How to get rid of earworms

Ever wonder why certain tunes become stubbornly lodged in our minds? Blame it on our evolutionary past. Our brains have evolved to be pattern-seeking and threat-detecting machines, and this very trait plays a role in why we get stuck on earworms.


Evolutionary patterns: A double-edged sword

Throughout our evolutionary journey, the ability to recognise and remember patterns was a survival advantage. Identifying the sound of a potential predator or the rhythm of approaching footsteps helped our ancestors stay vigilant in the wild. Fast forward to today, and this pattern recognition persists. When we hear a catchy tune, our brains latch onto it because it triggers that ancient survival instinct – the ability to recognise and remember patterns.

The catchiness conundrum

Earworms often have a particular catchiness – a combination of melody, rhythm, or lyrics that creates a memorable pattern. Our brains, wired to seek and remember patterns, find these musical snippets particularly appealing. It's a double-edged sword; while this trait was advantageous for our survival, it now manifests in the form of earworms, looping through our minds.

Modern echoes of evolutionary traits

In today's world, our pattern-seeking brains encounter a different set of stimuli, including catchy tunes. The same neural pathways that once helped us identify threats now respond to the infectious rhythms of music. As a result, we find ourselves involuntarily stuck on these earworms, a quirky echo of our evolutionary past.

Strategies to bid farewell to earworms

Getting rid of an earworm can be a bit tricky, but there are strategies to try. You might consider listening to the entire song to satisfy your brain's desire for completion. Alternatively, distracting yourself with other activities or replacing the persistent tune with a different one could provide relief. Each person might find their own method that works best.


  • Listen to the entire song: If you find yourself stuck on a particular part of a song, try listening to the entire track. Your brain might be seeking completion, and hearing the full song could satisfy this urge.
  • Distract yourself: Engage in activities that require mental focus. Whether it's work, a hobby, or a conversation, distracting your mind can help shift your attention away from the persistent tune.
  • Change the tune: Intentionally listen to or sing a different song. This can act as a mental reset, replacing the current earworm with a new musical pattern.
  • Create a playlist: Build a playlist of your favourite songs. Having a variety of tunes readily available can offer alternatives when you need to break the cycle of a particular earworm.
  • Physical activity: Engage in physical activities like walking, running, or exercising. Movement can help redirect your focus and break the repetitive loop in your mind.
  • Mindfulness techniques: Practice mindfulness or meditation to bring your attention to the present moment. Focusing on your breath or surroundings can help disrupt the mental replay of the earworm.
  • Chew gum or eat: Chewing gum or eating something can create a new sensory experience, diverting your attention and potentially interrupting the mental loop.
  • Change your environment: If possible, change your physical environment. Moving to a different room or stepping outside for a breath of fresh air can disrupt the association between the environment and the persistent tune.
  • Hum a different tune: Replace the earworm with a different melody by humming or singing another song. This can help override the repetitive pattern in your mind.
  • Accept and embrace: Sometimes, resisting the earworm can make it more persistent. Acknowledge its presence, and try to accept it without letting it bother you too much. Over time, it may naturally fade away.

Experiment with these tips to discover what works best for you. Keep in mind that everyone is unique, so finding your own strategies to stop earworms may involve a bit of trial and error.

How counselling can offer support

When earworms become more than just a fleeting annoyance and start affecting your well-being, counselling can step in. A counsellor can explore the emotional or psychological aspects linked to persistent earworms, helping you understand why they might be more prevalent during certain times or linked to specific emotions such as anxiety. By delving into your unique experiences and responses, counselling aims to provide coping strategies and support for managing the impact of these catchy mental tunes on your daily life.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9
Written by Natasha Kelly, BA (Hons) MBACP
Twickenham TW1 & Richmond TW9

Natasha is a counsellor based in London and online. Her passion lies in helping individuals build meaningful connections and foster strong rapport. With a deep understanding of human emotions and interpersonal dynamics, she has worked as a primary school teacher and as a freelance writer on mental health.

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