The Truth About Pre-Wedding Stress
Plus, expert-approved tips for dealing with it.
You don't have to be told twice that planning a wedding is stressful. There's a ton of pressure involved in making this one day as special as possible, and the fact that are many cooks in the kitchen-from helpful friends and wedding planners to eager in-laws-doesn't usually help. Unless the bride and groom are paying for the whole wedding themselves, parents, in-laws, and even grandparents might want a say in how things go. This can add even more pressure to an already stressful situation.
"The engagement period is a pivotal time in a couple's journey, but the emphasis is too often placed on the act of planning itself rather than on the significance of embarking on the next big step together," explains Ellie Cobb, Ph.D., a holistic psychologist based in New York City. But experts agree that the wedding-planning period shouldn't be so fraught with fears, worry, and stress. In fact, it's very possible to plan a wedding while managing stress and avoiding rifts in your relationship. You can (and should!) be able to enjoy the process, too.
In order to do that, though, you need to know why wedding-related stress and anxiety happens, and what to do about it when it strikes. The number one reason, according to Angela L. Thompson, Ph.D., a professor at Texas Christian University, is because brides and grooms have this idea of perfection that they're trying to live up to. Unfortunately, even a celebration that you've spent months planning isn't immune to the realities of life, which, in and of itself, is imperfect. "Your wedding will be beautiful and unique, but it probably won't be perfect," says Thompson. "You should consider your day a success because you're marrying the person of your dreams, not because the ceremony and reception were executed to perfection."
Most brides and grooms can't help but try to make their wedding days amazing, though. Because you're bound to worry over at least some of the details, the pros suggest figuring out what your strengths and weakness are early on. When you first start planning, Kathryn Moore, Ph.D., a psychologist at Providence Saint John's Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, suggests taking an honest look at what you want to accomplish. "Match those wedding goals to your personal strengths and weaknesses," she says. "If you're a foodie but know little about flowers or lighting, focus your attention on planning the menu and ask for help with the venue design."
That's another point the pros all stress: You need to be willing to ask for help in order to avoid unnecessary stress. "It's tough to plan a wedding in addition to doing all of the normal life stuff, like going to work and paying your bills," says Dr. Moore. "Early on, identify professionals and people in your personal life who are reliable and can take on some of the work." You might even be surprised with how excited your wedding party, family, and friends are to pitch in with everything from the ceremony to the reception.
But with help from loved ones comes many new opinions, and this additional input may start to drive you crazy. Don't take it personally when they suggest a band that's different than the one you initially wanted or when they give you honest feedback about the color palette you're considering. They're trying to make things easier, not harder. "There's a true glimmer underneath all the external pressure, and that is the fact that people care about you, your relationship, and your groom," says Dr. Cobb. "Try to spin the extra attention as a reflection of the love and care coming towards you and spot the positive, as this immediately triggers our brain to feel calmer."
No matter how much you try to avoid stressors, brides (and grooms!) often become so focused on the details that they forget the very important ways in which they should be caring for themselves. When things get tough, take some time for yourself. As Paulette Kouffman Sherman, a New York City-based psychotherapist and relationship expert, points out, self-care is always important, but should become an even higher priority during stressful times. "Things like exercise, meditation, massage, or taking a relaxing bath can help," she says.
One of the very best ways to deal with the stress of life is to have a good laugh. "When we get really stressed, we become embedded in a certain way of operating and seeing things. That perspective can seem dire or serious and can take over everything, but laughter allows us to lighten up and see things from new perspectives," says Dr. Sherman. "Spending time laughing and having fun can put the wedding details in perspective." In addition to finding time to laugh, our experts all agree that you need to prioritize spending quality time with your significant other-without that seating chart or floral samples around you. "Creating connection between the bride and groom sounds basic, but it often gets forgotten during the wedding planning process," says Dr. Cobb. "Scheduling non-wedding related activities and spending time together without any wedding talk signals that planning the big day has not replaced the relationship as the most important part of the bride's life."
If your budget and schedule allows, you may even consider getting away for a weekend. While it might be difficult to find free time, you two deserve to take a break. "Sometimes having a mini escape or a change of scenery can help a couple to feel refreshed and to gain some perspective," says Dr. Sherman. "Sometimes we think that pushing harder is the solution to achieving our goals when taking a break and disconnecting can allow us to return to our task more refreshed, passionate, and focused."
Your wedding is just one day of your life. Sure, it might be a day you've been dreaming about for as long as you can remember, but you shouldn't let it consume you. "Enjoy the day, but don't expect parents or other family members to reconcile their differences or act in a way that is uncharacteristic," says Julienne Derichs, a licensed clinical social worker in Chicago. "Hold onto what is important to you and you fiancé, and try to let go of everything else so you're not disappointed."
It's also wise to remember that those details you've been worrying so much about-like where to seat your arguing aunt and uncle, or whether or not you need to splurge on spendy flowers-won't always register on your guests' minds. "None of your wedding guests will know that you wanted white peonies but had to settle for hydrangeas instead," points out Dr. Moore. "Those changes can feel like a big deal in the moment, but they won't make you lose your vision for the day." Check in with yourself each day and really think about which elements are worth fretting over and which you can let go of. You'll be happier-and less stressed out-because of it.