You wake up in a sweat, thinking about all those envelopes you have to stuff. Your head starts pounding when your mother-in-law-to-be asks if she can invite three more guests. The news that the bridesmaid gowns still aren't ready — and this is the fourth time you've called — brings on tears. Are you losing your mind?
Of course not. But you may be suffering from bridal burnout — you know, the feeling that if you have to take care of just one more detail, or if yet another wrench is thrown into the plan, you're going to grab your groom and elope. "Though magical, getting married is a major stressor," confirms Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York City and author of Stress Management for Dummies (John Wylie).
In addition to coping with this significant life change, many brides work incredibly hard to plan the perfect wedding, so it's no wonder they might feel overwhelmed. Telltale signs of stress overload: moodiness; irritability; difficulty concentrating; sleep disturbances; loss of appetite and humor. Sound familiar? Read on—it's time to calm down and recharge.
1. Buy your fiancé flowers
Not only will you enjoy surprising your guy with a bright, beautiful bouquet (yes, men like flowers, too), but you'll also both benefit from their feel-good effects. "When people have flowers in their home, they report an increase of happy feelings," notes Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of the Human Emotion Lab at Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who has completed several studies on the ways in which blooms affect mood.
2. Dine with your family
Research from Syracuse University shows that routinely breaking bread with loved ones offers stability and comfort in times of stress and transition. So schedule regular Sunday dinner get-togethers. And, for added benefit…
3. Indulge in good-mood food
Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, tomato soup, chocolate, homemade cookies — you get the picture. For many people, these yummy "comfort foods" help recall happy childhood memories. However, if you don't want to compromise your healthy, fit-into-that-gown diet, here are some guilt-free alternatives from the American Dietetic Association (ADA): a scoop of low-fat ice cream sprinkled with granola; sherbet topped with fruit; baked tortilla chips and salsa.
4. Treat your feet
Try this simple tootsie soother from Lori Shubert, treatment manager at the Woodlands Spa at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa, in Farmington, Pennsylvania: Fill two basins with smooth stones (either from your backyard or from a local home store); add hot water and lavender oil to one, and cold water and eucalyptus oil to the other (you can find these essential oils at many bath and beauty stores).
Soak your feet in the hot water for five minutes and then switch to the cold water for one minute. Repeat four or five times. The combination of hot and cold water will leave you feeling relaxed and peaceful, but reenergized at the same time. Extra credit: Stand in the basins so that the stones stimulate the acupressure points in your feet.
5. Use the "record, release" technique
Never heard of this great stress-reducer? It's simple: Keep scrap paper and pencils everywhere—in the bathroom, in your pocketbook, in your car, or anywhere that ideas and to-dos ("Call caterer to change the dessert") tend to pop up, suggests Hurley. That way, you can immediately "record" those details you need to take care of later, and then "release" them and free your mind.
6. Play fetch with Fido
Spending time with a dog, cat, rabbit or other companion animal (borrow a friend's if you don't have your own) can be a real stress-reliever, finds a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine. The reason: Animals offer nonjudgmental companionship. They won't chime in with their opinions or burden you with their troubles, they'll just take your mind off your worries. Plus, they're just so darn cute and cuddly!
7. Immerse yourself in a new project
"Stressed-out brides need to get some distance from wedding planning," says Dr. Elkin, so dive into a creative endeavor that will change your focus for a while. Try scrapbooking, putting old, loose photos into albums or baking cookies — these activities are easy and low stress. (Note: Making wedding favors and stuffing invitations into envelopes don't count.)
8. Get moving
When you feel a meltdown coming on, lace up your sneakers and go out for a run or walk. "Exercise is a marvelous distraction," says Dr. Elkin. "It's hard to worry about wedding details when you're sweating away on the treadmill."
9. Loosen up — literally
Try this relaxation exercise from Feng Shui Master Carole Swann Meltzer, author of Feng Shui Chic: Change Your Life with Spirit and Style (Fireside): Lie on the floor with your feet flat and knees bent. Picture a ruby in your throat that starts traveling down your body. Imagine it circulating around your heart and heading to your belly, where it bounces around. Rock your hips up and down, chanting "oh" or "ohm." (You may feel silly, but who's going to hear you?) The payoff: This move draws a lot of air into your lungs, actually forcing your body to relax.
10. Lean on your fiancé
When you're feeling overwhelmed, turn to your guy for physical and emotional support. "If this is the man you're marrying, he should be willing to come to your aid," says Dr. Elkin. Ask him to take over some of the phone calls or decisions, organize a fun date night out to give you a break from the planning mania, or even just listen as you vent. Back rubs are good, too!
11. Perk up with peppermint
This fresh, appealing scent supposedly invigorates the mind and stimulates the senses. Try this simple pick-me-up from Office Spa, by Darrin Zeer (Chronicle Books): Brew a cup of hot peppermint herbal tea. Slowly lower your face over the beverage and close your eyes. Inhale deeply and enjoy the pleasant scent. Then drink it — doesn't it feel warm and soothing?
12. Guffaw — loudly!
A great big belly laugh is a super stress-reliever. If your fiancé isn't around to tickle you into hysterics, dozens of chuckles are readily available right at your fingertips. Check out comics.com, which offers more than 90 comic strips, including favorites like Heathcliff, For Better or For Worse and Luann, and theonion.com, which features hilarious fake news stories.
13. Bathe yourself in color
Next time you feel like a long, hot soak in the tub, add a few drops of natural food coloring to the water (it won't dye your skin). Red boosts energy, blue has a calming effect and orange stimulates happy feelings, says Margo Valentine Lazzara, author of Blissful Bathtimes (Storey Books).
14. Phone a friend
Your buddies are probably the most important buffers you have against stress, says Dr. Elkin. Why? "People with strong social support experience less stress and are better able to cope with the tension they do feel," he says. When you're having difficulty dealing, dial a pal for encouragement.
15. See a romantic comedy
Sometimes you just need to escape, and watching a cute love story is a terrific way to do it. You can get lost in someone else's "life" for a couple of hours, while forgetting your own troubles. Another plus: There's always a happy ending.
16. Spin your favorite CD
Whether your musical taste runs to Mozart or Mariah Carey, just hanging out on your couch, listening to tunes you like, can have a calming effect.
17. Get some fresh air
Head outdoors to the beach, a park or a nearby nature preserve with a book or your lunch, or just to people-watch from a bench. A dose of sun and air and the quiet beauty of nature are guaranteed to clear your mind and perk up your mood.
18. Plan a night out with friends
Even if you don’t have time to meet up with your pals this week, just thinking about what restaurant or club you’ll go to in the future and looking forward to having a good time can make you feel more relaxed, according to research from the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. So, get on the horn with your buddies and pencil your next outing in your date book (and do your best to keep it — there’s really no substitute for actually having a great time).
19. Take a virtual honeymoon
Sit somewhere comfortable and close your eyes. Now, “imagine yourself on an island in the Caribbean with your new husband at your side, sipping a piña colada while the waves wash up on the sand,” suggests Dr. Elkin. “If you can’t actually be in a place, visualization can be a relaxing substitute.”
20. Give something of yourself
In the quest for the perfect dress, flowers, food and favors, it’s easy to lose perspective on what’s truly important in life. So, step outside your own little world for a while. Carve out some time to volunteer at a hospital, homeless shelter, food kitchen or community house. You’ll be reminded of all the blessings in your life, feel good about what you’re doing and be helping someone, all at the same time.
21. Keep a journal
According to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who wrote about worrisome experiences for 20 minutes a day, for more than three days, felt less stressed. Why? “By jotting down your troubles, you begin to feel more in control of them,” explains Dr. Elkin.
22. Have a cuppa
“For a relaxing break at any time of day, or with your meals, enjoy a cup of freshly brewed tea,” advises Kathleen Zelman, R.D., the nutrition director at WebMD. “Tea is noncaloric, delicious and loaded with healthy antioxidants.”
We tend to hold our breath when we’re running around in a million different directions, says Meltzer. The antidote: Take an “intuitive moment.” Find a quiet place to sit with your eyes closed and simply let your mind rest as you breathe deeply through your nose. You’ll feel recharged after just a few seconds.
24. Catch some z's
When life gets chaotic, sleep is often one of the first things to suffer. Try to get your regular eight hours. If you find that you can't, try to take a short midday snooze, which can help combat information overload, according to a study from Harvard University. Even if you don't fall asleep, closing your eyes for a few moments of quiet can be just enough to make you feel more rested and refreshed.
25. Pucker up
Grab your fiancé for a smooch! "Kissing may strengthen the immune system and make us more resilient to stress simply because it makes us feel good," says James G. Pfaus, Ph.D., a professor at the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology at Concordia University, in Montréal. We're all for that!