tired and want to be able to turn off.....
If I'm focussed on doing another activity like typing or talking then I'm often ok...well obviously coz I'm already engaged in talking, but other than that I hum or sing on n off allll day long.
I'm a picker n biter too, pick n bite the skin around my fingers til it's raw or sometimes bleeding plus I bite the inside of my mouth and lips often til it bleeds. It hurts and looks ugly so I don't actually want to do it...but again it's an action I've found hard to stop and is worse when stressed or anxious.
( I'm a massive sleep dreamer and vividly recall every thing I dream and often wake myself by talking in my sleep...I wake tired every morning so wished I could block recall of my dreams too)
I can't afford exp spychs...can someone help me out....I'm annoyed and tired of myself.

Dar
December, 16 2015 at 10:08 pm

Just read chewing gum helps. My worm's name: Champs de Elysee by Zaz, en Francis no less. Insult to injury since I can't translate it and my mind has to work harder at keeping it there til I do.
OCD "Over this Crap Damit".
Suck, literally ...all I have is a lousy cough drop.
If this or gum works for anyone else please post to save a life.

Calamity Janie
December, 13 2015 at 12:30 pm

I am 65 years old. I have had an earworm for nearly ten years. It is a simple four-bar blues progression, over and over and over...not a specific song. It started with singing along with the air-conditioner in my office, sort of harmonizing with it. Then this basic blues thing just got stuck and has never gone away. Hypnotism didn't help, acupuncture didn't help, chiropractic didn't help. I have deteriorating disc disorder and had to have a big operation on my neck. The surgeon said it might help the earworm, but it did not. It tortures me. I have to have things pretty quiet all the time, because this tune overrides everything I hear and makes me intolerant of noisy situations. Sometimes when I listen to other music it drops into the background for awhile. If I am having a really intense conversation with someone, it also drops into the background. I use a white noise machine so I can sleep at night, and sometimes this doesn't work either. I can't listen to the wind or the rushing of a country stream or a bird singing without hearing the same little tune over and over and over, drowning out everything else. I have tried various antidepressants and anxiety medications, but they do nothing for the earworm. I think it's got to be some kind of a synapse issue in my brain; feels like there's a short circuit. I have never been diagnosed bipolar or with OCD or ADD or anything like that, but I tell you, soon I will be certifiably insane and they will have to put me in a rubber room. I have written letters and queries and checked in with websites like this one, but have never found a solution. I feel for the folks in this forum who have similar problems, like the poor man who bangs his head. That's how I feel. I often cry about it. I wish someone could properly diagnose me. Is there any other place I can go for help?

JSH
November, 29 2015 at 8:08 pm

I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder 1 when I was 35 years old, after some spells of depression but mostly years of hypomania. I didn't realize it was hypomania at the time. I just thought other people were lazy or listless or not goal-driven.
The non-stop, distracting, frustrating, non-productive songs in my head began at age 35 as well, either part of bipolar disorder or the series of first and/or second generation medications I was prescribed till finally Geodon provided some relief (for my mood, not for the music).
I think there's a difference between earworms and the repetitive music that comes with altered brain chemistry and/or physiology. People will say that they and everyone else, now and then, get a song stuck in their minds, which, of course, is true. It's difficult to express, without seeming grandiose or whiney, that the music in my brain is different. It's maddening and, because I tend to hum along with the music, it annoys my friends and family. The more anxious I am, the more constant the music plays and the louder I hum.
I have a limited repertoire for my "musical psychosis/obsession/compulsion, which makes the music even more horrible. Here are my "greatest hits": "She'll Be Coming around the Mountain," "The Ants Go Marching One by One," "God Bless America," and "Jesus Loves Me." (I'm not religious, I should point out so it's not as if the latter two songs get reinforced by repeated exposure at church.)
When I'm in full-blown mania, I add Christmas carols to the mix, and I bypass humming into singing aloud at the top of my lungs. Instead of singing the actual words, I use only three swear words (bad enough to be banned on network TV). I'm not typically sacrilegious either, and I rarely swear when I'm my "normal" self.
For me, the constant music isn't the result of sensory deprivation. I had a psychologist tell me that because the music is children's songs, my reptilian brain is asserting itself, trying to pacify the rest of my brain with childhood feelings of safety and love. I don't know if that's an evidence-based conclusion or just an assuring sentiment.
I know that a fairly small percentage of people with epilepsy have hypergraphia (obsessive, compulsive writing) and an even smaller percentage sing excessively. And most (all?) of atypical antipsychotics now available to treat bipolar disorder were initially developed, and are prescribed, for epilepsy.
"She'll be comin' around the mountain ... ."

T.easy
November, 25 2015 at 12:12 pm

I feel like kdawg, I have been given medication for epilepsy & it's a bit like lithium, my mind race's and my pulse and anxiety goes threw the roof n sweating, and has been like this for the best 20 years of my life and I feel the same can't take another 20 mins not to mention the rest of my life, fighting with myself in my own head, I have to deal with this myself my doc doesn't care and as far as my friends they thought it was funny to torment me. I had no idea how cruel people are, so keep yer head up and don't give up the fight. Good luck kdawg ur not alone dude....

Kaylyn Strother
November, 24 2015 at 8:16 am

My therapist has tossed around the idea that I may be bi-polar, but she hasn't confirmed it. U suffer from relentless songs on loops in my head, to the point of migraines and I just want to give up. I'm 14, almost 15, I finally decided to try and research what it was called, so maybe there was a cure or something to quite the noise. I can barely sleep a couple of hours at night, and I do sleep with a fan on, actually 2; but this doesn't seem to do ANYTHING for me. Sometimes if I concentrate hard enough I can push the song that's playing into the background and replace it with a different song for a couple minutes; but in the end the original song eventually comes back.

Cindy
November, 15 2015 at 7:01 am

I'm a 74-year-old female, don't take any medications, don't think I'm bipolar, but experience a bit of OCD from time to time, mostly having to do with right angles and straight lines. I can't remember a time in my life when there wasn't music going through my head and yes, I hear it as well as feel myself silently humming it--a sensation in the back of my throat. Six months ago I decided to see if I could detect a pattern to the songs (with words) and melodies (without words) that plagued me. I'm picky about which ones I write down, and won't record an advertising jingle or a song that know I've heard recently. The music that I hear upon waking is always recorded. Yesterday I typed up my list from the little notebook I've carried around for all these months, sorted it to eliminate the duplicates, and have unique 177 entries. They range from nursery rhymes through opera, are heavy on my favorites (or not) from the Fifties and Sixties, show tunes, and include a number of songs I didn't even know I knew. When a few words kept repeating but I didn't know the title of the song, I'd google "Lyrics" and then the words--I could usually find the proper title to record in my book. I used to think that if I could methodically sing the entire song, the worm would be satisfied and would take that particular song away, but instead it mostly made it stick around longer. Strangely, some of my very favorite songs and arias--the ones I seek out when I listen to music on YouTube--are not on my worm list. The only time I'm aware of being song-free is when I'm actively listening to music, but occasionally I can listen to one melody and have another sneak in unbidden. Have any of you listened to the Radio Lab discussion about the man who could follow four different symphonies in his head at once? How they proved his ability to do this is too complex to explain here, but the phenomenon certainly illustrates the brain's capacity for multitasking, perhaps what's happening on a minor scale to those who own brain worms.

Peter
November, 10 2015 at 2:28 pm

I am a playwright and composer. I have been in the field for for 17 years. First of all, like everyone, I thought I was alone. My ear worm is constant too. None of my own songs are ever part of it. It is short phrases, some known music and some unknown. But it is a short burst of maybe a 5 second melody over and over. Sometimes I am so sick of it after I realize it has been 4 hours constantly. I yell "Stop!" out loud. It starts immediately again.
I am bipolar as some of you are. I feed it involuntarily by following it with a very quiet shallow whistle with my inhaling and exhaling.
What I have discovered is this happens when I am doing simple things on automatic: raking, walking the dog, cleaning, wood work around the house. Everything that does not need a fully engaged brain . But the ear worn "never" appears when I am writing, composing, speaking with someone, on the phone, trying to figure out a problem. In other words, activities that engage my brain's full attention. This never changes.
You may think this is strange but I wrote ear worm into one of my shows. The main character goes to a psychiatrist about a melody that never ceases and he is going insane. The psychiatrist says " You have an ear worm. " Character says: "What the hell is that?"
Shrink replies ( I made this up totally) " Well think of a submarine. If there is a raging fire, the captain orders certain compartments to be flooded to save the the men and the ship. What is happening to you is your brain has become so Hyperactive that it is raging on fire
in some of your cognitive departments threatening you. A ear worm is ordered by the decision making yet the subconscious part of your brain to flood some of the compartments to stop the fire from getting out of control....And you really do not realize this is a safety precaution, even though it is a total nuisance." Character: "I'd rather detonate the torpedoes than listen to this melody over and over."
Well this is just a sign that I am so happy that I am not alone with this sickening malfunction . thanks Peter

Cam
October, 21 2015 at 1:31 am

I've found that listening to soft classical music (or music without a beat) can give me some relief. Atleast enough to let me get to sleep. I'll try the humming.

kdawg
October, 20 2015 at 1:21 pm

I have read all comments above so as to compare my ongoing issues with earworms. Not diagnosed as bipolar. Since 16 I have been experiencing this torment. Each year it gets progressively worse. I don't do drugs, I rarely touch alcohol, and I took past medications as prescribed. This isn't come and go. It's non stop. Minimum 90% of my day is musical loops generated within my mind. I'm not deaf, I'm not a musician and I listen to music as often as the average person. Been on medications for almost a decade and I haven't seen any improvement. In fact, I'm becoming even more pessimistic and suicidal because of this. I don't stress over the earworms because it will make it worse to worry. So I don't, but my brain has become hardwired to think this is normal? Anyone have any long term experience or a cure to share? I can't live like this anymore. 10 years is enough. The thought of dealing with this the rest of my life... I will commit suicide well before that happens. This is serious. Please help and save a life. Thank you.

Natalie
September, 30 2015 at 3:31 am

Diagnosed bipolar.
Get earworms all the time. Currently Black Magic *cringe* by Little Mix. Yikes, I don't even like them.
I often get bits of pop songs, round and round they go. Looping endlessly. Used to get songs from TV adverts. Or jingles. How annoying.
I'll agree somewhat with the sensory deprivation idea. But that wouldn't be the case today, I've been around lots of people since 9am. So don't know what set it off today.
My earworms got ssttrroonngg and dark themed as I headed into a mixed episode with high anxiety and agitation/restlessness. So maybe this could tie in the the original question of hypomania. I was powerless to stop them , also I concluded that maybe the lyrics were chosen subconsciously by my brain to match vocabulary in my own conscious thoughts.

Wade
September, 14 2015 at 6:01 pm

Uhhh yeah. I deal with this and have for years. The moment I have a conscious thought upon waking, the music starts and it just keeps going throughout the day and on into the night. I sleep with a fan blowing right by my head to drown out the music do I can sleep.
But I'll go a step further.
Mine actually has a "station identification Jingle.....
"W.A.D.E....Brain Raaadioooo!"
No it's not cute. It's annoying.

Regina Smith
September, 13 2015 at 8:56 pm

I don't have the problem with ear worms, but my husband does. It's more than just an annoyance. It's a merciless torment! It's been happening to him for about a couple of years that I can see. A song plays somewhere & that song comes on in his mind & stays there for days. It's very upsetting for me because he pounds his head loudly with his hands or bangs it against the wall. It usually starts upon waking up. Th only relief he can get is when he turns the radio on. Lately, the ear worms have been coming on even through the radio.
My husband takes several different medications. He takes Risperdal, Zoloft & Seroquel. That medicine must be taken, or he starts to get mentally sick. His psychologist is a pill pusher, but even he thinks he's taking too much medication. And even so, the ear worms are still coming mercilessly. He had been taking Olanzapine, but it kills his sex drive & makes his penis hurt. But it seemed to help. They still came occasionally, but it would be days of peace. He stopped taking it. I don't know what to do to help him. There is nothing new I can say or try. This is a nightmare that we can't seem to wake up from.
Sincerely,
R. Smith

Larry
September, 3 2015 at 11:57 pm

Tunes are driving me mad, hearing the same fragment of the same melody over and over. Not only do i hear it but i feel it as well and i am exsausted by it._.

Rebecca phair
August, 31 2015 at 4:40 am

Where have all the flowers gone? La la la la...day two non-stop filling in any lack of racing thoughts...why this song? God only knows! I believe there is a link to mood disorder, I'm not diagnosed ocd but bipolar...meditation certainly should help I may try it.

Andrew
August, 5 2015 at 8:50 am

This started manifesting when I was a teenager. May've been due to various pharmaceuticals I was manipulated into taking during a traumatic part of my life where I was neglected, abused, and locked away out of abuse and lack of care/concern/understanding. I think it more probable it was from the trauma and not the pharmaceutical soup.
My hypothesis is that this manifested in me due to sensory deprivation. I think your brain has to focus on something in reality, else it looses contact with reality. Read about sensory deprivation, how it negatively affects people (including causing auditory hallucinations), and how it is considered torture by the U.N. The theory goes along the lines of the brain is wired to the senses, and has to have stimuli otherwise it malfunctions. Read this, for example:
http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140514-how-extreme-isolation-warps-minds
Here is an excerpt: "Why does the perceptually deprived brain play such tricks? Cognitive psychologists believe that the part of the brain that deals with ongoing tasks, such as sensory perception, is accustomed to dealing with a large quantity of information, such as visual, auditory and other environmental cues. But when there is a dearth of information, says Robbins, 'the various nerve systems feeding in to the brain’s central processor are still firing off, but in a way that doesn’t make sense. So after a while the brain starts to make sense of them, to make them into a pattern.' It creates whole images out of partial ones. In other words, it tries to construct a reality from the scant signals available to it, yet it ends up building a fantasy world."
Often times the song I'd heard most recently is stuck there, such as from fast food lobbies, and I can change it. Things like coffee don't help. Like others here said, I can change the song, slow it down, make it louder, mix it with other songs, etc. If it's too loud and plays for too long, it gives me a painful headache and ibuprofen makes it go away (interestingly I think it makes the music go away too). Also loud noises such as the dinger on the bus can do the same thing, it repeats in my brain without me wanting it, and it causes a painful headache.
I feel like something has to be there on your consciousness, I can't make it go away without either ibuprofin, or the following procedure:
(i) Synthesize a hum or constant noise similar to what you hear in the environment (e.g. a fan nearby), and focusing on that for a minute. If you don't have a constant noise, find a source to eliminate the sensory deprivation. It mustn't vary much in tone. The music may try to blurp back every now and then but focus on the hum.
(ii) Eventually just listen to the hum in reality, and the mental audio (music and synthesized hum) goes away.
I can read much better when this synthesized music goes away. Otherwise I'd read the same paragraph dozens of times and nothing sinks in.
From my experience, I think avoiding sensory deprivation is the solution. Make sure to talk to people more, and make them part of your daily routine. Insufficiency of human connection and touch is the cause IMO.
This is part of the reason I think the U.S. has a lot of mental health issues compared to Europe for example. The U.S. is all non-touchy and anti-humane culturally, that and other issues are why I think the U.S. doesn't have good culture.
Also, this reminds me of Scott Adams's experience (the author of the Dilbert comic strip). He developed a condition called where his hand twitched uncontrollably, causing him to be unable to write/work. Consensus about the disease was that there was no treatment, and he'd have to change his lifestyle (no more comics). He said he treated himself through will, dedication, and repetition to the point where he no longer was affected; he somehow trained his brain to not twitch his writing hand anymore. He talks about this in his great self-help book "How To Fail at Almost Everything And Still Win Big"; he has great life advice and is very funny :) I highly recommend it http://time.com/34081/how-to-fail-at-almost-everything-and-still-win-big/
Good luck everyone, and try the humming procedure I mentioned.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mandy
May, 21 2018 at 12:14 pm

Thank you for adding a different angle on this, Andrew. I also experienced isolation and neglect. I'm interested in all angles and views on this, as I really want to solve it. I do know that when I was taking inositol for OCD, the songs went away, after some time. I would prefer some sort of cognitive behavioral therapy instead, to try to stop this at the source. Anxiety treatment is going to be my first step. I am going to order Scott Adams's book today. Thank you again.

Ishwanki
August, 5 2015 at 6:19 am

OMG!! I thought tht i'm the only one having a war wth my own brain. Its jst the wrst thng , i can't focus on anythng jst bcoz of it!!! Its lyk jst ur own self tht makes uh sad!!!!!!!!

nick
July, 30 2015 at 9:46 am

I want to say thanks to Natasha and other posters as I have struggled with this flaming radio station for 5 years. Although on antidepresdents for anxiety and stress the songs are always there but reading all the comments I realise that I'm not alone as its hard to cope sometimes. So thanks to all.

Arvil Pogson
July, 12 2015 at 1:02 am

I dont have bipolar or OCD but i am profoundly deaf started losing my hearing at 16 and lost the ability to hear music about 5 years ago so my musical backlist is pre 2010! My particular "earworm" song is a song by the Jam called Life From a Window, I sing the the lyrics "Life from a window, I'm just taking in the view' then the guitar riff that follows it! I used to love the song but its wearing me down now. I find that after a while i change the structure of the song, like slow it down or change some part of it might be my brains way of coping with the repetition. Like a previous poster mentioned i dont think its particular to bipolar but possibly stress related so may apply to any number of physicological illneses or disabilities

Riya Agarwal
July, 1 2015 at 8:17 am

Hi,
I had been diagnosed with OCD 3 months back and I am absolutely sick of the earworms!. The song - usually a recent hit and melodious, continuously plays on my head for almost a week!.. There are phases of such episodes.!. The songs are which I love a lot, but I just cant stop them from playing on my head.
My therapist helps me out to sort out and understand my own thoughts and assumptions. I have been adviced to try to focus my senses on the work at hand and figure my reasons properly!. :)

Malicity
June, 27 2015 at 12:39 am

Ha! I'm stuck on my own relentless "upbeat" version of "Oh My Darling Clementine", which is just a switch from whatever else I was humming, or playing on Radio Malicity earlier. I can't believe I never looked this up!
I remember only one day out of my 30 odd years of earworms, or being happy with what I was playing. At least for the first few hours. To combat the crap they play in stores (which I rarely know, so only a measure/bar or two will repeat), I find that if I listen to something I like a lot, I can sometimes redirect; if only briefly.
Thanks, from a BPD I, OCD, PTSD, ADHD (and many mooooore, she trills) diagnosed person.

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