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Ear Worms...What Depression And Seratonin Have To Do With That Annoying Song In Your Head!

The Song That Keeps on Playing And Playing And Playing

It's time for sleep, you need to get up early for work in the morning. You are a responsible person, after all. You brush your teeth, wash your face, put on your favorite jammies (or NOT!) and with a sigh, lay down in your bed. And you're still hearing it...THAT SONG...

"There she was just a'walkin' down the street,

Singin' do-wa-ditty-ditty-dum-ditty-do,

Snappin' her fingers and a'shufflin' her feet,

Singin' do-wa-ditty-ditty-dum-ditty-do.

She looked good,

She looked fine,

And I nearly lost my mind..."

There it is again,,,that song, that terrible song that's been running non-stop through your head all day ever since you heard it on the oldies station this morning driving in to work. And it's not like another thought hasn't crossed your brain today, it's not even like you didn't hear another song on the radio on the way home. You had conversations with your children, you watched the evening news...but even during all that, it's been there, like a really bad soundtrack to some cheesy movie. Your brain has fixated on THAT particular song and now...if you had the original record, you would take it and break it into several hundred pieces with whatever heavy object on which you could lay your hands. And the worst part is, when you wake up again, like Bill Murray's Groundhog Day, there it is AGAIN!

The Dreaded Ear Worm


What Is An Ear Worm?

Ladies and gentleman, you have on your hands a dyed in the wool, genuine bona fide ear worm! Now before you run off to your friendly neighborhood doc in a box to have that thing removed, it's not what you think. It's not alive nor does it look like that thing in alien, getting ready to jump out and scare the bejeezus out of an unsuspecting friend. Rather, an ear worm is when your brain somehow gets stuck on replay. It fixates on a particular tune, a snippet of something you've heard during the day, a jingle, a song, and won't let it go. To say ear worms are annoying for those who suffer from them is to put it mildly. It's like having a noise in your brain that you can't shut off, even when you go to sleep. You don't even have to be a particularly musical person to suffer from them, although people who have them often do report they enjoy music quite a bit. A study done in Montreal does indicate musical people tend to suffer from them more, but 98% of people report having experienced ear worms at least once. Singer/songwriter Neil Diamond claims to be a regular sufferer from ear worms.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Ear Worms

Interestingly enough, ear worms, or a more fun way of putting it, "tune wedgies", have been linked to several mental health issues including depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. This makes sense since basically ear worms are an obsessive thought, just a musical one instead. Although schizophrenia hasn't been mentioned in the research, could music in your head not be too far removed from hearing voices in your head?! A researcher, James Kellaris, along with a psychologist, Daniel Levitin, delved into the phenomena of ear worms and found that women complain of experiencing them for longer periods of time than men. That could be because women tend to hold on to and dwell on things where men tend to compartmentalize and shut the door on what is annoying to them. However, whether male or female, if your ear worm is combined or followed with obsessive and repetitive behaviors such as excessive hand washing or preoccupation with order, you might want to see a doctor.

I Want Tuna, I Want Liver, I Want Meow Mix, Please Deliver...


Depression And Ear Worms

Besides obsessive-compulsive disorder, another mental health issue which ear worms are linked with is depression. The interesting things is that many people begin suffering from ear worms before they even know that they are depressed. Researchers think there is a link between ear worms and low levels of seratonin, the thing that produces "happy thoughts" in humans. Seratonin, wrongly identified as a hormone, is actually a neutrotransmitter in the brain which affects mood and governs how we feel on a particular day. Neurotransmitters are molecules our brain cells transmit to one another as a form of communication. However, not enough is known about depression and seratonin, because you can't really adequately assess seratonin levels in the living brain. There are blood tests that can be performed to measure seratonin levels, however. Researchers aren't certain as to which came first, the chicken or the egg with seratonin and depression...i.e., do you become depressed because you don't have enough seratonin or do you become depressed which leads to a decrease in seratonin? Regardless, people who suffer from clinical depression report frequent bouts with ear worms. They can also rear their ugly heads when you are excessively tired or stressed.

How Do You Get Rid Of Ear Worms

The unfortunate thing with ear worms is the brain generally replays a 15 - 20 second snippet of the song that is your new best friend. Then, it gets put on replay...and replay...and replay. To get rid of it, some people say it's best to listen to the whole song and once you can sing your way through it, your ear worm will be gone. Others say it's best to listen to another song. Of course, you run the risk there with the new song becoming your next ear worm! You can also pass your ear worm on to a friend and share your frustration. Although it's probably completely psychological and symbolic, that seems to work for some people. Of course, you may find your friend walking down the hall at work humming "Mambo Number Five" later on, but hey, better him than you, right? People who suffer from depression and are plagued by ear worms have found that they are sometimes controlled by taking anti-depressants such as Prozac and Paxil. Or you could try visual imagery, where you picture our little ear worm friend as a real life worm (with fun, animated facial features, of course!) and you dramatically give him the boot from your brain. Sounds way more fun than medication!

Ear Wormiest Songs

I personally suffer greatly from ear worms. Not sure what that says about my mental health, but I can tell you some songs appear to be worst offenders than others. Besides the aforementioned "Doo Wah Ditty", I have looped "September" by Daughtry over in my mind for at least a day and a half at a time. My apologies to Daughtry, but nothing will make you learn to hate a song faster! Other songs mentioned by sufferers as recurring regularly in their ear worm nightmares are:

I Got A Feeling- The Black Eyed Peas

Whoomp...There It Is! - Tag Team

The Lion Sleeps Tonight - The Tokens

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Gilligan's Island Theme Song - Sherwood Schwarts and George Wyle

Who Let The Dogs Out - Baha Men

Macarena - Los Del Rio

The Pina Colada Song - Rupert Holmes

Red, Red Wine - UB40, but actually written by ear worm sufferer, Neil Diamond

There are claims that computer programs exist which can detect the "ear worm worthiness" of a song or jingle. If this is true, it could spell disaster for ear worm sufferers. A relaxing night in front of the television could result in a long sleepless night humming, "I Want My Baby Back, Baby Back, Baby Back" or some other inane advertising ditty.

If you suffer from ear worms, remember, you're not alone! Many brilliant and talented people suffer from ear worms and didn't go over the edge. It only FEELS like you are when you're hearing "Alejandro" by Lady Gaga in your head for the 85th time that day.

A Parting Ear Worm...It's A Small World


Debra Hargrove from North Carolina on February 19, 2016:

Never heard of the term ear worm before but it sure do make sense. I have experience the symptom but never focus on it. I just let it be and do my best to do something that will cancel out the melody. Very interesting concept.

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on June 15, 2015:

Limn to limn, I think some songs are worse than others. I'm not sure if during the writing of the songs, writers are consciously aware of the mechanics or science of creating that unforgettable melody. I just know it's torturous for many people. I just got one out of my head that had been there for about four days. What I really don't like is when I go to sleep at night and wake up and it's still there!

Limn to limn on June 14, 2015:

whoops....I was typing too fast above. Turns out it's Manfred Mann. The Turtles is one of my others. :-)

Limn to limn on June 14, 2015:

DIY this is a true OMG moment! You started this blog with exactly the song that plays in my head all day--it's actually playing now and was playing when I searched google for ear worms and found your blog. THANK YOU! I can't tell you how much better I feel. Honestly. I usually have an occasional song, but the "singing dowahdiddy" has been pretty relentless. And I'm old enough to have been alive when the song came out, and I didn't even like it then. I certainly don't like it now. Just wondering: Once you noticed your song(s), did they bother you more? I have a feeling mine have been background music for years and I've only now begin to realize how they're there all the time. which makes me notice how they're there all the time. Maybe the thing to do is make peace with them? If that's even possible? I'm hoping that's the case, because the two others songs in my head are much much worse than the Turtles-- i'll refrain from mentioning them so that I don't trigger someone. Thank you again for this blog and for your honesty and willingness to say such personal stuff.

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on December 01, 2014:

Evidently you didn't read my article very well. I said I personally SUFFER from ear worms. I have a son who suffers chronic depression who also SUFFERS from ear worms. After spending three days just recently with one song running though my head morning, noon, and night , I KNOW what an affliction it is. But I'm also a realist who knows crying about my problem isn't going to help it. I'd rather take a healthy approach, know I'm not alone and laugh about it then sit around having a pity party. Now who's the one who's pathetic?

Ruth on December 01, 2014:

Does the author think ear worms are some kind of joke? Your article is riddled with sarcasm regarding the topic. If you had any idea how tormenting this affliction can be you wouldn't be making light of it. Shame on you big time. You're pathetic...

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on February 27, 2014:


Ok, you know that's a unique gift you have, but used the wrong way to get tunes stuck in OTHER people's heads, that's just downright cruel! ;)

Mike on February 26, 2014:

I've had "ear worms, or tune wedgies" since i was very young, i recall an instance when i was 6 years old singing La Bamba after watching the film, yet i didn't not comprehend the words in English or Spanish in full, so made up my own - come to find out.

This was always a pleasant phenomenon to me, I never thought of it as negative. I guess since i've had this most of my life, I naturally evolved to a point where i can either hit Play, Pause, or Stop, in my head.

I will sometimes only play the bass part of a song all the way through, or guitar, sometimes all instrumentals, or just the lyrics Acapella. I always enjoyed mixing different songs together simultaneously as well, and changing tempo. It's convenient if there isn't music playing anywhere at the time.. I can just replay my own.

I'm also quite good at getting songs stuck in other peoples heads, and sometimes mess with them in doing so.

I'll sing part of a song then stop, and sometimes within minutes to hours, without realizing, the other party begins to hum or sing the same song!

It's quite amusing :)

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on January 25, 2014:

No, Apple 19, I think it's far more common than we realize. I still suffer from them from time to time and it's more likely than not a song I don't particularly care for!

apple on January 25, 2014:

I thought i was the only one who suffers from this... what a relief

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on December 11, 2012:

Nope! I can go to sleep and wake up during the night and the same song is playing in my head that was playing when I went to sleep! Arrragh!

someone on December 11, 2012:

has any one got rid off this!!!!!!!

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on March 31, 2012:

I've had a couple of wedding songs stuck in my head the past couple of weeks. Nothing ruins a song you love more than hearing it over and over in your head a thousand times!

Lyn.Stewart from Auckland, New Zealand on March 30, 2012:

LMAO ... great hub ... now I know what sings those songs to me over and over an ear worm. Your hub is very informative and then as you read all the comments your taken on yet another journey. Lukily my little brain is too confused to set onto one song at the moment it wants to play them all so lets hope that fact saves me from having my ear worm sing to me all day.

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on October 29, 2011:

And that's the problem, Moira, it usually is a song that's so annoying listening to it once is bad enough, but listening to it over and over in your head...unbearable!

Moira Durano-Abesmo from Sagay, Camiguin, Philippines on October 29, 2011:

Great hub! Ear worms are commonly referred to as LSS or "Last Song Syndrome" around here. I suffer them too. The worst part is when you LSS a song you don't like. It's really irritating.

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on October 29, 2011:

How can Disney be evil? :o) You know something interesting...lately since I've been burning the candle at both ends (i.e., working too many jobs until I'm close to exhaustion), I haven't had as many ear worms.

Stephanie Henkel from USA on October 28, 2011:

You're evil...

Tess45 from South Carolina on October 28, 2011:

DIY -- there's a little bit of evil in you...

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on October 28, 2011:

Wow, never knew that Tsmog. Very clever indeed. And Stephanie, glad I could get you one time...and remember it's a small world after all, it's a small world after all, it's a small, small world!

Stephanie Henkel from USA on October 28, 2011:

This tickled me all over again!

Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on October 28, 2011:

Mac Davis did a diddy on this titled Baby, Baby Don't Get Hooked On Me. The whole reason was what you discussed. From Wikipedia "He wrote the song when the record company demanded he write a tune with a "hook"." LOL, smart man. Looking at the lyrics and song stats one might say "ear worm."

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on October 28, 2011:

Exactly, those ad executives are smart. Jingles are meant to stay in our heads, so we'll remember the product and buy it, but for me, sometimes it has the reverse effect!

Nolen Hart from Southwest on October 28, 2011:

Very interesting. I never knew there was a connection with "ear worms" and depression. Some of the new ads really get to me, which of course is what they are intended to do.

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 06, 2011:

C'mon, Stephanie, it's got to be better than "It's A Small, Small World!" One time I had the dogs barking "Jingle Bells" in my head all day. Now that was an ear worm from he**!

Stephanie Henkel from USA on July 06, 2011:

You guys are a riot! I'm going to have to stop reading these comments - I think I just caught the "Do Wah Ditty..."

imatellmuva from Somewhere in Baltimore on July 06, 2011:

Poor chile' when he looks at you, you'll be uncertain if its gas or "Do Wah Ditty" roll'n through his head!

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 06, 2011:

That's hilarious, Ima! I'm going to try it next time I get one! I realized last night I was singing "Do Wah Ditty" to the baby as I was drying him off after his bath. He was laughing like crazy...he just had no idea in a few short years, he'll have it in his head just like me!

imatellmuva from Somewhere in Baltimore on July 06, 2011:

I once saw on a show, a way to rid yourself of the ear worm. Go to a store, and find someone alone in an aisle. Sing or hum the tune, then run like hell!! This transfers the ear worm, and you are then free of the song that's been wrecking havoc in your mind!

I haven't tried it yet... haven't figured out a way to keep store security from think'n I stole sumth'n! But now I think I HAVE to, cause thanks to this hub, "There she was, just'a walk'n down the street." is play'n on my mind!

Great hub DIY...never knew there was a name for the song in your head thing!

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 06, 2011:

Well, if you have to have an ear worm, at least it's not so bad to have it be a (somewhat altered!) classic by the Beatles!

writeronline on July 05, 2011:

Thanks for nothing, DIY. I know you're just trying to be nice (actually, you don't have to try, you just are...) but - have you ever heard the Beatles song, Paperback Writer?..

"I'm a great writer"..."paperback writer"...same scan! And now I can't get the tune outta my head!! :)

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 05, 2011:

Thanks, WOL! Glad to see you around! Sounds like maybe your doctor has the right perspective on life. As serious as life gets, if we couldn't laugh about it, think about how bad life will be. Now get back to listening to something postive in your head, will you? Say it, "I'm WOL...I'm a great writer...I'm WOL, I'm a great writer..." Trust me, it's 100's of times better than listening to "We Will Rock You" in your head over and over!

writeronline on July 05, 2011:

Great hub, DIY. Very interesting, revelatory, in fact. Very entertaining as well, the lighthearted way you've written it.

I've hit the jackpot myself; I have the repetitive thoughts and phrases, generally but not always, negative; I have the compulsive counting thing, (often with words, a word pops into my mind, and I'll spend hours mentally looking at it, and counting the letters, over and over and over and over and over..); and although I'd never heard that description, I also have the musical ear worms.

My doctor's no help though. I was there just after I read this earlier today, so I said to him, "Do you know I've got Ear Worms?" And he said "Hum it, and I'll pick it up as you go along..."

Life's a bitch; but you gotta laugh in its face, doncha?

Stephanie Henkel from USA on July 04, 2011:

I really like the song, but it's just one of those tunes that tends to stick with me for days! Maybe it's because my granddaughter made us go on that ride at Disney World a dozen times when we took her years ago!

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 04, 2011:

Stephanie, you know I never did either until I starting reading about it. I suffer from them so frequently I wanted to learn more about them. Sorry about the Small World, that's a particularly annoying one, isn't it?

Stephanie Henkel from USA on July 04, 2011:

I never realized there might be a connection between those annoying songs looping through my head and depression or OCD. Your hub is very informative on the subject in a lighthearted and entertaining way. You may have started something with your mention of "Small World" though! :)

Tess45 from South Carolina on July 03, 2011:

No, not at all. I just meant in general and especially in movies and TV, i.e. Monk; the Odd Couple

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 03, 2011:

Sorry about the SpongeBob thing!

Hope you don't think I was making light of mental illness, because that I would never do. Funny, "It's Raining Men" is one of mine, too. Love you.

Tess45 from South Carolina on July 03, 2011:

It's true, Logan often had ear worms that he shared with the rest of us, It's Raining Men, Holy Diver, various rap tunes. I now have montage to the aforementioned tunes being sung by SpongeBob in my head. Fantastic! Of course he also got the lovely negative thought and inconvenient coping mechanisms, excessive hand washing, counting, and checking. I lot of people think OCD is funny. It's not. It's deadly serious and debilitating.

Very interesting hub. Well-written as always.

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 03, 2011:

Thanks, Kim and HMH. I talked to someone after writing this who has had frequent bouts with depression and asked him if he gets alot of ear worms and he said he gets them from time to time, but his "loops" are more repetitive thoughts, generally negative. So I guess if I had to have one or the other, I'd choose music...unless it's something like "Barbie Girl" by Aqua!

Kim Harris on July 03, 2011:

As I was reading about the ear worms, I was thinking it sounds like OCD and a little bipolar/manic; both involving "chemical imbalances" and treatable with meds. A little OCD can be a good thing though. A lot can be debilitating. This was a very interesting hub with a fun and unique way to say what might have been said in a routine and boring way. Thanks for that, DIY. Very refreshing:)

DIYweddingplanner (author) from South Carolina, USA on July 03, 2011:

Sorry, JASusan. That is a particularly annoying one, isn't it? I remember thinking that ride was never going to end when I took my kids to Disney. Then it was on my brain for the rest of the trip...ugh!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on July 03, 2011:

Great now I have It's a small world after all its a small world after all .......... going through my head and I probably will not be able to stop hearing it until sometime tomorrow. :)

Interesting article though I must say.

Hattie from Europe on July 03, 2011:

Ha ha okay, this is new to me, but very interesting!:0 Guess I'm just not familiar with it, and they must have left it out of my text books. lol

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