I didn't know that I was prone to feeling claustrophobic, unless, of course, I was completely bound up inside of something, feeling like I couldn't escape. As the youngest of eight kids, I was used to play that sometimes got out-of-hand, so feeling nervous about confined spaces was a no-brainer.
But an MRI machine? Naaaaah.
Especially since I am usually more intrigued by medical procedures than afraid of them (thank you, 26 years of Nursing!). Lying on a gurney while the technician strapped a plastic sheath over my abdomen was fascinating. But as the machine slowly guided me inside the tube, my heart began to beat wildly and my breathing followed suit.
So when the gurney stopped moving, I felt relieved. My head was under the opening of the machine from my nose to my forehead so I could easily look around me. I didn't feel confined at all so my breathing and heart returned to their normal rates.
But toward the end of the 16-minute procedure, the gurney lurched forward as I went further inside. My head was now completely enclosed by the machine and my heart and breathing went bananas again.
I felt tempted to squeeze the rubber ball they'd given me. It was the "panic button" that was meant to be compressed if I wanted out.
Yes, I wanted out, but I also wanted this procedure done, so I lay still as my heart, breath, and body continued its subtle display of panic. I almost started to cry.
Then it was over.
Safely outside of the machine, I was surprised that a mere few inches determined whether or not I felt claustrophobic. If my nose to my forehead was exposed, I felt okay, but once my entire head was enclosed, I no longer felt relaxed.
So as the date for the second MRI approached, I was quietly coming unglued. I imagined a repeat panic, the discomfort of my body, and coming close to tears.
But when I was strapped to the gurney for the repeat MRI--my breathing already starting to escalate--I decided to practice what I teach my clients.
I reminded myself that my thoughts of panic weren't necessarily true, even though my body had responded that way during the previous exam. This time, I could choose to feed a new reality.
Instead of remembering how uncomfortable I'd felt the previous time, I could imagine something better.
So I did. I hummed in tune with the Christmas music playing through the headphones they'd given me to drown out the clicking and clanking of the large magnetic machine, and imagined my upcoming week, complete with details about what I had to do each day.
Sixteen minutes sped by.
Then the machine stopped working. I was taken out of the tube, hopeful that I would be told to get dressed and go home, but ten minutes later, I was back in.
Again, I summoned my imagination. And again, I thought of good things, happy things, Christmas-y things. A few minutes later when the machine guided my head completely into the tube, my heart and breathing kept their steady pace.
And NO part of me began to panic.
I even opened my eyes (because I had to test my "experiment"!) and all I could see was the inside of the machine. I couldn't see any light, nor any part of the room--the same room I could look around just minutes before.
And I felt fine.
It reminded me that our thoughts always, always control our behaviors, and those behaviors control our actions. Had I continued to think dreadful thoughts about the exam, my heart and breathing would've "behaved" differently, and my actions would have led me to escape or cry (or maybe worse?).
Try this experiment, yourself:
The next time you feel your emotions rising--whether you're in an uncomfortable exam, a disagreement, or a long Christmas line full of impatient shoppers--remember to think about your situation with a more positive slant. Then watch how you behave (better, I hope!).
That behavior will prompt your actions, which will mostly likely take you to a much different outcome.
Try it, then let me know if you experienced a break-through--even just a small one.