Managing your mind

A key ingredient of having a “Happy MRI” is to keep your mind “busy” during the scan. A mind that has “nothing to do” during the MRI scan may be tempted to develop anxiety-provoking thoughts.

Whereas a mind that is kept busy and distracted during the scan will have no time to develop negative thoughts.

MRI scans can take a while to do. It’s therefore important to develop a collection of strategies to keep your mind occupied during this period. In this section, I will share with you various things that people do during MRI scans to keep their minds occupied and happy. We are all different and you can of course find other ways to deal with your mind, what is given here are only suggestions.


An early decision that you need to make is if you plan to keep your eyes open or closed during the MRI scan. Closed eyes can make it easier to “forget” that you are in the MRI scanner. However, we are all different, and you may prefer to keep your eyes open to “know” what is going on.

My understanding is that most people choose to keep their eyes closed. That has been mostly my approach too, though sometimes I have ended up opening my eyes towards the end of the scan. Some people choose to keep a cloth lightly over their eyes.

You do not need to keep your eyes “tightly” shut, as that would be exhausting and even make your anxiety worse. Rather, just gently close them, as you would when you go to sleep.

Mind wandering

One approach to keeping your mind busy is to let it wander elsewhere. Perhaps you can imagine being at a place you enjoy being at.

Imagining tasks

To keep your mind busy, you can do imaginary tasks that you are familiar with. For example, perhaps you know certain food recipes, and you can in your mind imagine making those for dinner for your friends. Or some task from your workplace (I know it is not always nice to think of work, but maybe this would be an exception!). You can imagine your daily routine at work, from parking the car to taking the elevator (or stairs if you are health conscious!).

There are endless tasks you can think of. I do a little bit of teaching in my job, so in my last MRI, I imagined teaching something to a student.

Planning future events

You imagine planning for a future event. Or perhaps how you would spend the rest of the day.


You may find it useful to occupy your mind with a “mantra”. A mantra is a word or short sentence that is meaningful to you and that you can keep repeating to yourself. Repeating a mantra to yourself can help keep your mind occupied.

For example, those who have the Hindu faith might find it useful to repeat the mantra “Om Shanthi, Om Shanthi” which loosely translates as “may there be peace” (I am no expert in Hinduism). You may of course be able to find a word or sentence of your own that helps you to calm your mind.

It is important when repeating a mantra, to do this silently, otherwise, the person controlling the MRI scanner may get disturbed by you, thinking that you are trying to call him or her!

Telling a story

Another option could be to silently narrate a story to an imaginary audience. Make the story as elaborate and crazy as you like, as your imaginary audience is interested to hear whatever you say. I do some teaching in my job, so once I decided to teach my virtual students some complicated topic.


Some people simply do various types of counting. For example, one can slowly count to a hundred and then slowly count backwards.

Guided breathing

As you of course know, normally you breathe automatically without you even thinking about it. One great way to keep your mind busy is to let your mind actively guide your breathing.

To start with, being aware of your breathing will help to reduce anxiety, as you will feel reassured that you can breathe easily in the scanner.

There are various “parts” of breathing and these are, breathing in, breathing out, and pausing one’s breath in between. One thing some people find useful is to count during the various parts of breathing.

One version that people do is what is called “square breathing”, which is to count when breathing in, count while holding that breath, count while breathing out, and then count before taking the next breath. As one repeats this process, many find it calming. Depending on your preference, you can choose the number you count to in each part.

I usually just count slowly while breathing in, and then count slowly while breathing out.

You can of course invent counting patterns that suit you better.

For certain scans, the MRI staff may, to avoid movement interfering with getting good images, ask you to at times briefly stop breathing. You can add this to your guided breathing mix!

Sound curiosity

The sounds that the MRI scanner produces are very varied, being combinations of buzzing, knocking, silent periods etc. You may find that actively listening to these sounds and appreciating their variety will keep your mind occupied. Perhaps you can try, as a game, to give names to such sound patterns. 

“I trust you”

Sometimes I just keep repeating to myself how I trust various people involved with my scan. For example, I say to myself, “I trust the MRI staff to look after me” or “I trust all the clever people who have made the MRI machine scanner”.


Depending on how long your MRI scan is expected to take, you may find it useful to use more than one method during the scan. If one method isn’t working you can just switch to another till the scan is over.

It is important that you practice these methods before your MRI scan, including switching between different methods. Later on this website, you will find some practice videos that I have made, which will help you practice being still and keeping your mind occupied.

The methods given are just examples. Of course, you may discover your own methods that work for you.

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