MRIs can be nerve-wracking. The confinement, the noises, the uncertainty.
Your thoughts are bouncing all over the places:
- When will this end?
- Do I have new lesions?
- Did the medicine work?
- Why is it SO cold in here?
- This banging is so loud?
- What if I get stuck in here? How would they get me out?
Let’s keep it real, they’re daunting.
Yet living with MS, they’re part of how we manage this disease.
And just because we’re regulars at the MRI suite, doesn’t necessarily make it easier.
So, if they’re here to stay, we need some strategies to stay calm during the MRI.
How Do We Calm This Anxious Mind and Body?
What It Is: A technique that focuses on slow, deep, and purposeful inhalations and exhalations.
Why it Works: Deep, intentional breaths are magical. They do more than just fill our lungs. When we breathe deeply, we stimulate the vagus nerve – the longest nerve in our body. Activating this nerve shifts our body into the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our body’s “rest and digest” mode. So, each deep breath isn’t just about getting more oxygen; it’s a signal to our body saying, “It’s okay, you can relax now.”
How to Use: Before the MRI starts, practice a few rounds of deep breathing. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and wait for another 4 counts before the next inhale. Repeat this cycle and feel the anxiety melt with each breath.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
What It Is: A method where you tense and then release each muscle group in your body.
Why it Works: This can redirect your focus and help you become more aware of physical sensations, pulling your attention away from anxiety-inducing thoughts.
How to Use: Start from your toes, tensing them for a few seconds, and then relaxing. Work your way up through your body, doing the same for your legs, abdomen, hands, arms, and face.
What It Is: A mental exercise where you imagine yourself in a serene and peaceful environment. Before you knock this a woo woo – listen to this. The first yoga studio I trained at, we had a guy who was a quadriplegic come to class – he would lay in class, close his eyes and visualize himself doing the class as the instructor was queuing the class through. His doctor actually started seeing improvements in his health. Did he regain mobility – no – but his biomarkers improved and that’s no small feat.
Why it Works: Our mind is a powerful tool. When trapped in the tight space of an MRI machine, transporting your thoughts to a more comfortable, serene environment can do wonders for anxiety.
How to Use: Close your eyes. Imagine a place that brings you peace. It could be a beach, a forest, or a childhood home. Feel the sensations, hear the sounds, and immerse yourself in that tranquil space.
Sound Blocking or Music
What It Is: Using headphones or earplugs to block out the MRI’s noise or listen to calming sounds.
Why it Works: The loud clanking of the MRI can be a trigger for many. Drowning out this noise or replacing it with soothing sounds can make the experience less intimidating.
How to Use: Many MRI facilities offer headphones with calming music. If they do, take advantage of it. If you have a favorite calming playlist, see if they’ll let you play it. My personal favorite is listening to worship music.
Mantras or Affirmations
What It Is: Repeating a calming phrase or statement in your mind. I know I’ve shared this in other episodes, but remember, that which you focus on gets bigger.
Why it Works: Mantras can serve as an anchor, grounding us when our thoughts spiral into panic. Repeating a positive or calming phrase can help rewire our immediate responses.
How to Use: Choose a mantra like, “I am safe,” or, “This too shall pass.” Repeat this in your mind during the MRI, letting it be your focus.
I have a book that a friend recommended to me. It’s called Breath as Prayer and it gives you different “prayers” to sync with your breath.
One of my favorites is “Guard my heart and mind… with your indescribable peace.”
So you inhale on “Guard my heart and mind…”
And exhale on “with your indescribable peace.”
The idea is that it’s something that you practice five minutes every day, but it really comes in handy during times like this.
If that’s a book that interests you, you can check it out on amazon, again it’s called Breath as Prayer.
Either way, I hope today’s discussion reminds you that you have lots of options to stay calmer during your next MRI.
What works best for you in staying calm during an MRI?
Share in the comments below so we can learn from you too!