Psychiatry & Psychology--General/Repetitive music

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QUESTION: Hi, I just have a question that has been really bothering me lately. A couple months ago, I was listening to a song that I really liked for quite a long time. During night time, they would sometimes repeat in my brain, but I would be able to stop them by willpower. But then on the third day, the day before school started (I'm a high school student), the song just started repeating in my brain nonstop for the entire night. I couldn't sleep at all and it was highly distressing because I could not stop it. I read that it's normal online and I went to see a family doctor with a background in psychiatry for it and he said that it was normal as well. I had mild to moderate anxiety in the past but was able to overcome them and they didn't get in the way of my life that much other than some distressing sleepiness nights. I can still go to school/study. Is this issue an indication of something more severe or is it normal after listening to music? Most of the answers I recieved were that it was normal, but Im still very concerned. I have experiecnes no other mood disorders other than anxiety so far in my life. I don't have any hallucinations either. before this happened, I did not feel worried or anxious about anything either, so I'm very confused and stressed out about what could have caused this and keep telling myself that this is just normal.

ANSWER: Hi Anne

"It's normal." "It's common and harmless." "It's perfectly normal so don't worry about it."

Doesn't help much, right? So here's another strategy to try.

As with all sorts of other tricks our bodies, especially our brains, play on us, there are two components (and while one follows from the other, they are really separate). One is the experience or symptom, the other is how we react to it. It can be really hard to eliminate the one, but often quite easy to handle the second.

How hard to stop the one? You have a lot of control over much of your body. You can stand up or sit down. Raise your arm or lower it. But you have only limited control over your thinking because sometimes the brain goes its own way. (Why? We just don't know.) DON'T THINK OF THE COLOUR YELLOW. See?

But we can (and often do) change our thinking about our thinking. Pretend that rehearsing that song is not just normal but healthy and beneficial. Maybe listen to it again. Enjoy the memory of it. Smile when it goes through your mind. Don't just tolerate it, embrace it.

That will do two things, stopping your concern, and giving your mind time to extinguish the song on its own. You won't feel an "off" switch, but one day you'll think "Hey -- I haven't heard that song for a couple of days now. What was it again?"

Thoughts are like breaths. You can have them voluntarily, and other times the action is involuntary. There are people who can't fall asleep because they worry that they'll forget to keep breathing. See the difference between having a thought and having intense worries about it?

All I've really said is "You have a distracting memory you'd rather not, but don't worry about it." Sorry that's the best I can do, but in fact that is all that you can do and all that you need to do. I hope you can do it.

Thanks for asking us, and all the best. Maybe some day you'll write a book about intrusive memories.

Alan

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your reply that really helped calm me down, I ve been really anxious about this issue and now I know that this isn't necssarily a cause for concern. I will definitely try what you said from now on whenver this thing happens instead  of just immediately jumping to the conclusion that something might be wrong with my brain. But may I ask can this issue ever be a cause for concern? Or is it rarely indicative of something off? Most people I know never only had this for a few hours, so I felt quite worried, thinking that I might have ocd, be hypo manic or something else even though nothing but anxiety has really bothered me much. Thank you so much for your reply and have a great day!

Answer
Suppose a schoolmate called you an unpleasant name, Anne. Is that a cause for concern? Does it show that something is or might be wrong with you? Is it indicative of something serious? When you compare, do you get called more names and worse names than other girls?

Maybe, maybe not. Depends on whether your reaction is "Good heavens -- I'm a failure, I'm unpopular, I'm disliked, there's obviously something seriously wrong with me" or "Well, it's good to be noticed. Like the actor once said, 'I don't care what you write about me because publicity is publicity, just spell my name right' and anyway, often people say the opposite of what they really feel."

I'm sure you  get my point. There's actually a common name for these repetitive images, usually musical, but I can't recall what it is. Something like "earwigs"? In any case, some time back, ad agencies used to hire "memory experts" to come up with "jingles" that were designed to self-play after listeners heard it a few times. And it worked. And nobody worried about the self-playing.

Moreover, it could be argued that the entire vast music industry is based on the assumption that there's something about how the human brain works that disposes us to retain and rehearse themes.  

And the last thing for me to tell you is that most young people are worry-warts. Do they like me? Do they make fun of me? Will this make me look the way I want?

And even experts make errors, like saying something is the last thing when the real last thing is thanks for the feedback ratings!

A.  

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Alan Auerbach

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Taught psychology for 30 years, authored four textbooks. Specialize in introductory and industrial/organizational psychology, but will tackle wider range of areas.

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