It's the day of your bridal shower and you wake up in a festive mood, excited to see all your friends assembled in one room for a single purpose—to give you gifts! As you primp before the mirror, you notice your hands are shaking. Shrugging it off as an adrenaline overload, you continue getting ready, pausing only to rehearse your heartfelt, thanks-for-coming smile.
By the time you arrive at the party, however, you find that your heart is racing, your palms glistening with sweat. You're baffled: "This is supposed to be my moment," you tell yourself. "Why am I so tense?"
And then it hits you like a ton of toaster ovens: You have stage fright! And if you have the jitters now, how on earth will you make it through the actual wedding?
The Spotlight's on You
The good news is that it's perfectly natural for a bride to be nervous on her wedding day, says Linda Barbanel, C.S.W., a New York City psychotherapist and author of Sex, Money & Power (Macmillan Spectrum, 1996). "Even if you're not typically high strung or jittery and you're 100 percent sure he's the one, getting married is extremely complex," she says. "You're marching down the aisle away from your childhood. It's a pretty heavy concept."
Add to that the fact that all eyes are typically on the bride and it's no wonder that even the most confident, laid-back women find themselves anxious about stepping into the spotlight. Take Melissa Popkin, a litigator from Edgewater, New Jersey, who had nightmares for three months leading up to her wedding. "It would be time to walk down the aisle and my hair and makeup weren't done," she recalls. "Or I couldn't find my dress. The idea of being the center of attention was so overwhelming, I became consumed with the notion that something would go wrong."
The fear of catastrophe—the band leader will quit, the flowers will wilt—is common among brides-to-be. One way to combat it, says Barbanel, is to begin projecting authority from the moment you get engaged. "The more involved you are in the wedding planning, the more in control you'll feel," she explains. "If you take an active role from the start—making decisions about the menu, music, and invitations—by the time you walk down the aisle, you'll have so much experience behind you that you'll feel prepared for anything." (As a backup, designate a troubleshooter—a sister, brother, or close friend with a calm disposition—who can intercept and deal with any problems that arise on the wedding day.)
Another good long-range plan is to start an exercise program to zap stress during the planning process. Yoga is also effective: It can help you learn to center yourself through deep breathing exercises. "You have to practice de-stressing techniques when you're not anxious so that you can apply them when you are," advises yoga instructor Rachel Schaeffer, author of Yoga For Your Spiritual Muscles (Quest Books, 1998). Her book includes programs designed for confidence, peace, energy, and connectedness—with your mate, that is!
In Melissa's case, a relaxed start to her big day cemented a sense of aplomb that stayed with her throughout the event. She woke early and went for a long run to clear her head. Then she took a bubble bath by candlelight, using the time alone to mellow out and think positive thoughts. "I pictured myself dealing gracefully with every possible crisis," she says. "After that, I felt peaceful."