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 2024, July 20 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

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

November, 14 2014 at 4:08 pm

I certainly do have earworms. As you said, some last hours, some last days. I just go with it. I would rather have this problem than some of the other problems I have with bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks and anger issues.

November, 13 2014 at 2:56 am

It's a relief to see that others have this! I have an ear worm constantly and often it is songs I don't even like. When I become symptomatic I will hear a song and what sounds like a symphony AND a baseball announcer all at once. It makes for a speedy trip to crazytown. I don't know if it's appropriate to say here but the only way to shut up the noise is to smoke Maryjane. Not for everyone, I know, but it works for me.

November, 13 2014 at 2:40 am

I have earworms on a fairly regular basis, for no apparent reason Often, I'll hear a rhythmic beat or tempo in sounds around me (traffic, nature sounds, etc.) that seem to contain the beat of a certain song, and this leads to a song being stuck in my head. It is not bothersome to me, but does make me curious. Often times, I cannot wait for my mind to "change the station" in order to hear some other tune! I tell my good friend about them, when they bug me, hoping to somehow give it away to someone else!

Olivia Gepner
November, 12 2014 at 3:27 pm

I have earworms quite a bit particularly they are triggered when there is a stressful experience with someone, such as someone is pressing my boundaries and I cave in then very subtly a power ballad will go round in my head, almost trying to help me cope with the situation and not to forget myself and my needs. I do have to offer some words of self compassion to myself and see what the thoughts are that are supporting the song being played in my head- such as you are not worthy or you are weird. When you isolate the thoughts and let go into the moment with compassion the song fades. If I tap into the problem again though it resurfaces pretty quickly. But the more you exercise the letting go, cognitive restructuring and compassion muscles it happens less and less.

Stella Hawkins
November, 12 2014 at 2:46 pm

OMG!!! So glad to know it has a name to it.
I have Bipolar 1, and one of my triggers is repetitive noises. Everyday, I have a song, sometimes several, I can't get my brain to stop playing. And its worse when I cant stand the song. Thank you for the blog. Glad to know Im not alone.

Gloria Buccino
November, 11 2014 at 4:35 am

I have had a circus type theme song, only a few notes, running through my head for some years. I really notice it when I'm driving but lately all the time. I just found out that I grind my teeth and actually what I do is move them slightly in rhythm to the music. It's really incessant and bothering me. I have never had any kind of mental health issues or diagnosis. I just want it to stop. Wondering if serious meditation practices might help but can't seem to slow down enough to get into it. Thanks to a previous post I now have the 12 notes from "Smoke on the Water" running through my brain.Would like to find out how to make it stop. It didn't bother me in the past. It's definitely become worse or I'm just noticing it more. NOt sure

Jack Kerch
October, 14 2014 at 6:13 pm

Even though I take prescription medication every night and have for years earworms keep me awake for hours on end. Rarely do I ever sleep for more than an hour or two straight. I don't know what to do. I'm 64. It's been a problem for many years.

October, 5 2014 at 6:38 am

I, too,have Musical Ear Syndrome. There is a difference between this and earworms. MES is a condition which you are all describing where you actually hear the music. This is what is difficult to control or stop. I would suggest you read any of Neil Bauman's articles on line. He has done a great deal of research on this.

August, 23 2014 at 6:33 pm

Roy, I really hate you right now.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 21 2018 at 5:59 pm

Lol i didnt read the song lyrics when i realsed they were their. Because i knew what whould happen. Im ultra sensitive to noise its getting worse as i get older. I think i would struggle going to tge cinema as its too loud and the large screen with fast moving images would give me tummpimg headache. And the theme tune would stay in my head for a fortnight. Lol

July, 22 2014 at 8:24 pm

Over 5 years - the same 4 lines repeat in my head 24/7. I'd be grateful to anyone/thing that can help stop this constant torture.
Here they are for all you Blues Traveler or Sister Hazel fans:
Hard to say what it is I see in you
Wonder if I'll always be with you
Words can't say but I can do
Enough to prove, it's all for you
(one more time - or about 6 million in my case)
Hard to say what it is I see in you
Wonder if I'll always be with you
Words can't say but I can do
Enough to prove, it's all for you

rick jones
July, 3 2014 at 9:06 pm

I don't know the difference between earworms and actual auditory hallucinations. I HAD earworms but it has grown - to VERY LOUD music - I have to cover my ears getting out of bed in the morning. My wife freaked out seeing me run out on the street in my pajamas at 3am looking for where the noise was coming from. Sometimes it's just screetching or machinery that I hear. I wonder if an antipsychotic would help? I am also Bipolar 2 with dysphoric hypomania.

May, 31 2014 at 7:51 am

Hi Natasha.
I've been dealing with odd feelings my whole life. Hearing a pencil tapping during a test in high school would make me want to take it from them and stab them in the hand with it. I get wildly irrationally angry and act out and then as soon as I'm calm I'm embarrassed because I don't know why I did it. I suddenly stopped enjoying billiards and going out every night like I used to but then I will go right back to wanting to constantly be in motion. I can't sleep some days not because of insomnia but because I am literally not tired.
It scares my girlfriend. I don't feel like I can trust medication because I'm afraid of being changed. I like things about me but I hate this feeling that I don't always know what's really going on and that I'm going to hurt someone or myself. Self harm and these very odd thoughts like jumping off my balcony just because (I don't feel sad or worthless it just....seems like a good idea...)
I don't know what to do...I guess I'm just posting this because I need to say it in some way. Matt isn't my real name but if you have anything to say I'd appreciate it. Thank you.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natasha Tracy
May, 31 2014 at 11:42 am

Hi Matt,
Well, there's really only one thing you can do - talk to a professional. There is nothing I can write that's going to fix anything you're thinking or feeling. If you feel like you don't want to try medication, then how about talking to a therapist? A psychotherapist might be able to help you understand your own thoughts and feelings better.
Now, personally, I think if it's gotten to a point where you're scaring your girlfriend then it's time to give medication and therapy a try. But that's up to you. Either way, talk to someone who can help you. Many people are out there.
- Natasha

May, 30 2014 at 8:46 am

I have sang White Christmas everyday for almost 5 years. I must be nuts. Not a day goes by where I don't sing or hum the song.

February, 5 2014 at 4:48 am

So, I thought I was the only one with this annoying problem. I can't get songs out of my head and while I'm at work it intensifies when I'm trying to read procedures or other materials. My question is, is there a damned solution for this? I can't focus anymore at work due to this and this problem has grown to make me forget things quickly. My short term memory is deteriorating. Am I going crazy?

January, 30 2014 at 5:21 pm

I have had the same song stuck in my head for the past six months.

October, 5 2013 at 12:46 am

Wow! I'm newly diagnosed with bipolar II. For about thirty years I've had constant music in my head. The more hypomanic I am, the faster the music gets. Right now its a constant blur of real fast children songs from television.. (Thank you Disney Channel...) It's amazing to learn that other people have this, and that the phenomena has a name. I don't suffer so much because of this, I guess I've just learned to accept that this is how I am ... (But it's quite annoying when there's bad music though)

carol kva
June, 24 2013 at 11:27 am

I count to much., drives me crazy. :-)

February, 13 2013 at 8:51 am there's a name for all those songs going through my head on almost a daily basis. There are mornings when I wake up with one and have no clue where it came from. A lot of mine may be nursery rhymn songs...hmmm...I'm 50 yrs. old.

December, 7 2012 at 11:51 am

YES. All the time. Usually the same song for days, especially if I sung it/ heard friends sing it, and usually it's a calmer song. Occassionally classical, but often things like the Beatles or, the past week or so, hebrew songs (jewish). And then I'll start humming them or singing them quietly, and if I don't know the lyrics if they have them, I'll make them up, or in the case of hebrew ones, say a random syllable or something, I dunno. It'll often be one verse or chorus, not the whole song.

Natasha Tracy
December, 3 2012 at 4:14 pm

Hi Marrianna,
If you think you may have bipolar disorder, I recommend you talk to a doctor. If you are, antidepressants aren't likely the best choice for you.
Absolutely, physical pain can worsen emotional pain and those are two things that should be handled together.
- Natasha

December, 3 2012 at 3:05 am

Natasha as I mentioned in my post above I suffer some physical pain and although from my research and reading your blogs on bi - polar I think that is what I have but I have not had a diagnosis. I believe that the factors Ihave to deal with have worsen my case.But none of the depression meds worked for me.

December, 1 2012 at 11:49 am

I must say I get earworms too. Does anyone on this site gets pains, I get pains on the left sie of my head , to be more specific right above my left eye and radiates down my left side.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

October, 21 2018 at 5:51 pm

Oh wow yes me too. Have bi polar 2 n in pain alot with degenerative back disc which causes sciatica. The pain tenses my muscles in my back n neck n that gives me headaches.. sometimes i hear a pulsating heart beat nosie at night with the headache. Same pain above my eye and parts of my skull hurt. And then the songs all day and before i sleep. Sometimes im awake most of the night with it. Litening to sleep music can help if you find a piece of music with no melody or repeative tune. It gets my brain something to listen to a distraction but i can sometimes still stay awake fir along time before i switch off and i also take sleeping med.
I have ocd tendencies but only when i feel well. Hypermanic.. the pain makes me feel low and lack of sleep is a big trigger as i can feel dizzy n feel sick in the mornings.
I have to be careful not to listen to music or any tune before bedtime my partner cant even mention a name if a tune otherwise i will hear it on loop.. if i have a hectic day my brain will punish me all night and the same if it knows i need to get up early or have something important to do the next day. Its a contstant battle.. im glad their is a name for the constant music and that someone has suggested a person with bi polar could be more likely to suffer from this condition.

December, 1 2012 at 11:41 am

I suggest that by outthinking my earworms with an imagined humming chorus of Smoke on the Water, -a heavy metal song from the 70's -it completly obliterates the dang earworm on the spot. Works everytime.

November, 28 2012 at 12:17 pm

I have this a lot. I haven't officially been diagnosed with bipolar though my previous therapist seemed to wonder if i did. I do have "mood disorders" and severe ADD though. My boyfriend laughs at me because I will get so obsessed with thoughts, phrases, ideas, or music that gets stuck in my head that he says I am crazy. Sometimes I drive everyone nuts in my house complaining about "earworms". My bf(undiagnosed ADD) and son do get them too though. My son has Autism and ADD so he has echolalia and keeps repeating things he hears on tv a million times and gets us irritating. I am glad there is a term for this. You learn something new every day.

November, 26 2012 at 12:27 pm

This is so comforting to know I'm not alone. I was just trying to explain this to my daughter. I have had the same song on a constant loop in my head for about 15 years. I think it may have started out as a coping mechanism, like signing a lullaby to comfort a child. I don't mind it, it's one of my favorite songs, but I don't like when someone points out that I'm unknowingly humming out loud...very embarrassing. I have bipolar disorder and I do have some vestiges of OCD (counting, primarily).

November, 26 2012 at 11:54 am

I have bpd II and a condition called Musical Ear Syndrome (MES), or musical tinnitus. I came down with regular tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in my early 20s. The MES started about two years ago.
Unlike earworms, the sounds made by MES are musical, but the instruments are always either gazoos, beeps, horns, pipe organs, for example. I never hear a full song, just a portion. Some of the music I hear is abstract, and pretty disturbing. Other pieces of music are very traditional, such as Frere Jacques, Three Blind Mice, The Star Spangled Banner, Mon Cheri Amour (Stevie Wonder), Jingle Bells, a piece from a Jason Mraz song... The tempo can speed up and slow down on its own and the number of song-bits played at one time can be as many as five.
In addition to the tunes, I hear chanting, but there are no words, just monk-like chanting as they hold certain notes and roam the scale. I also hear groaning. Yee hah.
My psychiatrist had me try Seroquel to see if there was a psychotic element to the origin of the sounds. The Seroquel had no effect on the sounds or my ability to deal with them. I am currently in the process of applying for disability. I am also hearing impaired. It's all in the head...
There are 5 precursors to MES, none of which are related to bipolar disorder, but you may want to take note of the following characteristics that may lead to MES:
1. having a hearing loss
2. having pre-existing tinnitus
3. living alone
4. taking ototoxic medication (chemotherapy)
5. being elderly
Thank you, everyone, for your posts! People who do not have this have NO idea. Sometimes the sounds in my head are so loud and loopy that I get nauseous.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Anita W.
January, 14 2019 at 5:43 pm

OMG, thought I was the only person on Earth with this problem! It drives me crazy, almost like I am hearing a radio a million miles away or an out of tune radio. I am almost dead in one ear and not much better in the other. Nice to know it has a name, now if I could just find a cure!

November, 26 2012 at 6:37 am

I get these earworms constantly . They can be anything from a couple of lines from a child's nursery rhyme eg Jack and Jill went up the hill... to 'Sign of judgement time aint long' a Marianne Faithful song. Often it is negative. My head chooses not me. I read something in a self help book. It was about positive stuff. It was ealking about putting positivee lines in your head. I hadn't realised how important that was.
So I attemped to try and over rule what my head wanted to say. It took me weeks and weeks. My head fought with me. We battled. I have partially won. This is what I say now when it wants to go on one of those loops.
"I am whole, perfect, powerful, loving, happy, harmonious, and strong"
It helps when my head has put me in a stuck place also.

November, 26 2012 at 6:00 am

I think I have the most earworms with songs that I both listen to and sing. I have always loved to sing. I'm in my church choir and often have earworms with that music, which is good because it's uplifting.

November, 24 2012 at 10:24 am

I think this is fairly constant for me. I always have a tune in my head, and no, it doesn't have to be something I heard, although that's a real problem too. I seem to have specific triggers and corresponding songs. When I reach a certain stress level, Circus Theme music starts, and after that "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall." For twenty years I've had "Welcome Back My Friends to the Show That Never Ends" whenever I witness any kind of drama. I sing the WHOLE SONG. And "If I Only Had a Brain" all day when I think I'm being stupid. Ugh, yes, it does make me want to take my own head off.
I don't know what to do about these theme songs, it's not like I even hear them anywhere BUT my own head! But for the everyday stuff, I am VERY careful about what I listen to, especially in the morning. If I can't stop it, I at least want positive messages running through my head all day. I put together a drive-to-work playlist that is cheery and optimistic.
PS: Thank you all for being here.

November, 24 2012 at 8:11 am

Earworms, nice to know it has a name, can't stand the things!. I get them pretty much everyday and sometimes at night, and those are the worst. One evening it became so severe that I couldn't get it turn off when I was having a sleep study done for sleep apnea. I just couldn't turn it off no matter what; I ended up only sleeping for an hour. I need a new one done providing my insurance approves it. That should be an interesting patient has earworms and couldn't sleep!

Kim Hart
November, 24 2012 at 7:59 am

Between hearing voices and earworms when my bipolar is "acting up" worse than usual, I totally want to remove my head at times. Only sometimes is it amusing, but that is a rare occurrence. Last week, I woke up to "RELEASE THE KRAKEN!" followed by Kelly Clarkson on loop singing, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!" That day, I could only shake my head and weakly smile.
Most days though, it is so crazy-irritating-driving-me-mad that I can hardly stand to be awake. Trying to find something to drive it out isn't always successful because I can't always listen to headphones to knock them off track. Besides, that only sets me up for different ones.
But like you, it doesn't have to be a song that I've heard recently, or in the case of the Kraken, a phrase I even know from a movie. I've never seen any movie with that phrase in it, just a few comedy skits about it...but apparently, it stuck.

November, 24 2012 at 7:01 am

I think that it's not so much the song as it is my brain going into that endless loop ... With me , it happens with just about any type of thought ...

November, 23 2012 at 8:47 pm

I know what you're talking about with earworms but I don't seem to get them any more than the general population. What I did get once when not well was a repetitive phrase over and over, that was derived from a song but wasn't actually melodious in my head. I couldn't make it stop.

November, 23 2012 at 4:54 pm

Oh, yes... Actually last tuesday I heard a hideous song (or I think I do, but don´t remember where) , and I keep repeating in my brain the chorus (the only part I know).
But, is like when I cannot remember something (name, data, etc.) Just try not to pay attention and ignore it until it goes away.
And while I write this I keep singing the stupid chorus in my head, hahaha.

Leave a reply