When my now-husband and I got engaged in 2018, I was fully prepared for wedding planning to be stressful. But thanks to a long-ish engagement (we chose a May 2020 date right away), supportive family and friends, and a whole lot of teamwork, I spent the next year or so being pleasantly surprised at just how stress-free the experience had been. And then, just as we entered the home stretch of wedding planning, after every vendor had been booked and every payment had been made, came March 2020. One week, we were doing the final walk-through of our wedding venue, and the next we had officially postponed our wedding until April 2021.
At the time, the act of officially postponing was an immense relief. Yes, I was sad to postpone after being just so close, but I was happy to juggle one less anxiety at such a scary time. I would worry about the wedding in six months, I told myself, when COVID was long behind us. Six months later, I found myself saying the same thing. Just a few more months and it’ll all be over, I would say. I’ll think about the wedding once the new year rolls around. By February 2021, we were more confused and worried about going forward with the wedding than ever, but we moved forward anyway, adapting and changing things every week. We cut the guest list by 100-plus people, required masks, and encouraged people to get tested. I canceled extra gatherings like the rehearsal party and opted out of luxuries like pre-wedding manicures and pedicures as ways to cut down exposure to others.
It felt amazing to be married, and almost just as amazing to realize that all that stress was behind me. But I soon discovered the latter wasn’t entirely true.
We got vaccinated and put one foot in front of the other, despite feeling anxious throughout it all. The entire time I just kept telling myself, one day you won’t have to worry about this anymore. I was under such an immense amount of stress that I cried weekly and I started seeing a therapist. Still, at the end of the tunnel were two thoughts that kept me going: One day, we would be married. One day, I wouldn’t feel this sense of anxiety.
Our wedding day came and went, and though it wasn’t without its own stressors and mishaps and anxieties, like any wedding day, it was beautiful. It was exactly what we had wanted in so many ways, and the smaller guest list, though it hadn’t been our plan, made it even better in other ways. It felt amazing to be married, and almost just as amazing to realize that all that stress was behind me. But I soon discovered the latter wasn’t entirely true.
Once the post-wedding high had died down and the photos had come in, I found myself suddenly fixating on tiny details about the day. One night, I stayed awake for hours wondering why a friend hadn’t shared any photos from the wedding on social media. Did she hate it? Was she embarrassed to be there?
Another night I cried to my husband because I was convinced that my dress had been all wrong. The bra I wore had pinched my back in a way that I thought was unflattering. The neckline had made my shoulders look too broad. The silhouette emphasized my stomach. These thoughts would race through my head uncontrollably, one after another, and the worst part of all of them seemed to be the same reason I couldn’t stop thinking about them: I couldn’t change any of it.
I did what any good millennial would do: I Googled it. And right there was exactly the comfort I needed, thousands of posts from brides who had felt the exact same way after their wedding.
There was no more perfecting anything about the wedding because it was done. This was what I had wanted for so many months, and as thrilled as I was to finally be husband and wife, my anxiety was still making me miserable. I had been prepared for the wedding planning anxiety, and even for the post-wedding blues that so many brides talk about. But I wasn’t sad, I was anxious, and the fact that I hadn’t seen it coming made it even worse.
Up to this point, I had dealt with anxiety for most of my adult life, with the worst of it usually manifesting as health anxiety. As much as I wanted to, I simply wasn’t able to stop fixating on my worst fears. This bout of post-wedding anxiety felt the same—I recognized the negative thoughts and the fixation on small details as anxiety, but I couldn’t stop it. I also felt guilty, letting anxiety and regret consume my perception of a wedding that most people would dream of. The entire day had been a reminder of what I value most in life: my family, friends, and amazing partner. And yet there I was, crying about what type of bra I wore, or if people had fun. I read all those articles about wedding planning anxiety, and yet I had never read a single one about the anxiety that happens after the wedding. Still, I was convinced I couldn’t have been the only one feeling this way. So I did what any good millennial would do: I Googled it. And right there was exactly the comfort I needed: thousands of posts from brides who had felt the exact same way after their wedding.
According to Sage Grazer, licensed therapist and co-founder of Frame Therapy, anxiety after major life events is completely normal—and that includes weddings, of course. "Considering the amount of energy, emotional resources, and attention that many people put into their wedding (positive or negative), it’s normal to have a release after these extended periods of heightened stress, excitement, or nerves," Grazer explains. "Your brain is quite literally returning to a state of homeostasis, unwinding after a period of heightened excitement, stress, anticipation, and energy."
Psychotherapist Jennifer Tomko of Clarity Health Solutions in Jupiter, Florida agrees. "Weddings are pressure cookers, and it is difficult to remain calm, cool, and collected throughout the entire process," Tomko tells me. "It is rare for a [bride or groom] not to experience anxiety and panic attacks at all. If a [bride or groom] keeps it bottled up leading up to the big day, they’ll likely release everything after saying their 'I dos.'"
These days, most people know enough about weddings to know that planning them is not easy, but what happens after tends to be a bit more sugar-coated. After all, what could possibly be stressful about finally being married to the love of your life or going on a honeymoon, right? But both Grazer and Tomko say that post-wedding anxiety is 100 percent normal—and sometimes the most helpful way in dealing with it is to know you aren’t the only one.
"It can be helpful to hear others share a similar experience as you begin engaging in a conversation of your own," Grazer offers. "In our work as therapists, we hear, 'Am I the only one experiencing this?' quite often, and it’s helpful to know that the answer is usually no."
Another helpful strategy, according to Tamika Simpson, MPH, IBCLC, PMH-C, is to focus on what your wedding is truly about: a marriage. "There is so much focus on the wedding, but in my experience, not a lot of focus on the actual marriage,” says Simpson, who is the digital health coach at Ovia Health. "As they are coming down from the highs of the wedding, they are also settling into their new lives as a married couple. Now would be a great time to spend time together and really get to know each other as a married couple."
If you’re looking for specific ways to bond with your partner in the months and weeks after your wedding, psychologist Reena B. Patel suggests trying new hobbies or outdoor activities together. It’s also a good idea, Patel says, to remind yourself that this is an adjustment period for your partner, too. "Allow time to get into your new marriage groove. Even if you have known them for years, you need to work on redefining the relationship now that you are married."
For me, a combination of realizing I wasn’t the only one who had experienced these emotions, working with a therapist I trusted, and leaning on my partner for support were the three things that helped me come out of the depths of post-wedding anxiety and panic attacks. It’s now been four months since our wedding, and I can mostly look back on the day and smile, grateful for all that it was and all that it represented. I’d be lying if I said I still don’t have days where I fixate on how my body looks in photos, or wonder if I should have done something differently, but as I’ve learned in therapy, this is just how my anxiety works sometimes—and, more importantly, just because I have an anxious thought doesn’t mean it’s true.
If you’re struggling with post-wedding anxiety, Tomko and Grazer suggest things like journaling, therapy, communicating with your partner, and meditation as ways to calm your brain and feel more relaxed when reflecting on your wedding. But if all else fails, as Tomko says, remind yourself that your anxiety "is only part of you, not all of you."
This is another realization that has made the biggest difference in the months after my wedding. No matter how worried or panicked I might feel about any single detail, I remind myself again and again, as many times as I need to, that anxiety doesn’t define me—and it doesn’t define my wedding day, either.