The Torture of Earworms (When a Song Is Stuck in Your Head)

The Torture of Earworms (When a Song Is Stuck in Your Head)

Earworms are torture. If you’re not familiar with earworms – lucky you – they are like when a song gets stuck in your head. Over and over and over you hear the same thing. An earworm doesn’t have to be music, but from my experience, it typically is. And If I were to torture someone, I would make them listen to four lines of a song for days and days. I’m fairly certain it would break a person. I feel like earworms almost break me.

I wrote an article on earworms years ago and people still email me about it. This is because people get earworms for days, weeks, months or even years. Some people truly do feel tortured by earworms and would do anything to get rid of them. I completely understand where these people are coming from.

I Get Earworms and I Feel Tortured

I get earworms. All the freaking time. If you were in my apartment, most of the time I could tell you which stupid song was stuck in my head. I’m not going to give you examples because I fear they would get stuck in your head, too.

Research into Earworms

There has been very little research into earworms as, apparently, most people don’t find them distressing. Well, the people who contact me, and, you know, I, do find them distressing.

Earworms are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for the obvious reason, I suppose; but, my theory is that earworms actually occur in many mental illnesses but it isn’t recognized yet. The people who contact me, of course, pretty much all have mental illnesses of some sort; but, then again, my audience is rather biased.

Singing the Same Tune – Earworms Out Loud

Constant earworms are torture. But what can you do about earworms and are earworms related to mental illness?Right now, I’ve had four lines of a song stuck in my head for days. All I do is sing them or hear them in my brain. I think I can sing them better than the original artist at this point. I can even sing them in harmony with the original song because I create some variance when I sing them out loud. (I was trained as a singer when I was young.)

And I swear to you, it’s torture. Really. Like I just want to Ice pick the part of my brain where the song lives. (That wouldn’t work, of course, as another song would take its place, naturally.) I feel like my brain is fighting me. I feel like my brain is against me.

And, admittedly, it feels like my brain is against me when any major bipolar symptom pops up, but this earworm thing is so relentless and so omnipresent and so same that it rises to the level of prolonged torture.

Cures for Earworms?

Unfortunately, as there has been very little research into earworms, there are no known cures. What the literature suggests is either to listen to music without lyrics (as earworms tend to be music with lyrics) or listen to another piece of music that is different from the one stuck in your head.

These are fairly useless suggestions for most people with severe earworms. Mostly because getting one earworm out of your head just leaves an open space for another.

What I do suspect is that extreme earworms are a symptom of various mental illnesses and better treatment of those illnesses would probably decrease the earworms. I have a sneaky suspicion that a doctor would prescribe antipsychotics for earworms that truly drove a person crazy; i.e., caused so much distress that they had to be treated. This is a suspicion of mine, though, and not from any literature.

Even Though Earworms Torture Me, I’m Lucky

Now, I’m lucky in that my earworms will subside if I’m deeply engrossed in something else like a conversation. Some people are not so lucky. I have been told that some people find earworms so intrusive that they actually have trouble focusing on conversations. I feel deeply for these people. I wish I had some advice for them. But unfortunately, I don’t. All I can say is that they need to see a doctor and report their symptom and make it clear that it’s causing major problems in their lives. Maybe with treatment, they could get some relief. But again, I don’t know that for sure.

In short, while my earworms torture me, earworms torture others more. For that I should feel grateful, I suppose. But sheesh. I don’t feel grateful when I’m cooking dinner and can’t stop singing a politically incorrect song I heard once 10 years ago.

If you happen to have earworms and have a great way to get rid of those earworms, do share it in the comments below. Believe me, you would be helping many.

Image by Flickr user Carrie Baughcum.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.



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