Five Helpful Tips for Claustrophobia During an MRI
How to Cope with Claustrophobia
Claustrophobia is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by a fear of small or enclosed spaces. Claustrophobic anxiety can manifest as both avoidance (steering clear of small places) and acute anxiety attacks (when a situation cannot be prevented). If you suffer from such anxiety, there are numerous methods you can take to cope and reduce anxiety during an attack. Furthermore, with practice, there are ways to prevent an attack before it takes hold of you. Finally, with the help of a professional, there are some longer-term options that may help you to overcoming this reaction altogether.
Using Anxiety Reduction Techniques
Breathe.Anytime you find yourself becoming anxious, the first step is to breathe. Deep breathing activates your body’s relaxation response, which makes it a powerful anti-anxiety tool. Whenever you experience a claustrophobic response, use deep breaths to slow your thoughts and reduce feelings of panic.
- Inhale to a count of 4.
- Hold your breath to a count of 4.
- Exhale to a count of 4.
- Repeat this cycle at least 10 times.
- Closing your eyes may help you focus on your breathing. If this makes you more anxious, focus your gaze on something neutral.
Use a calming visualization.Another way to say this is to go to your “happy place.” Imagine a place where you feel calm and relaxed. Imagine this place in as much detail as you can. If you are in midst of a claustrophobic reaction, or any time you feel anxiety creeping up, close your eyes and use this calming visualization.
- This can be a place you have been or sometime completely imagined.
- What does this place look like? Sound like? Smell like?
- Try practicing this meditation regularly so that is it easy to access when you need it.
Relax your muscles.If you feel panicked, try a quick "body scan" to find and release unnecessary tension. Better yet, practice "progressive muscle relaxation" so you can draw on it when you need it:
- Sit down somewhere comfortable, preferably in a quiet place.
- Select a part of your body to begin with (such as your left hand).
- Tense this location for 5 seconds. Make sure to keep breathing evenly.
- Take a deep breath, and release all the tension from that location.
- Repeat with various parts of your body (such as the other hand, each bicep, each leg, your buttocks, or your face). The order does not matter.
- Do this for around 15 minutes, or until you feel you have tensed and released your entire body.
- Repeat this exercise once daily, and whenever you feel anxious.
Altering Thoughts and Behavior
Realize your mind is playing tricks on you.Like other forms of anxiety attacks, a claustrophobic episode involves some kind of trigger. This trigger initiates a cycle of thoughts that can spiral out of control. With time, you can work to control these thought cycles and prevent them from getting to you. One way to do this is to remind yourself that your mind is playing tricks on you. This can diffuse feelings of shame that can accelerate an anxious cycle.
- Rationally, you probably understand that being in an elevator or crowded room is not actually dangerous. Remind yourself of this fact!
- Develop a mantra that you can use. You might say, “This is not dangerous. I am not dying. My mind is playing tricks on me.”
Model your behavior on others.Another method for controlling and circumventing an anxiety attack is to watch others and model your behavior on them. For instance, if elevators are a source of stress for you, pay close attention to how others are acting in such a space. If they are able to stay calm and relaxed, perhaps you can as well. If they are not experiencing fear, perhaps there is nothing to be afraid of.
Question your thoughts.A third method for sidestepping your claustrophobic anxiety is to embrace logic. Ask yourself a series of rational questions that may help to expose the baselessness of your worries. Although this may take practice, this method can help to diffuse anxiety and prevent your thoughts from spiraling out of control.
- Is this (what you fear) likely to occur?
- Is this a realistic worry?
- Is this really true or does it just seem that way?
- If you have specific fears (such as a parking garage collapsing or an airplane running out of oxygen), it may help to research some statistics. What you fear is most likely extremely rare.
Seek the help of a professional.If your claustrophobic anxiety is severe, or if you’d like to explore methods of eradicating this response, it may help to speak to a therapist. Some types of treatment, including exposure therapy, should only be performed under the guidance of a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. A psychiatrist may also be able to help you explore anti-anxiety medication options.
- Perform an internet search to locate a psychologist or psychiatrist in your area. Many will work for a sliding scale, or even offer a free consultation.
- Contact your insurance company to find options that will be covered for you.
Explore Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a method that involves confronting the specific thoughts, feelings, and triggers that are causing anxiety responses. Often this is done through gradual exposure to various fears and triggers. This is done with the help of a licensed professional.
- CBT is a gradual therapeutic process that would entail meeting with a professional on a regular basis (usually once a week) for an extended period of time (often six months to one year).
- During each session, you may be exposed to one or more of your triggers. Sometimes this will mean simply focusing on that fear. Other times, it may mean an active physical encounter (such as entering an elevator).
- You will talk through your feelings, and your therapist can offer anxiety-reduction methods (similar to those discussed above) to help you cope.
- Often you'll be given homework assignments (such as focusing on your fear and journaling your thoughts and experiences) between sessions.
Try “flooding.” Flooding is a more intense form of exposure therapy, which should always be done with the aid of a licensed professional. This method involves overexposing an individual to specific fears and triggers, until these fears are not longer powerful.
- Flooding involves being intensely exposed to a trigger, potentially for a long period of time, until the anxiety attack passes.
- Flooding therapy contends that when an individual experiences exposure and works through the anxiety, the fear becomes less powerful.
- This method may be repeated a number of times until the individual no longer experiences panic in the triggering situation.
Take medication.Drug therapy can be an effective option for severe cases of claustrophobia. A combination of anti-anxiety, anti-depression, and tranquilizer medications can be used to help individuals face triggering situations. Discuss this option with your doctor or psychiatrist.
- As a general rule, phobias that occur frequently should be addressed with behavioral treatments, although medication may supplement this. If you only experience claustrophobia in rare situations, such as when you get on a plane, medication can be an easier way to minimize the effects.
QuestionWhat if I am afraid of the teachers shutting the door all the way at school in the classroom?Top AnswererThis article provides a number of very useful techniques, so make sure to try them out. In your specific case, you're absolutely allowed to talk to your teachers about it. I would recommend doing so privately. Your teachers should listen to you and work together to find a solution. If you have sudden anxiety, you can always ask for immediate help. Ask to be excused, and ask to speak to the teacher.Thanks!
QuestionWhy do I fear suffocating?XiRozeCommunity AnswerIt's a basic survival instinct, all humans fear suffocation because it is something that could kill them.Thanks!
- Trying to "logic the anxiety away" is difficult if you do not practice physical responses as well. Body relaxation and breath control are important for anxiety reduction.
- Do not try exposure therapy ("facing your fear") on your own. Without professional guidance, this treatment risks make the claustrophobia worse.
Video: MRI and Claustrophobia
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