Weddings are emotional, high-stress situations for just about everyone. From societal pressure to family drama (not to mention all that money talk), it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And if you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, are getting stressed or nervous from the pressure, or are worried the whole experience may be a little more than you were expecting, your excitement about getting married may be served with a side of apprehension. The good news is, with some advanced planning and some help from the pros, there are ways to make your wedding day a little more manageable.
The best way to handle the mentally trying aspects of your wedding day is taking measured steps to prepare yourself and address any concerns in advance. Dr. Ben Michaelis, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and author, and is also the creator of One Minute Diagnosis, a YouTube channel devoted to providing accurate information and explaining some of the most common mental health issues affecting Americans. Take a peek at his clip about Generalized Anxiety Disorder, then read on for his insight into planning a wedding when you’re dealing with diagnosed or undiagnosed anxiety.
How should brides and grooms approach wedding-related anxiety?
“One of the first things any bride or groom should do, whether they have diagnosed or undiagnosed anxiety, is take a moment to normalize the experience,” says Dr. Michaelis. “Getting married has been inflated in all of our minds, especially for women, because of both the history of marriage and the fairy tale we’ve all grown up with.” Historically speaking, getting married was the pinnacle of a woman’s life, and her identity was defined by her mate. It’s certainly not the case today, but it persists in stories of Prince Charming and kissing frogs—and that subconscious message can put extra weight and pressure on what’s already an important moment in your life.
And all of that is before you even start planning. “Planning a wedding can become a battle for dominance between two tribes,” says Dr. Michaelis. “When you combine that fairy-tale notion with the very real pressures of finances and families—and then put people from all of the different chapters of your life in a single room—it’s a recipe for anxiety. It’s important to remember that what really matters is the marriage. I’ve seen patients who have had disastrous weddings, but have fabulous marriages—and the opposite.” Instead of focusing on the details needed for a perfect wedding day, put that energy toward setting yourselves up for a fantastic marriage. “And know that you aren’t the only one who is experiencing this," he says. "Every couple will deal with the anxieties of planning a marriage in one way or another, so remember that you are not alone.”
How can a bride or groom with an anxiety diagnosis prepare for her wedding in advance?
“The best way to address any wedding-related anxiety, as well as prepare for your wedding day, is to meet with a trusted professional, whether it’s a therapist, a member of the clergy, or other source,” says Dr. Michaelis. “It’s incredibly useful to have a safe place to address your emotions that is separate from your everyday life. A close friend can be wonderful, but if you’re expressing any feelings of doubt or concern, those will follow you because your friendship will continue into the future.” It’s a great resource to have, no matter the situation, and a therapist can help you develop strategies that will help you on your wedding day. “I also encourage my clients to attend premarital counseling together,” Dr. Michaelis adds. “So many life issues come up around a wedding, and learning how to handle them with your partner is a good idea for your wedding day and your marriage.
What should a bride or groom do if they are dealing with anxiety on the day of the wedding?
“There is no one size fits all answer, but there are a few ‘best practices’ that can be a good starting point,” says Dr. Michaelis. “Before your wedding day arrives, take some time to think about your needs and identify coping strategies that work for you. That could be taking 10 minutes to yourself in a quiet space, arranging for a calming cup of tea, or cranking the music for a stress-relieving dance party.” One thing he recommends for everyone, whether you have an anxiety diagnosis or not, is cardiovascular exercise: “It could be running, cycling, swimming...anything that gets your heart rate going. This will have a hugely positive impact on your outlook.”
Worried about your timeline? Mindfully engage with what you have scheduled, and take a cue from social psychology. “Acknowledge when you will have to be ‘on’ during the day, and when you can be ‘off,’” says Dr. Michaelis. “Ask yourself if you can handle being ‘on’ for three hours, or if you’ll need a break after two. Schedule in times when you can be ‘off’ to regroup and rest.”
His most important tip? “Don’t forget to eat!” he says. “Anxiety and stressful situations are so much worse when you’re hungry. Take a break to be ‘off,’ and make sure to fuel your body with foods that are both comforting and nourishing, that will give you strength and energy for the day.”
Who needs to know about a bride or groom’s anxiety?
It’s important that you have one or two key, safe people you can turn to for support throughout the day, whether it’s your maid of honor or best man, your wedding planner, or a sibling. “Make sure you have a point person who you have empowered to help you. There should be one person you turn to if you need something, to make sure you’re getting enough to eat, and to help find you a quiet space if you need it,” Dr. Michaelis explains. But don’t feel pressured to share the specifics of your diagnosis if you’re not comfortable. “It’s as easy as saying ‘I tend to get overwhelmed or nervous in crowds,’ or whatever the situation might be,” he describes. “Feel free to phrase it in a way that conveys your concerns—and your needs—even if it’s less clinical.”
What can that designated support person do to help make the day go smoothly?
“Whether it’s someone’s wedding day or any other situation, the best thing to do is observe and act,” says Dr. Michaelis. “Don’t ask if they need anything or what you can do to help—that just creates another problem for [them] to solve.” If you see the bride or groom taking control and doing well, step back and let them lead. But if you see that they are having a hard time, use your judgement to figure out what they might need from you, then provide it. “The same applies for someone who has an illness in the family, for example,” says Dr. Michaelis. “Dropping off dinner or going over to help clean the house is much more supportive than saying ‘What can I do?’”
What else should brides and grooms keep in mind?
“Don’t forget your partner,” says Dr. Michaelis. “That’s what they are there for, and that is why you are getting married.” A wedding is a unique, special, and often overwhelming experience, and it’s an important time to really rely on each other to come out stronger on the other side.
“I also really recommend staying away from the alcohol until the key moments are over. Drinking can compromise your judgement, which can magnify a situation into something much bigger than it may actually be,” Dr. Michaelis advises. So save that celebratory glass of champagne for after you’ve walked down the aisle, taken family photos, and cut the cake. Once you’re off the hook, you can really relax and celebrate.