I have to get an MRI today.  For a lot of people, this is a stressful procedure, especially for anyone with claustrophobia, the fear of small, confined spaces or crowded places. And while I would not label myself as a claustrophobic (one of the phobia’s I was spared from suffering), I would still say that I am extremely uncomfortable in crowds and confined spaces.

Over the course of my life, I have probably had at least a dozen of these types of scans.  My first dated as far back as when the rattatat drilling of the magnetic device was ear-numbing. In those days, you were lucky if you got ear plugs.  But the passing of time and the complaining of patients creates necessary innovation. So nowadays we have headphones and soothing music and Velcro straps that don’t dig into the flesh to add to our medical procedure enjoyment.

Still, some people panic and don’t make it through the test. So how does someone who panics just about everyplace make it through unscathed? Lucky for you I am here to tell you some of my secrets – free of charge (though if you feel like slipping me a twenty when no one is looking, I will gladly accept it.)


The key to surviving this test is to stay calm.  But how? Yes, the room is cold and the test uncomfortable, but all of that can be shut out if you practice the basic anxiety-coping mechanism that I have talked about so often: input diversion and distraction to aid in relaxation.

First off, you will probably have to wear some sort of flimsy gown, open all around.  And you will be surrounded by people taking pictures.  This is somewhat like a Lady Gaga concert, but I digress. My first tip is to make sure you wear comfy clothes – and always remember to wear underwear.  That is one mistake I would NOT want to repeat.

The next thing you need to do is to prepare yourself in the hours leading up to the test. I prefer meditation to lower my blood pressure and anxiety levels.  Soothing music also works, as does light, comedic TV shows and movies.  I would avoid watching anything with the initials CSI in it, horror movies, thrillers and anything staring Pauly Shore.  These are too hard to handle.

Once you are in the frigid test room, see if they offer a blanket.  If not, sometimes an accommodating nurse will keep you warm.  Just consider that a perk that your medical insurance doesn’t tell you about. After you are strapped in, you will now need to gather up all your power and focus on relaxation. I know that this sounds like a contradiction in terms: shouldn’t we relax to be relaxed? But there is a cleverly-drafted plan you can follow (and yes, this is work) that will help you relax.

Since you will probably be told not to move most of your body, try to find out what you can move that won’t wreck the test. Most often, fingers and toes are allowed to move slightly. So now you just focus all of your attention on these body parts, and twitch or move them when you can.  Try to convince yourself that a slight twitch of a finger feels like your whole body moving.  Imagine that sensation – it works!

If you are allowed to listen to music during the procedure, do not pick any kind that will agitate you. Reject anything that gives you the urge to dance.  If you find yourself rocking to the Ramones, they will make you take the test over, and that’s the last thing you want. Try to find something soothing, but not so soothing that it puts you to sleep.  You might move during your sleep and then – you guessed it – you have to take the test over.

Also, when you are shoved into that torpedo tube of a device, you may lose track of time.  There is an easy way to cope with this. Ask the technician how long the test will take.  Then mark time when the test starts.  You can do this by adding up the minutes of each song (if you know them) or simply count. If you recall, 60 seconds equals one minute, so divide your MRI time into segments and count them down. Then you can tell yourself “I’m 25 percent done” or “I’m halfway there.” Once you see time marking down, you will relax more and more.

Even though I have kidded around a bit, I want to impress that this is serious stuff. Medical tests are an important preventative tool in maintaining good health.  Don’t be afraid of tests.  A little prevention today goes a long way toward your healthy future.

I am including a link to an article about coping with an MRI, in case anyone wants read more:

May all your tests turn out well!

About Joe

Freelance designer and writer whose goal is to help others by writing about my experiences with fear and anxiety (agoraphobia), health struggles (cancer) and my wonderfully-happy life as a husband and stay-at-home dad. I want to empower everyone to have a happy life.

3 responses »

  1. commakazes says:

    Hi joe nice to see you are still at it. Haven’t seen anything In a while.
    Because I AM claustrophobic, I don’t give it a chance to envelop me. I keep my
    eyes closed the entire time. I have no idea how big or how little that tube is.
    Hope all goes well for you…

    Sent from my iPad


  2. Hi Jo
    I just had my first MRI last week and found it to be a relaxing experience, and must say I can’t wait to learn more about my brain, I also nearly went to sleep. I was more worried about what is wrong with me as I have been pretty sick lately.However, the topic of claustrophobia did come up: they did have a lovely picture on the ceiling, piped music and the room was at an ambient temperature. There were also ear plugs! I can imagine how awful it would be to be frightened of small spaces. Glad you don’t have that to deal with. I’ve been housebound for 18 mths now. Not really enjoying it but getting plenty of time to catch up with blogs such as yours 🙂

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