Music is looping in my head, help me get it out.
October 7, 2007 6:17 AM   Subscribe

The last few weeks different musical themes have been looping inside my head. How concerned should I be and/or how can I do something about it?

The last few weeks have been pretty stressful, big projects, immovable deadlines, etc. So I haven't been listening to much music, the way I might normally.

What's happened is that the music I *do* hear, from tv commercials, or random snippets from the radio, to my 6 year old's kid songs are getting stuck in my head and I find myself "hearing" them in my downtime. And even worse, they loop in the classic earworm sense. And even weirder, my brain creates these on-the-fly mixes where the theme from the "outback" commercial leads into something I heard while in the drugstore.

I've tried resetting my brain with good music I enjoy, but it doesn't seem to be working. It's as if there's a battle in my brain and the earworms are winning! I do feel as this is linked with the stress part, my mind has been pretty pre-occupied and it's likely things will return to normal, but has anyone else experienced this and come up with coping mechanisms?
posted by jeremias to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This happens to me a lot when I'm stressed and usually for it to stop I have to deal with the stress.

Often it doesn't stop until the stress goes away, so I try to find something more memorable and/or likable that I'd rather have on loop in my head (for me it's "Linus & Lucy" from the Charlie Brown cartoon just because it cheers me up), but that might not be an option for you--I see you mention already that it doesn't seem to be working.

Is it possible you could make a half-hour for yourself among your deadlines and just go take a leisurely walk or bike ride, something that adamantly does not involve work?
posted by Tuwa at 6:31 AM on October 7, 2007

I do exactly what Tuwa does - for me, it's almost always death metal or shampoo commercials that get looped in my head - and I have opera melodies that I can call on to totally shut it down, relax me, and help me thinking about beautiful things. I have a few standard melodies that are linked to beautiful, calm memories from childhood. The de-stress and relax/exercise suggestion is really important.

Ohhhh, I really feel your pain though. One night last week I got 2 hours of sleep because I couldn't stop looping GWAR in my head.
posted by bunnycup at 6:36 AM on October 7, 2007

That happens to me sometimes. The lyrics of the songs I think of often have something to do with the problem. For example, when I would break up with a boyfriend I would hear songs about heartbreak in my head.

For me the solution was to go somewhere and really listen to the ambient sounds around me. If I was in a rural area I'd listen to the birds, wind, and small animals. If I was in the city I'd listen to the people and traffic. I'm not sure if keying into other sounds helped stop it, or if the fact that it took my mind off my problems helped stop it, but it worked for me.

My dad used to say that if you closed your eyes and imagined screaming, "STOP! STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!" and then concentrated in imagining silence it would stop the music. It works sometimes for me, but distraction works better.
posted by christinetheslp at 7:38 AM on October 7, 2007

Welcome to my world. Methinks you have a musical bug to work out. This is what a guitar or piano is for.

I'd die if the music in my head went out. I love it! I think it is cured by listening to some other music if you want.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:59 AM on October 7, 2007

This happens to me mostly when I've pulled an all-nighter and I'm sleep-deprived. I'm a professional musician so it's very annoying (although sometimes entertaining).

No medical expertise here but I have always assumed it's a result of your brain going on overload. It's like when you're in a rush and you need to find something you've lost, you run around the house pulling things out of drawers and scattering them everywhere. Your mind is racing, jumping from one thing to another, pulling out old songs and memories and scattering them around your head.

Have you been getting enough sleep? Try taking a nap and see if that clears it up. As I said, it's usually sleep-deprivation for me. Or have a good conversation with someone. Or write something, maybe a journal or something creative (or draw, play an instrument, whatever your talent is). Do something calm, meditative, and enjoyable that enages your mind without overclocking it. Or just meditate.
posted by Alabaster at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2007

They're called "earbugs" and it's annoying, common, and not a cause for concern.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 8:38 AM on October 7, 2007

This happens to me regularly, usually when I'm doing some fairly monotonous physical activity that doesn't require much concentration -- mowing the lawn on the riding mower, walking my dogs, housecleaning. For the past week, solid, it has been one or two songs from Loudon Wainwright III's Strange Weirdos, and they're great songs, but when you have the same one on headstick for two straight hours, it gets old. I was actually grateful yesterday when my brain spontaneously switched to a different LWIII tune. On other occasions, I've done those "mixtape" things you describe too. Maddening.

In my case, it has nothing to do with stress or overwork or a music shortage, and while I can distract myself or shut it off for a while by making myself think about thoughts rather than the song or substituting a perennial headsticker, like "Battle of New Orleans" or "Tiny Bubbles," but mainly it's just a brain chemistry thing that has to work itself out.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:40 AM on October 7, 2007

Maim That Tune seems to work on the principle that, to eliminate an earworm you've got to replace it with a worse one.
posted by booth at 10:23 AM on October 7, 2007

posted by Bookhouse at 10:49 AM on October 7, 2007

Thank you, jeremias, for letting me know that I'm not alone. No one I know has this problem, so I thought I was weird.

It was explained to me (by a shrink) that this phenomenon may be a mild kind of obsessive-compulsive brain behavior, and that one probably can't stop it without considerable effort. In my own case, I've learned that I can distract my brain by listening to people talking, i.e. on the radio. (BBC, NPR, XMPR, and numerous podcasts have all helped a great deal.) But when I'm trying to really concentrate on something, the music in my head can drive me up the wall.

FelliniBlank, just FYI, I spent about three days last month with "The Battle of New Orleans" stuck in my head. The problem was that I couldn't remember all the words, so I just heard the first two verses and refrain over and over. Aaarrgh!
posted by shifafa at 12:12 PM on October 7, 2007

"Oh we ran through the briars and we ran through the brambles,
And we ran through the bushes where a rabbit wouldn't go..."

Uh oh, here I go again...........
posted by shifafa at 12:15 PM on October 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Like Ironmouth, I too love the music in my head. I can hear countless pieces, note for note, picking out each track, in my head with very little effort, which is pretty handy on planes or when falling asleep. I do get unwanted stuff stuck in there, too, though, and then I have to reset, as OP notes above. I have about 20 'love forever' pieces of music that, upon a listen or 3, can banish the most tenacious earworm that manages to get stuck in there.

My guess is that if the reset isn't working, you, OP, just haven't worked out the procedure you need to follow. What about carving some time out of your schedule to do something else stress-relieving while listening to music? For example, make yourself take a few 15-minute walks a day - while listening to music you adore. Not just a bike ride or something that gets you moving, but something that you can safely do while listening to music, so you can leverage the good feelings from both activities.
posted by caitlinb at 12:34 PM on October 7, 2007

In my personal experience with this problem, I have found the only way to cope with it is to put music on in my environment to give my brain something else to mess with. It can be so low that most people can't even hear it, but it is still enough to jam my brain's circuits w/data.

It is a miserable feeling, and I can totally sympathize. It is probably a stress-related thing (what isn't?), or a mineral deficiency of some kind.
posted by macinchik at 12:55 PM on October 7, 2007

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