Bridal Butterflies

Don't let big-day jitters spoil your fun

I'd been looking forward to my wedding day for months, but as it neared, I was scared stiff—and even more scared to admit it. This was supposed to be the most wonderful moment in my life, but it felt like the exact opposite. My husband-to-be and I had written our own vows, but at that point I was afraid I'd open my mouth and nothing would come out. Or that my voice would squeak. Or worst of all, that I'd burst into tears. And there I'd be, stranded in a glaring spotlight with the tears washing my eye makeup away and no idea what to do.

Well, nothing that extreme happened, but I'll never forget that awful case of nerves. And, according to other brides I've talked to, my experience was hardly an unusual one. Butterflies can happen to anyone. For me, the feeling was something akin to stage fright or performance anxiety, similar to the way I sometimes feel when speaking before a group—only worse. Okay, I could understand why performing artists, teachers, and public speakers would become that jittery, but at the time, I wondered if it was normal to get so worked up about my wedding.

I asked myself if I was scared of marriage, or if I was making a horrible mistake in marrying my fiancé. If you find that you're having these kinds of doubts, you can stop right now. Feeling rattled as your wedding approaches is not a sign that you're fainthearted or flaky. It usually is not a sign that you're marrying the wrong guy. It is a measure of just how deep your feelings are and shows that you're taking your wedding seriously. As with any kind of performance, being prepared is the key to feeling calm. Here are some ways to contain and channel your emotions so that when you walk down the aisle, you're composed and serene.

Don't be fooled by how cool and collected other brides seem. I had an image in my mind of all the beautiful brides I'd ever seen floating blissfully into the arms of their new husbands. Appearances can be deceiving, says psychologist David Carbonell, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in Chicago and Long Island. Marriage and the blending of two families is a complex venture, and you're more and more aware of that as the big day nears. So even if every other bride seems completely serene, "A brief glimpse at someone else's expression doesn't tell you a thing," Carbonell says. "You're not hooked up to their nerve endings."

  • Nip potential problems in the bud. Brides are often concerned that family problems will come to the forefront, so do yourself a favor and address these issues before your stress level starts to rise. "If there are any cracks in the family, this is when they'll get exposed," says wedding planner JoAnn Gregoli, head of Elegant Occasions in New York City. Yet with a little foresight, it's usually possible to keep divorced parents, alcoholic siblings, and unruly stepchildren away from the bride—even if it means, as it did at one wedding, hiring someone to sit with a troublesome relative and keep him distracted, Gregoli says. When you know you've dealt with trouble spots, you'll feel calmer and more in control.
  • Choose a planner and a photographer who feel "right" to you. Believe me, having competent people you like and trust around you will go a long way toward keeping you calm. Trust your instincts when you hire vendors: If the chemistry doesn't work, don't try to force it.
  • Try not to worry (too much). Okay, the pressure is on to be radiantly beautiful and perfect at the same time you're producing a large-scale event. How can you not be anxious? You wouldn't be human. That being the case, Carbonell suggests setting aside ten minutes twice a day for "worry periods" when you stand before a mirror and describe aloud any pesky detail that's bothering you. "When you move a worry from the back of your mind to the front, it tends to collapse," he says. "You might even end up laughing."
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate. For heaven's sake, don't try to do everything yourself—that's madness. Instead, assign everything you can, including responsibility for other people. If your house is filling up with relatives and you can't think straight, ask your parents or siblings to handle their care and feeding. To avoid being pushed around by the wedding schedule, set aside at least an hour a day to breathe and relax. And in the last few days, "No last-minute errands," says Gregoli. "No bridesmaids' gifts, no shopping for shoes."
  • Remind yourself that your wedding isn't a Broadway debut, which is something to be grateful for. You aren't putting on the show of shows; you're sharing a celebration with your loved ones. Of course, there will always be things you can't control. You might drop the ring. You might forget a guest's name. It's all right—nobody's judging you.
  • Impress everyone with how tranquil you are on your wedding morning. Spend the time with just a select few friends; having too many people around can be nerve-racking. Some brides like to start out the day with a massage. "It's your last hour of 'me,'" says Bonnie Wiseman, a masseuse who specializes in pre-wedding treatments. "A massage is like a last-minute vacation. Afterward, you'll start stressing again, but you'll do it with a little more perspective."
  • Remember, this is your day to be supremely happy! It's fine to put yourself first. "So many brides think of themselves as service providers who must make sure every guest has a good time," Carbonell says. "But they really just want to bring you gifts, drink a toast, offer their best wishes—all you have to do is let them."
  • Don't be afraid to cry (as I was). Tears are a sign of joy, and if a few trickle down your cheeks, that's okay. So your eye makeup runs. So your eyes get a bit red and puffy. So what? (Just be sure there are tissues on hand.) At one recent wedding, the bride cried so much as she said her vows that most of her guests ended up teary-eyed too. After that, everyone danced till dawn—all in all, the perfect wedding.
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