Friday, August 26, 2011


Before deciding on my mastectomy, I needed an MRI. I'd had a couple of them in the past: one for my left knee, after I abused it running a marathon; and one for my head, following a run-in with a log cabin while mountain biking in British Columbia. But I digress.
The point is, I remember feeling really claustrophic during both prior MRIs. With the teeming anxiety I was already experiencing with my cancer diagnosis, the last thing I needed was to feel trapped like a caged you-name-the-animal in a big 'ole clicking machine. So I tricked myself into thinking I was somewhere else.
You, too, can survive an MRI — or any other uncomfortable procedure (blood draw, chemo, dentist visit, surgery prep, whatever procedure you are afraid of) — while feeling calm and cool and even fairly collected. I've got it down to five simple steps.
  1. Breath deeply while you're waiting, after changing into that cute little gown, and then while waiting some more. Don't let your mind wander into the worry zone. All will be OK.
  2. Don't be overly ambitious when you walk into the MRI room. Keep your eyes and mind focused on walking towards the machine. Try not to think of anything else in that moment. Do not look around the room. Stay focused on walking towards the machine.
  3. Lay down as instructed and close your eyes immediately. This is key. Get comfortable. Listen to the tech's instructions, but whatever you do, don't open your eyes. Wear an eye mask without metal in it (if they'll let you). Or tie a bandana around you as a blindfold (that way there's less pressure to keep your eyes shut).
  4. Think about your favorite place that is relaxing and joyful to you. For me, it's being at the top of a hill I regularly hike to. I imagine how it feels to stand, feet firmly planted on the ground, arms stretched out to touch the wind. I notice the sun and how warm it feels dancing across my face. With the cool breeze comes the fragrance of eucalyptus. I listen for the sound of birds and hawks in the wind. What's cool is that while you are imagining the details of your favorite place, the MRI will commence. Whatever you do, no matter how many times they ask you to move or flip over, no matter how many times they reposition the machine, keep your eyes shut! Focus on your breathing; it should be slow and rhythmic as you relax into whatever pleasant experience your mind is conjuring up for you. (I used a similar technique as a pre-surgery meditation here.) 
  5. Now sing a song. In your head. This helps counteract the banging and clanking of the MRI machine. Pretend you're in your favorite place and sing to the wind (or the audience, depending). Sing it over and over and over again. With your eyes closed. Before you know it, the tech will be telling you it's over — the MRI, that is. Remember: If you can't see that you are closed in, you can tell your mind you're anywhere.
(Copyright ©2011


  1. That's exactly the technique I use for MRIs and other stressful situations. You're so right about DON'T OPEN YOUR EYES, NO MATTER WHAT, just imagine you're in your favorite place. What you're describing is a form of self-hypnosis, which I've practiced for many years. It's amazing stuff!


  2. great suggestions for anyone under any kind of stress...thanks renn.

  3. Great tips for any stressful situation. I especially love Don't Open Your Eyes!

  4. Thanks Renn.. while it can be very frightening to be in the machine, it helps to read that these can help to enlighten the fear...
    by the way, this is my first time here.. :)

  5. It worked so well, I had to share! ;-)

    Welcome, Reanaclaire!

  6. Great advice. I also recommend wearing the headphones and listening to music. They told me it was going to be 45 minutes (!) and I was panicking until I realized I could calm myself down by listening to the songs, counting how many had played and adding up how long I'd been in there and how much more I had to go. It was about 12 songs, a little shorter than they'd expected :) Claudia


Your comments are encouraging — and encouraged!