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How to Stay Calm During an MRI

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“That was the best MRI appointment,” said no one ever, but today I had the least unpleasant MRI.

What makes an MRI bearable?

To begin with, the technician communicated with me the whole way through the procedure. She told me what she would be scanning and how long it would take. For an hour and a half scan, the time passed relatively quickly, as the whole scan was broken up into five- to 10-minute segments. Also, I wasn’t left in a tube with the dimensions of a coffin wondering, how much longer am I going to be in here? Am I ever getting out? Can I scratch my nose now? MRI technicians: take note, do this and you will have a calmer patient on your hands.

You don’t always get a considerate technician, and even with the best operator, you will still need to deal with discomfort. I’ve developed a bit of a game plan when I’m facing time in the tube.

My first tip is to learn mindfulness and breathing techniques. I was the biggest mindfulness skeptic until I started to apply it to practical situations such as being in an MRI. After seven years with multiple sclerosis, I’ve had my fair share of MRI’s and hours to practice mindfulness. It has become an invaluable skill to me now.

Another thing I learned early on is you need to get real comfy before you begin, since you will have to hold that position for a long time. I used to clasp my hands and rest them on my stomach, but they would start to slip or become painful. Now I just let them drop to my side – imagine the corpse pose in yoga. Make sure you have made yourself comfortable before giving the MRI tech the OK to go.

Something that is vital for someone with MS is that they need the temperature to be right. Hospital staff always want to throw a blanket on me before getting started. When I’m too hot, it triggers tremors, spasms, the works. Say no to the blanket if heat is a trigger.

Once the MRI gets started and I’ve been in there for a bit, I can begin to feel uncomfortable. Muscles twitch or tense. Holding even the most comfortable position can cause discomfort in time. Progressive relaxation helps with this. I’ve been practicing progressive relaxation for a while now, and it is a lifesaver during an MRI. I do this by tensing the precise area causing me discomfort, then as I breathe out, I visualize the area relaxing and the pain melting away. You can use this technique as a handy way to “adjust” your body without moving at all.

During the scan, I prefer to keep my eyes closed, as it helps with the progressive relaxation. If I have my eyes open, they dart around a lot as there’s nothing to look at inside. Sometimes they put a mirror in front of your eyes so you can see out. I find that the little mirror only enhances the “I’m in a tube” feeling (as now I can actually see that I’m in a tube) and relaxing becomes difficult. Other people feel the exact opposite and find having their eyes open and the mirror helps. There is no wrong or right with this one, so do what feels right for you.

Finally, once I feel settled and relaxed and a few scans have taken place, I use this as an opportunity to zone out and get lost in my thoughts completely. If my mind goes to places I don’t want it to go, I return focus to my breathing and progressive relaxation. It so rare to have an hour or more to ourselves without interruptions or distractions – I’ll take whatever opportunity comes to me. The MRI has become my loud, clanging, magnetic fortress of solitude.

Hopefully, my positive experience will also yield positive results…all I can do now is wait and see.

Ms JenY

Note: I do not have claustrophobia which makes a significant difference in my ability to tolerate being inside an MRI. As I do not have first-hand experience myself, I cannot say if my advice is enough to be of use in this situation. If you do have experience and have developed strategies that help you cope, you are most welcome to share these in the comments section as it may be of help to others.

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Originally published: March 10, 2017
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