Is there an English word that describes when you do the something all day and then it gets stuck in your head.

Examples of what I'm describing:

  • You spend 12 hours straight solving crossword puzzles and afterwords, you look at a restaurant menu and find your self counting the letters of the words and thinking of synonyms
  • You spend all day on a rocky boat and when you get back to land, you still feel rocking - even hours later.
  • You spend all day at a theme park, wading through people, and later in bed, when you close your eyes, you see people everywhere even if you try to stop the thought.

The closest word I've found is "earworm", but this is only for music replaying in your head, not images, thought processes, or tasks.

  • In my experience, there is no common word or phrase which uniquely encapsulates this concept in the English language.
    – mccainz
    Oct 20, 2017 at 13:27

4 Answers 4


The Tetris Effect describes the condition, although not necessarily the object of fixation. From Wikipedia:

The Tetris effect (also known as Tetris Syndrome) occurs when people devote so much time and attention to an activity that it begins to pattern their thoughts, mental images, and dreams. It takes its name from the video game Tetris.


It has also been known to occur with non-video games, such as the illusion of curved lines after doing a jigsaw puzzle...


On a perceptual level, sea legs are a kind of Tetris effect.

If this were a song, it would be called an Earworm. Also from Wikipedia:

An earworm, sometimes known as a brainworm, sticky music, or stuck song syndrome, is a catchy piece of music that continually repeats through a person's mind after it is no longer playing.

  • This is perfect because after reading the wikipedia page, I see that "Tetris Effect" fully encapsulates my definition while not encapsulating any other definitions. Thank you!
    – N00b101
    Oct 20, 2017 at 16:03
  • (A perfect one to one mapping; term to definition.)
    – N00b101
    Oct 20, 2017 at 16:18

Some people literally call it a 'stuck thought' as for example in this extract where these words are used in the context of certain anxiety disorders:

Stuck thoughts; thoughts, mental images, concepts, songs, or melodies that stick in your mind and replay over and over again.

Source: http://www.anxietycentre.com/anxiety-symptoms/thoughts-that-seem-stuck.shtml

The concept you described, if it is a repeated picture in the mind, is also sometimes called a mental afterimage as in these examples:

From 'Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel' By Kristiaan Versluys on google books:

several months after the events [...] the author is still incessantly re-enacting the collapse in his mind. More precisely, he sees a mental afterimage of the glowing tower from different perspectives and distances.

Another example in a literary context:

Major Lund smiles at him encouragingly, and then leaves the room, trying hard to erase the mental afterimage of Beckstrand's [...] face and neck.

Note that 'afterimage' literally refers to a transient anomaly of vision and 'mental afterimage' is its equivalent in the mind.

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afterimage


If the memory of an unpleasant incident, person, or scene lingers or persists in your mind, you are said to be haunted.


If something unpleasant haunts you, you keep thinking or worrying about it over a long period of time.
He would always be haunted by that scene in Well Park.

From Google News

Moretti is so haunted by the crash, he sometimes has a hard time on the road. It took him three months after the wreck before he felt comfortable enough to drive again.

Even for trivial incidents, the term haunt is used

  • Anthony Bourdain's worst airport meal still haunts him to this day

Another single word, plague, fits the scenarios described by the OP

  1. The crossword puzzle continued to plague me as I sat reading the restaurant's menu.
  2. I was plagued by sea-sickness/motion sickness long after I had stepped off the boat.
  3. The crowds at the theme park plagued me in my sleep.


to vex; harass; trouble; torment

  • A crossword puzzle in and of itself is not plaguing him; the structure of crossword puzzles is plaguing him. After solving crossword puzzles for twelve hours, he continues to impose the structure of a crossword puzzle onto non-crossword-related items, such as the restaurant menu in front of him now.
    – Yoshi Bro
    Oct 23, 2017 at 22:04


The inability to sleep because of your mind fixating on a thought. 'The lost final gave me brainspin and I wasn't able to sleep all night.'

The Urban Dictionary

  • Nice word I first heard here today @Nigel J __ "some of the questions on EL and U sent my mind into a brainspin." Oct 20, 2017 at 7:53

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