The Truth About Wedding Anxiety

wedding anxiety

Words by Marie-Claire Chappet

In the tulle-clad, bubblegum fantasy land of wedding planning I was engrossed in for a year, not one person said to me: you may feel absolutely horrific

The night before my wedding, I cried myself to sleep. I’m fairly certain that is not what you are meant to do the night before your wedding. But what one is ‘meant’ to do for a wedding was undoubtedly part of the problem. The meant toshould domust have imperatives around this one day were suffocating me. When I got engaged, my wedding felt like a fantasy date; a far-off day when I would be blissfully happy. But now it was real. It was no longer a dreamscape but an all-encompassing second (unpaid) job, weighed down with layers of brutal expectations, and accompanied by an unprecedented degree of anxiety.

The night before my wedding I was convulsed by it. I was convinced that everyone who had come to the rehearsal dinner had hated it, and that they would hate the wedding, and, naturally, by extension, me. Of course, why hadn’t I realised it before? Everybody hates me. More tears. Then, the secondary realisation that I was crying on… yes, it’s midnight… my wedding day. I had already ruined it. It was ruined. What was meant to be the greatest day of my life was already a brutal, crushing disappointment. Later that day, after approximately three hours of sleep, the first bridesmaid arrived. ‘How are you feeling?’ She asked. I burst into tears.

The truth is, my wedding day actually was one of the best days of my life. But many moments in the five months leading up to it, made up some of my worst. I had never felt so on edge. I cried randomly and often. I felt paranoid and insecure. And I want to talk about it. Because in the tulle-drenched, bubblegum fantasy land of wedding planning that I was engrossed in for a year, not one person said to me: you may feel absolutely horrific. Sure, I heard plenty of ‘wedding planning is stressful’ but what I was not prepared for was how terrible I felt about myself. As someone who had not suffered from anxiety for many years, it suddenly, pitilessly, came flooding back to me. With interest.

wedding anxiety

So, what is it about a wedding day that takes a battering ram to your self-confidence? Or, at least, mine? The truth is, a wedding day is utterly unique in our modern conception of a person’s milestones. No other day of your life is built up as much as this sacred cow. Everything you ingest, from films to TV shows to books is screaming at you that this is a hallowed moment, hopefully never to be repeated, and the pressure that builds for this one day to be perfect is crushing. It colours everything a particular shade of stress and panic, and this is especially felt by – though not at all limited to – women, often set up to be the centrepiece of the event.

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“Oh, I see this all the time with couples and disproportionately brides,” says Tom Couch, a luxury wedding planner and founder of Thomas Couch & Co. “They feel this pressure to look the best they have ever looked and also to have the ‘Best Day Ever’. But you’re just setting yourself up to fail. When you think about it; when are your best nights out? They’re usually the most impromptu, the least organised. So, I’m not saying you shouldn’t organise your wedding but you should stop thinking that it must be the best day and that you can somehow control that. You have to leave some things to the gods.”

What is it about a wedding day that takes a battering ram to your self-confidence?

“My clients get really overwhelmed by the pressure for the wedding to look good – not only for guests but for Instagram,” says Couch. The audience for your nuptials is, therefore, not just the hundred or so people you invited but potentially hundreds or thousands more online strangers. “What I see a lot is that weddings have increasingly become an extension of your identity,” he adds. “But this is often not who you really are, rather who you would like to be seen as. It’s a marker of you as your imagined best self.” But if your wedding is an extension of you – or your idealised self – it is therefore wrought with the potential for some serious anxieties over your identity. Who are you and who do you want to be seen as, and why are these different, if they are? The assumed success or failure of your wedding can therefore be seen as a treatise on your own sense of self.

“People feel really judged on their wedding day,” the relationship counsellor Simone Bose tells me. “So, it’s natural for it to bring up existing anxieties or even unearth buried ones. Perhaps you are already quite an anxious person; or you worry about what people think about you; or, if you have somewhere a part of you that says you’re a failure, or that you are not cool, or even a small part of you that doesn’t feel very liked by your friends; these things can emerge in the wedding planning.”

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What Bose said hit a huge nerve. Because when I was crying the night before my wedding, it wasn’t about napkins or centrepieces, it was about being liked. What will people think of me tomorrow? It was something that had dogged me for the months leading up to my wedding, an odd and unfamiliar paranoia that everyone – despite the fact they were flying across the world for my wedding – secretly hated me. That I wasn’t good enough. “People often feel a sort of imposter syndrome around weddings,” says Bose, placating some of my fears. “They are suddenly getting a lot of attention and feel they don’t deserve it.”

Whatever I did to try and rationalise away these feelings didn’t work. I couldn’t rally any smiles or quips or my typical wry commentary in the run up to my own big day. It was as though wedding planning had taken me so far away from myself that all of my usual coping mechanisms were blunted. In fact, it had taken me all the way back to someone I hadn’t thought about in a long time – insecure teenage me. It was as though she was getting married, not 34-year-old normally quite confident me, and the 14-year-old who had taken control of my brain assumed all the cool kids would laugh at her.

If your wedding is an extension of you, it can therefore be seen as a treatise on your sense of self

“Ask yourself why you are so worried,” says Bose. “Often interrogating a fear will make it fall apart, because you’ll realise its unfounded. So, if you are worried about your guests having a good time, remind yourself who these people really are. It’s easy for them to become just a faceless audience who are going to come and judge your wedding. But they are actually your friends and family who love you.”

Bose also suggests involving your loved ones in the planning, or making them privy to parts of the day. “You can tell them you are feeling anxious about certain things so that you humanise them and vice versa. You are not just ‘the bride’ and they are not just ‘guests’,” she says. “If you are worried about your day not being as ‘Instagram-perfect’ as you would like, manage their expectations; tell them it is low-key or relaxed so you don’t feel this mounting pressure.”

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Both Bose and Couch also recommend repeatedly taking the sting out of your day by reminding yourself that the point of your wedding day is actually to profess your love for your husband or wife. “I say this all the time to my clients,” says Couch. “Whenever you’re stressed, just strip it all back to what the day is really about.” And when the noises of social media, family, and your own unearthed insecurities get too much, both tell me to remember that your wedding day might not actually be the Best Day Ever. But that’s OK, it doesn’t have to be. After all, how sad would it be if nothing in the rest of your life – or marriage – was ever as good?

When I look back at the girl crying in bed on the eve of her wedding, I want to tell her that the left side of the marquee did not, after all, open and that no one cared (because why would they?); that we didn’t run out of wine; that her mother’s speech was not embarrassing but beautiful; that people had a lot of fun; that nobody hated her and that she deserved her wonderful wedding. And I really want to tell the 14-year-old who took over her brain for the months beforehand to shut the hell up and to give her a break.

But mostly, I hope that any bride-to-be reading this, who feels this way, feels less alone. Weddings are a swirling vortex of complicated emotions and we should be more open about that. Brides in particular can get sucked into the middle of it and feel their sense of identity is forfeit. But if I was to do it all again, I would try and not get sucked in. I would try and remind myself that my wedding day is not a statement about me, or the grand finale of my life. It is, in fact, the beautiful beginning of my married life with my husband. What I have learnt is that if you step away from the noise, you’ll have a great time. And if you don’t? Thankfully, there are many other ‘Best Days Ever’ still to come.

This article originally appeared in harpersbazaar.com/uk