Just looking at an MRI machine can be enough to make some people feel claustrophobic. MRI claustrophobia is a problem for many people, and it can make getting an MRI scan a very anxiety-inducing experience, especially for first-time patients. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is a medical procedure which uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. It’s a painless procedure but can be daunting, especially if you experience claustrophobic anxiety.
If you’re someone who gets severe anxiety and panic attacks quickly, or if you know you have a fear of tight spaces, there are things you can do to help ease your anxiety and make the MRI procedure more tolerable, including square breathing, positive self-talk, entering feet first, and covering your eyes.
Here are 15 top tips and tricks which may help you reduce your anxiety during an MRI scan.
1. Practice Square Breathing
One of the most effective ways to calm your nerves is to focus on your breath. Taking slow and deep breaths can help lower your heart rate and blood pressure, making you more relaxed.
Square breathing is a great way to control your breathing and keep yourself calm. To do this, you must take in air for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, exert air for another four seconds, and finally hold an empty lung for another four seconds. It also helps to imagine drawing a square as you take deep breaths. Repeat this cycle until you feel more relaxed.
2. Utilize Positive Self-talk
When you’re feeling anxious, your thoughts can quickly turn negative. It’s essential to counter these negative thoughts with positive self-talk. Remind yourself you’re strong and capable of getting through this. Tell yourself it’s just a scan and will be over before you know it.
3. Learn More About MRIs
Learn as much as possible about how an MRI works and what will happen during your MRI. The more you know, the less anxious you’ll feel. When you understand what’s happening, it’s easier to relax and trust everything will be okay.
It’s also helpful to know you are with an experienced team of board-certified radiologists and medical professionals to ensure your safety and answer any questions you may have.
4. Try Asking To Enter Feet-first
For some people, it may be less anxiety-inducing to enter the MRI machine feet-first instead of head-first. This way, you can see the exit and know you will not be completely enclosed in the machine. If this is something which would make you feel more comfortable, don’t hesitate to ask the MRI technologist if it’s possible to enter the machine feet-first.
5. Try Covering Your Eyes
The confined space of the MRI machine can be very anxiety-inducing. One way to help ease this anxiety is to cover your eyes with a sleeping mask or a washcloth. This will help block light and help you relax and fall asleep during the MRI scan. It also makes it easier to imagine you’re in your “happy place” or anywhere else which makes you feel calm and relaxed.
6. Try Aromatherapy
Before your MRI scan, you can try diffusing lavender oil in the room or applying some on your wrist or temples. Some people also find it helpful to bring a personal diffuser during the scan.
7. Start Counting in Your Head
Anxious patients have a better chance of relaxing or falling asleep during the MRI if they start counting in their heads. So, once in the machine, begin counting from 100 and work your way down to one. Counting repetitively can help ease anxiety and keep your mind occupied, so you’re less aware of your surroundings.
8. Bring Someone Who Supports You
It can be helpful to bring along a friend or family member who can support you during the MRI. A good friend who cares about you and is willing to hold your hand can help ease anxiety. If you don’t have anyone who can be with you during the scan, try asking the MRI technologist if someone can stay in the room with you to provide support and reassurance.
9. Try “Practicing” in a Kid’s Crawl Tunnel
If you’re struggling with MRI anxiety, it may help to “practice” in a kid’s crawl tunnel. This can help you get used to the feeling of being in a small, enclosed space. Finding a crawl tunnel that’s big enough for you to fit through comfortably is essential. Once inside, take some deep breaths and focus on relaxing your body.
10. Try Meditating to White Noise
White noise can help mask the MRI machine’s loud noises and make it easier to focus on your breath and relax. There are many free apps you can download which offer white noise or nature sounds. Alternatively, you can buy a white noise machine or a fan to create white noise.
11. Distract Yourself With Music
Listening to your favorite music is a great way to distract yourself and ease anxiety. MRI centers usually provide patients with a set of headphones and music players, but you can always bring your own. Make sure to bring along a playlist of your favorite tunes to help keep your mind occupied and ease anxiety.
12. Spark a Conversation With Your Radiographer
Your MRI technologist is there to help you feel comfortable and to ease your anxiety. Don’t hesitate to ask questions or spark a conversation with them during the scan. Talking about your favorite TV show or asking about their day can help take your mind off the MRI and make the time go by faster.
13. Ask Your Radiographer To Break Down Long MRI Sessions
You can ask your radiographer if they can break down the session into shorter chunks. You’ll also have a call button in reach, so you can always ask them to stop and take a break. This will help ease your anxiety by making the session seem more manageable. You’ll also get a few breaks to move around and stretch your legs.
14. Consider Different Scanning Options
Different scanning options may be more convenient for you. For example, you can go for an open MRI machine, a closed MRI machine, a traditional MRI machine, or a modern MRI machine.
15. Sedation Is Always an Option
Conscious sedation may be an option for people with severe anxiety or claustrophobia. You are given a mild sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the MRI. Make sure to let your doctor know if you have any medical condition which may be affected by sedation. Once you’re sedated, you won’t be able to drive home, so you’ll need someone to pick you up.
The worst thing about MRI claustrophobia is you don’t know you have it until you must do it. Even if you’re not claustrophobic, you can still experience this phenomenon. These tips and tricks can help alleviate your anxiety during an MRI session.