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