I have had more MRIs in my life than I can count. Some yielding good news that spots were getting more and more difficult to see. Others showed minimal growth, which medically was read as consistent and stable. Sometimes I stayed with the current treatment protocol and sometimes it meant beginning something unknown to me.
Almost every MRI for me brought on its share of anxiety because I have some degree of claustrophobia. Waiting for results also brings its share of stress. The machine itself is long and tubular with enough room to slide an average sized body in and out. It doesn’t look too impossible when I’m standing outside of it and plucking up my courage. Things change when the technicians strap me in, give me a panic ball to squeeze since they’ll be in a different room for the test, and roll me into the tube. Suddenly, I am alone. My vision is limited to sterile white and I can see only an inch or two above my face. I can’t get out on my own and that’s when the trapped feeling starts growing. The strapped in part is so unsettling for me. Breathing is going to be impossible in there, especially when I am to listen to instructions on when to breathe, hold my breath, and then relax. A contrast dye is shot into me that makes my heart and pulse race. It makes me feel a little sick, and then I hear the “take a breath” prompt. Sometimes I just can’t get it done in time because of my racing heart, which makes me feel like I’ve screwed up the most informative part of the test. Panic, panic, panic. I’m stressed out. It goes downhill from there. Much to my surprise, the test always gathers usable information.
I have heard from a few people lately who have been nervous about scans and various tests. I doubt how I’ve described things for me has lessened those feelings for them. Sorry. Others haven’t been reassuring or helpful either from what’s been shared. Instead anxiety levels have risen as “friends” have told them how awful these things are. Do they really feel this is helpful? Newsflash – it isn’t! Saying something is hard is honest. You can still be honest by providing a couple of reassuring comments.
My hope is something that I share about how I’ve dealt with scans, tests, etc. will be helpful for anyone with scanxiety. Scans have gotten easier with each passing one. I know that it’s going to be tough to catch my breath after the contrast injection and I can mentally prepare for it. If it takes me an extra second or two to start a breath hold, that’s what I now do and I don’t worry about it. The following are things that work for me, and they may work for others.
Tip #1: I like music piped in to relax me. This is a common practice. However, if music is unavailable I know what songs I can sing through in my head to pass the time.
Tip #2: I like a washcloth over my eyes with just a peeking place available so I still know where I am without having to be reminded the whole time.
Tip #3: Lavender essential oil on gauze placed on my chest provides enough aromatherapy for a calming effect. I suggest bringing your own if you are unsure if your facility provides this for patients.
Tip #4: Having the same technicians has a calming effect on me, too. My favorite tech actually hugs me when she sees me and that lets me know I am in a safe place. I also like a lot of communication and encouragement while I’m in the machine. It’s good for me to know when I’m halfway done and when I’m close to finishing.
Tip #5: Sometimes I try to reframe the overwhelming, closed in, trapped feeling with one where the machine is my own little personal cocoon where I am kept snuggly and protected for a short time. It’s a great place for prayers. I call on loved ones, spirits, and angels to be with me and protect me. Those are very warm and comforting thoughts.
Tip #6: It goes a lot easier if I take the time to have my port accessed beforehand than just settle for multiple arm pokes that are more like a hit and miss game of find a vein. Using my port doesn’t make my heart race or feel sick when the contrast dye is administered.
Tip #7: In general, the breath holds go much better if I count very slowly in my head until they are done. Some holds are short, some are up to thirty seconds. The long holds do get hard for me, but the counting lets me know that they have to be almost over.
Tip #8: Lorazepam. I have proven that I can get through MRIs without any extra drug help at all. I know I can do it if I have to, relying only on my other tips. The lorazepam relaxes me enough so I am both calmer, fully functional, and happier feeling in general.
Tip #9: I don’t find it helpful to tell people about upcoming scans. There are too many questions. It is so much easier for me to relax on my own before and after the test, and if anything needs to be shared later, later it is. There really isn’t a need to share when nothing really changes. If you get support from sharing scheduled tests with a lot of people, that is your choice based on the kind of support system you have.
Tip #10: Remember the goal of an MRI is to provide information about your health. I need the information – good or not so good – because either way it determines what choices are best so I can maintain a healthy lifestyle. My mother wasn’t open to MRIs and many other tests because of claustrophobia. I believe there also were other fear based and avoidant based thinking happening. Not knowing sadly didn’t work out well for her. I miss her terribly. She and I have many similarities, but as hard as it is for me, I have to get the tests so I know what’s what.
I know what to expect after so many of these. This is a place where I’ve become very vocal about what I need – the music, the lavender, the washcloth, the encouraging words and announcements throughout. I always take extra good care of myself afterwards, whether it’s a treat on the drive home, or a long walk where I can decompress and appreciate being free from the MRI machine.
All these scans would be a much better time if I could find a way to make sure every scan provides the kind of results I need and want. In the meantime, I have found a way get through them with less dread and a little more ease.
Scans are just one example of what causes people anxiety. Everyone has something that they find difficult to do or causes them to worry. Anxiety is often worse than the event itself. After you’ve done it, you realize it wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe you’ve even developed a few hacks on your own that help you cope or dismiss your anxiety and stress entirely.
Whether brought on by medical stuff or other anxiety triggers you have in your life, what helps you lessen anxiety?