For many people, a major part of the discomfort or dread of an MRI comes from the claustrophobia or the sense of being trapped; even if your whole body isn’t going into the machine, you may feel helpless and stuck.
If you’re thinking of using mental relaxation techniques during your MRI, the following are four to consider.
(But before we start, here’s an important note: Depending on what kind of scan you’re getting, the technologist might ask you to at various points to breathe in, hold your breath, and breathe out. Maybe the technologist instructions will be helpful to you, in that they remind you that someone else is there and that you have control over your body.)
1) Controlled Breathing
One technique you can use involves controlling your breathing more. For example, if you feel your breathing start to speed up or anxious thoughts start to flood your mind, you can try to breathe in through your nose and then let the air out of your mouth. When you’re breathing in, you can count to a certain number (count to 7 or 10) to make it more deep and controlled.
2) Mindfulness body scan
If you practice mindfulness meditation, one concept you’ll likely be familiar with is the body scan. But even people who don’t regularly meditate can acquaint themselves with this practice beforehand.
The point is to start off breathing deeply to relax yourself and to focus on your breaths (don’t worry about distracted thoughts that pop into your head – they’ll come and go, so just keep your awareness gently centered on your breathing.)
Then you begin to focus on different parts of your body, from your right toes to your left toes and then climbing up slowly to the crown of your head, and the sensations going through each part of the body (both negative and positive sensations, or if there’s no sensation at all). Whatever you sense about each part of the body, you accept. You then imagine sending your deep breaths flowing into these parts of the body.
Working with a meditation teacher, or checking out a book or video on mindfulness beforehand might help you get the hang of this technique if it sounds totally foreign.
3) Relaxing Imagery
This is often a fun one for people. You imagine yourself in a relaxing place. It could be entirely based on a real place, such as your cozy den at home, a beach you love, or a relaxing walk you’ve taken through fields and forest; you can also craft an imaginary place, often inspired by real places. The point is to mentally go to this place, imagining its relaxing sights and smells and sounds. You can also imagine people with you who are good to you and relaxing.
During the exam, you may have the option of listening to music you like and also wearing earplugs, which can help you go to a pleasant mental place especially if the sound of the machine is dampened.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is to have a short and simple mantra to focus on. This can be something like, “I am safe” or “I am well.” (Because in reality, an MRI is a routine and safe procedure. Although you should always mention if you’re feeling discomfort or negative side effects from anything, the fact is that numerous people get MRIs done safely every day.)
If you don’t want to focus on one specific mantra, you can talk to yourself mentally in a soothing, calm voice. You can give yourself reassurances. You can remind yourself that you’re strong and that you’re in control – which is true, because you chose to get the MRI and you’re doing it for your health. You’re in control of your life, even for the moment you’re lying inside of the machine. You can also remind yourself that the procedure doesn’t take forever. It has an endpoint, and then you’re up and continue with your day.
When it comes to MRI & claustrophobia, if you’re considering using mental relaxation techniques, it’s best to think about them in advance, practice them at home, and also find out as much as possible about the specifics of your scan and how to prepare. Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information; we want your MRI scan to go smoothly and to make you feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible.