Here I go again, another MRI and a moment of panic, and I realize I’ll have to be shoved in that small tube again.
I’ve had five of them in the last five years, and let me tell you—it doesn’t get easier for me at all. I’m not afraid of small spaces, but there is just something about that particular test that heightens my anxiety and sends me over the edge.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) is a valuable tool used by medical professionals to help diagnose a number of conditions and issues in the body. If you’ve ever had to have one, you know that it can be an anxiety-inducing experience, even if you aren’t afraid of small spaces. There are a number of ways one can reduce anxiety symptoms, but not all can be used in the MRI situation.
Part of the reason why an MRI induces anxiety in people is, of course, that the small space can make one feel trapped. Add to that the loud and weird patterns the machine itself makes and you have an instant recipe for terror. The radiology techs do give you a button you can press if you need assistance during the procedure, but stopping the MRI in the middle of the process is a good way to have to start all over.
Doctors often will prescribe some sedative medications for those who really need it. They tend to use that medication on children a lot to make sure they don’t move during the MRI. The patient has to be absolutely still during the process and children aren’t naturally still at anything, so that precaution makes sense.
For adults who don’t want to go the medication route (remember, it’s fine if you do need it), there is one technique that has helped immensely during this stressful medical test. Mindful Meditation is a tool that many use to help in their daily life, and it works well for calming during situations such as the MRI.
While meditating in a quiet space when one is calm is the traditional way to practice, it can be used to help calm us down from a loud and stressful process. It helps if we already have a daily meditation practice, but the tools used for it can give even the casual meditator some relief.
After being placed in the MRI machine and before the process starts, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. You need to center yourself and prepare for what is coming next. Feel the weight of the panic button in your hand and let it be a reminder that you’re safe and someone is watching out for you.
The loud noises start. Keep your eyes closed. Listen to the noise and see if you notice a pattern to the sound. By focusing on the sound, you can distract your mind from panic creeping up, but it also helps to ground you in the moment. Remember, the sound is good and means the process is in full motion. It’ll all be over soon.
The sound changes the pattern as it whooshes past your head. Through closed eyes, the light of the machine peaks through. Keep your eyes closed and refocus on the sound. Try not to lose focus because a wave of panic could start creeping in. Suddenly, it’s over, and once again, we are free of that small space.
The first time I used meditation to get an MRI, it felt so good at the end of it to know I didn’t let the panic set in and fear take over. I felt light and free and really happy to have not freaked out. The same feeling is one I get every time I successfully conquer a certain fear or anxiety.
This last MRI I had was just a few months ago during Covid, which meant I had to add a mask to the normal procedure. That added piece of fabric over my mouth did make it harder to calm myself and focus, but on the bright side, they managed to get the time of the procedure down to 15 minutes from what used to take half an hour.
Cutting down the time that I had to be in the machine really did help, and even with the mask requirement, it was my easiest MRI by far. Part of that is being used to meditating and part is knowing I’ve made it through the test multiple times before.
If you have an upcoming MRI, I encourage you to look further into meditation and how you can use that tool to make your experience better. It’s never fun to have to go through medical testing, but we can make things easier on ourselves and make the process less frightening.