Managing Anxiety and Claustrophobia During an MRI

If you suffer from claustrophobia or anxiety, undergoing an MRI can be a daunting and stress-inducing experience. Concerns related to medical tests are prevalent. However, managing your fear and completing the scan with the proper preparation and mindset is possible. Here are some tips for managing claustrophobia during an MRI: 

Speak up! 

Communicate with the ordering provider. Before the MRI, inform your doctor about your stress and claustrophobia. There is no need for you to feel embarrassed or think that you must just “tough it out” Help is available. Your provider can order medication to help calm your nerves and may also be able to offer alternative imaging techniques, such as open MRI or a shorter scan time. 

Plan ahead 

Prepare yourself mentally. Try to focus on the fact that the MRI is necessary and will ultimately help diagnose and treat any potential health issues. Remind yourself that the scan is only temporary and will be over soon. 

Don’t go alone 

Bring a support person. Having a friend or family member with you during the MRI can provide emotional support and help distract you from your fears if the facility allows someone to be present. They can also help you relax by talking to you or playing music through headphones. You will need someone to drive you home if you take relaxing medication before the procedure.  


Try relaxation techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, or visualization can help calm your mind and alleviate anxiety. Try practicing these techniques before the MRI to help prepare yourself for the scan. Concentrate on the present moment during the procedure. Use positive self-talk to remind yourself that you are okay even though the test may be unfamiliar, loud, and in a small space. 

Know you are not alone 

The technician will always be with you. Healthcare workers understand that, like most other people, you are likely to feel anxious.  

Anticipate and manage noise 

Use headphones or earplugs. The MRI machine’s loud whirring, banging, and clicking noises can be unsettling for some people. Wearing headphones or earplugs can help block the noise and make the experience more tolerable. 

Communicate with the Technician 

Before the MRI, tell the technician about your claustrophobia or anxiety. Ask for a break if needed. Ask the technician to stop the scan if you feel overwhelmed during the MRI. They can give you a few minutes to take deep breaths and relax before continuing. 

 Stay still 

Try not to move during the scan. It’s important to stay still during the MRI to get the best possible images. If you start panicking, try to focus on taking slow, deep breaths and reminding yourself to stay still. The scan will be more helpful and completed quicker if you stay still. You may find it beneficial to tell yourself to “stay limp.” 

Ask about open and stand-up MRIs. 

Request an open MRI when your provider orders the test. If the thought of being enclosed in a small space is too anxiety-inducing, ask your doctor if an open MRI is an option. This MRI machine has a broader, more open design, which may be more comfortable for those with claustrophobia. Stand-up MRIs are entirely open. You are sitting, not standing. Be aware that open and stand-up MRIs are unsuitable for some imaging procedures. 

Pharmaceutical help 

Your healthcare provider can prescribe anti-anxiety medication to help calm your nerves before the MRI. Use medication to help you remain calm. Request medicine when your provider orders the scan. 

 The medication is a short-acting medication that is taken shortly in advance of the procedure. You will remain awake and alert throughout the scan. The drug may make your mouth feel dry. Gum and hard candy can help relieve dryness. It’s essential to take the medication as directed and not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking it. Have someone drive you home if you require medicine. 

Consider Counseling 

If your claustrophobia is severe and interferes with your daily life, consider seeking the Help of a mental health professional. Many types of therapy can help you learn coping strategies and manage your anxiety. 

Wear comfortable clothing  

Wear loose, comfortable clothing to remain more relaxed during the MRI. Avoid clothing with buttons, zippers, or other metal objects, as these can interfere with the scan. 

Bring a small comfort item 

 Having something familiar and comforting with you during the MRI, such as a blanket or stuffed animal, can help ease your anxiety. Comfort items can be beneficial for children and adults who undergo an MRI. You may want to use a weighted blanket but check with the technician to ensure it does not interfere with the machine.  

Use aromatherapy 

 Certain essential oils, such as lavender or chamomile, can have a calming effect on the body and mind. Try applying a few drops of oil on a tissue and inhaling the scent during the MRI. 

Request a mirror  

Some people may find it helpful to see what’s happening outside the MRI machine during the scan. Ask the technician if they can place a mirror where you can see it. The mirror can help alleviate the feeling of being trapped. 

Use music or guided imagery 

 Listening to calming music or guided imagery can help relax your mind and body during the MRI. Ask the technician to play the music in the room or use headphones if allowed.  

Take a virtual tour 

 Many MRI centers offer virtual tours of their machines, which can help you familiarize yourself with the environment and alleviate anxiety. Ask if your center provides this service. Take the tour before your appointment. 

Prepare for success 

Following these tips, you can successfully manage your claustrophobia during an MRI and get the necessary medical care. You can overcome your fear and complete the scan with the proper support and mindset. Remember to communicate with your healthcare provider, prepare yourself mentally, and use relaxation techniques to alleviate anxiety. Be sure to reward yourself afterward to celebrate your success! 

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