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10 Ways to Stay Calm During Your MRI

Updated on October 8, 2014

Keeping Your Calm Starts Before the Actual MRI

For people who dislike or fear small places a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test can be terrifying. The very site of the MRI room can trigger panic attacks in some people. They dread even getting on the table and feel the irrational urge to bolt from the testing site. MRI technicians are left frustrated and anxious about how to help the person.

If you are undergoing an MRI, have undergone, or know someone who will be then now is the time to start learning ways to calmly get through your procedures before frazzling your technicians. Staying calm starts early so here are ten ways to keep your calm and end up leaving everyone with a great memory of your procedure.

#1 Do Your Really Know What an MRI is?

Movie MRIs don't count!

Seeing an MRI on television or hearing vaguely from the doctor about it is not the same as KNOWING what one is. Actually, having only a slight notion on the procedure often makes the experience worse. People usually share the negative which grows in our mind and grows until we are downright afraid. We have fallen into the trap of letting our imagination win over our common sense.

To make it easy I can sum up the Magnetic Resonance Imaging in a simple sentence or two. MRIs use very powerful magnets and radio waves to create dozens or even hundreds of 'slices' (single MRI pictures). There is absolutely no radiation involved (like in x-rays) and no side effects have been reported from it's radio and magnetic waves. The MRI gives doctors a better look at the area then a simple x-ray or even some CAT scans.

The MRI itself is a very large machine which has a space where the table you rest upon slides in. My technicians (who were both very experienced) had NEVER heard of anyone getting stuck inside the machine. Trust me, the table slides in and out quite easily and if you want out, you simply press the little remote they give you and you are out in a few moments.

I should also tell you the machine makes some funny noises and can be quite loud. You get some stylish earplugs for noise protection and usually the technicians put up little barrier type pillows to keep you comfortably in place. If you are having trouble with the ear plugs then simply ask. I could not get mine to stay in so they each pressed on one within each ear. Weird experience but completely worked.

How Many MRI scans Have You Gotten?

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My MRI Experiences

Always a Good Time

This work was inspired after recently getting a second brain MRI. To avoid having an accident like my first MRI the nurses held me up after it and we talked while my blood started going the proper places. They kept saying how I did an amazing job and was the perfect MRI patient. I was downright floored and asked why. Their answers made me realize an MRI is so much more than a simple test for some patients, it's a downright ordeal.

Their insight and answers about what to do led me to examine what makes me such a 'fearless' MRI patient. From what I have learned I will do my best to help you make the best possible decisions on how to keep calm during your upcoming MRI. Who knows? You may realize it's nowhere near as bad as you expected!

The MRI Truth

The MRI is not going to suddenly swallow you whole and the process is not horrifically comically painful and your technicians are definitely not evil people bent on torturing you.

#2 Arrive in Comfort & Ready

Huh?

Nothing makes me more stressed then arriving some place without being completely ready. I hate rushing and thinking 'did I forget something' or 'I seriously think I forgot something!!' Ensure you do not arrive rushed with half your stuff with you. Get ready the night before and make sure to try to get a good night's sleep. Poor sleep can play a major role in the way you handle a situation.

Since you are rested and ready it's time to consider arriving in comfort. If you are feeling nervous then take a close friend or family member with you. Someone who you can express your feelings to and take comfort in their reassurances. Sometimes just knowing you have someone you care for waiting at the end of your MRI can make a big difference.

I also suggest arriving in comfort. No, not in your pajamas or sweatpants (unless you want to) but do try to come in clothes which give you a sense of feeling good. When I feel like I look good then it makes facing a particularly painful test a little easier. After all, if you can manage to look good while your body feels terrible then you can definitely survive your test.

Just remember to not go overboard on the clothing or jewelry. You will have to take off your top (and bra if you wear one) and articles which are metal or contain metal. I told myself to wear leggings so I could avoid the insanely large hospital pants then completely forgot and wore skinny jeans. Most importantly I did remember to take out all my jewelry. Having a belly button piercing means I must make sure to take it out before my MRI to avoid a possibly nasty magnet moment.

Chinese Stress Relief Health Balls - A Unique Way to Fight Stress at Home

Keep stress away with a lovely pair of Chinese health balls. With a variety of styles and colors you are sure to find just the right one for every room in your home.

Asian Chinese Sun and Moon Stress Health Balls with Chimes
Asian Chinese Sun and Moon Stress Health Balls with Chimes

I own a pair of Chinese Stress Health Balls with Chimes. You put them in the palm of your hand and then rotate. The practice takes a little getting used to but I really like their pretty chime sounds and their interesting designs.

 

Anti-Stress & Relaxable Balls - With Tangle Relax Therapy too

I am a person who always needs something in their hands. Sometimes this is a really difficult task as my hands can shake so hard it makes holding anything quite a feat. If you are also someone who needs an object in their hands for relaxation then consider an anti-stress ball. Their small size makes them easy to carry and use while waiting for the technician to call you in for your MRI.

4pcs/set Vent Human Face Ball Anti-stress Ball of Japanese Design Cao Maru Caomaru-gray
4pcs/set Vent Human Face Ball Anti-stress Ball of Japanese Design Cao Maru Caomaru-gray

I'm studying Japanese and found these anti-stress balls to be downright strangely funny.

 

#3 Be Completely Honest With Yourself

Honesty is truly the MRI policy

If you are not comfortable, worried, or downright terrified about the whole experience then be honest. No one is going to laugh at you for sharing your fear. You definitely are not the first to feel this way and for sure you will not be the last. So be completely honest with how you feel. Saying you are not scared but secretly feeling a rising panic will get you nowhere. Instead admit your feelings and even share them with someone you feel close to.

When I get nervous about a medical test which I know will be very painful I acknowledge my feelings. I even go so far as to talk about them with my boyfriend who I know will be supportive. What I do not do is share my fears with someone who I know will say 'it could be worse' (yes, i have a family member who ALWAYS does this). In times of fear or worry I just want someone to quietly hold my hand or tell me things will be fine not give me a lecture on what I already know. So bring someone who will be completely supportive in the way you need or if you bring someone like 'that' family member calmly ask them for a relaxing silence or a simple hug, no words needed.

#4 Get to Know Your Technician

In a brief conversation way

Getting a medical test done is a lot less stressful when you have spoken with or gotten to have a short conversation with the technician. They are looking out for you and going to do their best to help you relax and calmly make it through your MRI test. Even just seeing a person's face can be helpful as it makes them much more approachable as someone to help then just a nameless hospital worker.

I speak with my technicians and nurses before and after the procedure. For me it is always interesting to hear about their experiences and it really helps to hear a calm voice during a particularly painful test. So calm yourself by knowing you are not alone and there are people willing to help at a moment's notice. You do not have to put on a facade of bravery. If you need to push your panic button to exit the MRI for a moment or two then feel free to do it.

Books on Learning to Communicate With Anyone - Communication is a skill worth learning

I come from a family which loves to talk and according to said family have an astonishing gift for being able to speak to anyone pretty much about anything. For me it is easy but many people I have spoken to find it incredibly hard. As they say, practice makes perfect and I have had an incredible amount of practice. For those who have not, take the the first step towards conversation by learning about it through books like these and then put your knowledge into practice. By just having a simple conversation with your technicians you may find yourself feeling a little more at ease knowing these are real people who really want to help you.

#5 Schedule the Best Day Time For You

When do you feel at your best?

I have to schedule my test around other people's schedules (as my health problems make it dangerous for me to drive) but if they are free then I choose the best time for me. I am definitely a night person or (if I've had a good night's sleep) then a very early person. Late morning and early afternoons often are times when I schedule appointments which do not require thinking, meaning medical tests For the latest MRI I had options available in the evening, early afternoon or late afternoon. I chose 2:45 as I could get in a nap before or doze a bit in the MRI machine and it would not interfere with the vague times where I am actually hungry in the evenings.

What part of the day do you feel the best? If it is the morning then try to go with a morning time. If you feel best in the evening then see if you can take an appointment then. Try to avoid going during times of the day where you know stress abounds. Stress affects your body's balance (e.g. raises Cortisol levels) and can raise the likelihood of your calm MRI turning into a panic scene.

Choosing the perfect time of the day for you may not be possible with your busy lifestyle. When I was healthy I would have been lucky to even have time for an MRI. All I am saying is if you are open for various times then choose the best time of day for you. A bit of inconvenience is worth avoiding a panicky MRI.

Night Owl? Morning Sunshine? Afternoon Alive? - I'm a Night Owl Completely (you can tell by my smile in the picture!)

I only feel truly awake after the sun has set and most people start getting tired. As you can tell by my smile in the photograph, I am definitely at my happiest when not in sleepy day time mode.

When do you feel at your daily best?

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#6 Breath In. Breath Out. Be Calm

Keep your body in balance

From speaking with my technicians I discovered people can have panic attacks simply by entering the MRI room. As someone who has experienced panic attacks I know how frightening they can be. I also know just how important it is to relax my breathing and stop hyperventilating. You see when you hyperventilate what happens is you throw off your carbon dioxide-oxygen balance. Carbon dioxide is leaving the body faster than oxygen and the decreased levels are causing your blood vessels to tighten up. Constricting blood vessels in the brain lead to nasty symptoms like feeling lightheaded.

If nerve-wracking situations trigger panic attacks or you start feeling your breathing begin to speed up then mention it immediately. Just breathing into a simple brown paper bag helps restore your CO2-oxygen balance and stops your hyperventilation. Do not let yourself get to the point where a full-blown panic attack sets in. Cut off the problem when it starts so you can enter the MRI calmly.

Keep up calmly breathing throughout the whole procedure and afterwards. If you are not sure what I mean then look at the books below. They explain how your breathing techniques are capable of keeping you calm, stopping stress, and surviving everything with a steady voice and a smile.

Books on Creating Calm Through Breathing Techniques - Just Breathing Can Keep You Calm

You may be saying 'look, I KNOW how to breathe. I do it everyday...I'm doing it right now. So why should I buy a book on a natural action?' Breathing to sustain life and breathing to better your life are two very different actions. If you do not know what I mean then take a look into these books. Their whole focus is on using just your breathing to completely change how you face difficult situations.

#7 Be Logical

If you can use logic..then you can do this

Most of us are very logical people. We use logical thinking daily and it comes naturally to most of us. For example, if a man is late to work every day, lazy, and misses four days out of a five day work week then it is logical to assume he will be getting fired very soon. If you understand the logical in the example then you can easily use the same principle for staying calm during your MRI.

If you are claustrophobic then you may be racing through panicky ideas of what could happen inside the MRI. Well, what could happen? Let's be logical. You may say: well...what if I get stuck inside?' In my multiple MRIs and other tests I have yet to hear of a single person getting stuck in an MRI machine. I looked it up as well, asked multiple health care professionals, and still have yet to find a case. You are realistically more likely to get struck by lightning while winning the lottery then get stuck inside an MRI machine.

You may say 'what if I want to get out of the machine and no one hears me say so?' MRI technicians are going to be in contact with you the entire test. I actually asked mine not to constantly be telling me how long a part of the scan was and ask if I was okay every two minutes. If I want out all I have to do is say so or press the panic button. Trust me. They provide you with a panic button which I kept trying to hold in place without accidentally triggering it.

So before you start getting panicky, take a breathe, look at the scenario, and logically assess it. You can even ask the technicians about any fear you have so they can take the weight off your mind. It's easy to create the worst scenario and an extremely tough battle to counter it. Use your brain, think logically, and know I believe you can do it.

*Important* Logic and Assurance

If you haven't had an MRI then leave logic alone

Being chronically ill I know things could be worse and it frustrates me when someone completely healthy points it out. They may be trying to help but realistically they will never understand and in a way it is downright insensitive. If you have not experienced an MRI then it is not up to you to use logic for the patient.

I have a family member who always cuts me off when I try to just speak up on how I feel and gives me all the scenarios of things being worse. All I want is reassurance of their support not a laundry list of meaningless points which I logically know. So give support and be reassuring in your role to the person. Do not tell them well...obviously you cannot get stuck. That's just stupid! or say well it could be worse you could be getting an EMG (which I have had and it's immensely painful!). Unless you have gone through the MRI experience then saying less is more. The worst you can do is make fun of their insecurities or fears because truthfully it's just downright hurtful and callous to do such a thing.

#8 Think Big Picture Style

Different than Logic

Sometimes you really need to think about the big picture. For example, I put off getting an EMG for months because I knew sticking needles in my nerves and running electricity through them was going to be a painful experience. When I finally did get it I felt relief to find the results said my nerves were not damaged. The experience of the test sucked but knowing my nerves were a-ok was a fantastic feeling.

Think of your big picture. Doctors do not just decide to order an MRI for no reason at all. They go far beyond blood tests and are taking a serious look at something immensely important to your health. If you have an issue with your brain then an MRI could save your life. Getting the test is the first step towards solving the problem and completely worth any anxiety you feel. To be completely honest we are actually lucky to have such a powerful diagnostic test available.If you let your fear win then you are putting yourself at serious risk for missing a health complication. Is the fear worth losing the chance of finding (e.g.) a potential stroke-causing blood clot in the brain? Heck no. If you love someone then you want to take every avenue to ensure you will be around for a long healthy time.

Living My Life in the Big Picture

Living My Life in the Big Picture
Living My Life in the Big Picture

#9 Take Advantage of Distractions

It's highly recommended

For my first MRI I remember just staring up at the ceiling of the machine bored out of my mind. I found it hard to just close my eyes and drift because I kept looking around. The most recent one I had done at a different hospital. They offered to me and recommend to all patients having a towel placed over their eyes. This makes it easier to relax and even start daydreaming.

Depending upon the place where you get your MRI they may offer you the option to listen to music or even have a little screen you can watch. Do not think this means bringing your ipod as any metal parts will be magnetically friendly with the MRI. I have never gotten the option but supposedly it exists. The choice may also vary by where on the body the MRI is taken. I would definitely recommend asking about these options but do not be disappointed if they are not available.

The Calming Distraction of Bach - A Genius Composer for Your MRI

I believe Bach to be one of the most amazing composers of all time. Many of his pieces only require a few moments of hearing before their beautiful sounds produce a calm inside you. If you have yet to experience his music then I highly advise you take a listen here.

#10 The Calm of Medication

To Use or Not to Use?

During the scheduling and right before your MRI you should be asked whether or not you are claustrophobic. The reason they ask depends on your answer. If you are like me then the questionnaire continues. If you suffer from claustrophobia they will most likely ask if you would like something to help you relax. This may vary from taking a Valium before arrival to getting the same type of sedation as someone receiving a colonoscopy.

You may be thinking...'that sounds nice and easy!' but it is not so simple. MRIs are typically a 45-minute procedure give or take a 15-20 minutes miscellaneous stuff. Valium is not a drug which you turn on for forty-five minutes and then turn off. After the procedure you will still be affected by the medication and should have someone drive you home. Why home? Valium usually causes people to feel drowsy and tired effectively putting an end to your day. You also have to ensure there are absolutely no drug interactions and there are a LOT of medications which can interact with Valium and cause serious consequences.

The most extreme medication option I was told is the one used for people with colonoscopies. The most common drug mix is Fentanyl and Versed. Fentanyl is given for pain management and Versed which causes a type of amnesia about the procedure after its completion. Coming out of these drugs is no five minute ordeal.

Questions? Comments? Personal Experiences? Flames? - In the mean time..stay healthy.

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    • Erin Mellor profile image

      Erin Mellor 4 years ago from Europe

      Wearing comfy clothes with minimal metal does save you from indignity. I found the super loud noise disturbing, but then imagined it was the bassline to FatBoy Slim tunes and sang those in my head - it may not be good advice, but it worked for me!

    • Kalafina profile image
      Author

      Kalafina 4 years ago

      @Erin Mellor: Distraction is one of the best ways to stay calm and you definitely mastered it in a creative fashion!

    • carol2 profile image

      carol2 4 years ago

      I never got to be in the room with my son when he got an MRI, although I got to be with him for the CT Scans. He was 17 when he got the first MRI, and didn't know how to insert the ear plugs, so it was really loud and uncomfortable. Thankfully he learned how to insert ear plugs after that and he wasn't afraid of small spaces - he had to have an MRI every 2-3 months for 2 years when he was dealing with cancer. This is a great lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      This is a thing I have been through with two of my own Sons and of course you were not allowed to go in with them and they are not easy to handle when they face this kind of thing however I think if I start to panic i think of something funny that usually saves the day and not think about what is around me. Humour always saves the day even if you have a sour faced Doctor to cope with too. I went to a Cardiologist that was enough to give anybody a heart turnover really cold and no compassion wow really a turn off to say the least. Hope you are feeling so much better now.xxx

    • Adventuretravels profile image

      Giovanna Sanguinetti 2 years ago from London UK

      What a fantastic article. I thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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