Self-Care + Wedding Planning
by Traci Bank Cohen, Psy.D.
You're engaged. Congratulations! I hope you take a minute before proceeding to take a deep breath, and reflect on what this means. Yes, there will be a wedding. Yes, there will be some stress in planning the wedding. Yes, you get to wear that dress you posted on your secret Pinterest board 2+ years ago. And yes, you have found (hopefully) the love of your life – someone who will always have your back, support you, love you unconditionally, and be your partner through thick and thin.
Now that you've managed to wrap your head around the notion that this is a beautiful, exciting, and perhaps overwhelming life milestone, and can truly appreciate it, we will share with you a few ways to maintain this perspective even when your stress level is at an 11 on a scale of 1-10. While there are many strategies to keep your cool, we are going to focus on what we believe causes people the most distress throughout the wedding journey: maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself in the midst of the chaos. While coordinating, decorating, and choosing your caterer may all contribute, what is really challenging during this time, is when women in particular, attempt to make others happy, at the cost of their own happiness.
As psychologists, we often hear our clients say that self-care is a luxury, only something to do after everyone else in their lives have been taken care of; well, we are going to challenge this myth. Here are some ways to think about and practice self-care in service of maintaining the most important relationship in your life – the one you have with yourself:
1. LEARN, DEVELOP, AND BELIEVE IN THE POWER OF SELF-COMPASSION.
When we try to shame ourselves into perfection or equate negative self-talk with motivation, we actually shut down higher order functioning in our brain, which translates to rejection of new experiences or more adaptive ways of thinking (and are thus more likely to repeat the behavior that you were upset about in the first place). In the event that we do make a mistake throughout the wedding process, (because we will, because we're human), try saying to yourself, "Oops! I didn't think of [insert whatever]. Makes sense I made that decision in light of everything else going on. Wonder how I can try something different next time," instead of, "How could you?! What were you thinking?!" Cultivating this type of kind, compassionate inner dialogue will help to decrease stress, improve mood, and actually, enhance your ability to see things more clearly. For more information on self-compassion, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Kristin Neff's website: http://self-compassion.org. Her Ted Talk on self-compassion is also pretty amazing.
2. SPEAK TO YOURSELF LIKE YOU WOULD A FRIEND.
This rides on the coattails of point #1, but I think it is worthy of further explanation. Start paying attention to your thoughts – notice how you speak to yourself and how you subsequently feel. If it's not with a loving and understanding voice, ask yourself what would you say to a friend in the same situation. How might you comfort her? In my clinical experience what's also worth exploring is why it might even be difficult to be nice to yourself when you so easily do it with other people...
3. SCHEDULE IN "ME-TIME" WITHOUT THE GUILT.
We think we think we do a good job at this. Mani/pedis and brunch with friends count, right? Sort of. What we really mean here is carve out some protected time throughout the week where you get to really take care of yourself without having to justify it or multitask. People are like batteries and need to recharge in order to operate. Shut off the noise for an hour. It's not time wasted to "do nothing," it's energy gained. It's different for everyone, but whatever your "me-time" is, make it quality.
4. GROUND YOURSELF IN THE RIGHT NOW.
While in theory meditation is always available to you, it's not the easiest practice to maintain (we're not saying you shouldn't, just acknowledging the reality of our busy lives). One way to quickly bring yourself back from the future of worry-land or ruminating about the past, is to focus on what's right in front of you right now. Try this grounding technique: Name 5 things you see, 5 things you hear, and 5 things you feel (physically, like your back on the chair, hands in your lap). Then, try to name 4 different things you see, 4 different things you hear, and 4 different things you feel. Do this with 3 - 2 - 1. Remember, the purpose of this exercise is that if you are just labeling parts of your current environment, your mind doesn't have the freedom to wander - you get to stay in the present. Remind yourself that you don't have control of the future, no matter how much you plan or prepare, so simply enjoying the process will bring you a greater sense of calm than micromanaging every last detail. You get to be married for a lot longer than you will be engaged, so try and cherish this special time now with your partner.
5. ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR LIMITS.
EVERY wedding blog post will tell you this, so this is no exception, but hear us out. We're not going to tell you to ask your bridesmaids/friends/family for help with planning or execution of the actual day. What we're referring to is having the self-awareness to know when you're at your emotional capacity. We don't know you personally, but we do know this - there's probably a lot on your plate right now, and it's important to ask for support when you need it. Research shows that sustained levels of stress can negatively impact your psychological and physical health in the short- and long-run. Talking to a mental health professional is just one way you can begin to process and unpack all that you're dealing with. In therapy, you have the potential not only to have someone consistently provide unconditional support, it will also help you develop effective coping strategies.
6. HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS OF OTHERS.
This falls under self-care because when we expect our friends and/or family to act in a way that may be different from how they usually show up in our lives, we will likely be disappointed. If someone you care about tends to be self-centered or insensitive, despite the fact that you're getting married and they should put their own needs aside for once, they won't (we don't know for certain but we're pretty sure). People don't always rise to the occasion in the way we want or need them to and it can be heartbreaking to hope differently. This would be a good time to accept who they are for how they are, and to take care of yourself by asking only what you can expect from them. I think you'd be surprised by what people say or do ("so-and-so would NEVER do that - not for the wedding") but they will behave that way because they always have. Weddings are no exception. Focus on your loved ones who say to you, "What do you need? I'm here for you." This is also just a generally good life rule.
This is not an endorsement to lose weight for your wedding! Even if it's a quick 20-minute run, hike, or class-pass workout, try and get your body moving. There is an overwhelming body of evidence to support the mind-body benefits of exercise: decreased stress and anxiety; improved mood; increased immune system; higher self-esteem; better sleep; more energy; and clearer thought process. Enough said.
8. TAKE A STEP BACK.
It's so easy to get caught up in the details and nuances of everything that it may actually be just a way to distract yourself from dealing with potentially more difficult problems. For instance, isn't it easier to stress about gold versus rose gold flatware than it is to feel sad, anxious, or frustrated? Have you ever found yourself down an Internet rabbit hole three hours later, trying to find the best deal on hurricane glass votives, only to realize that what you're avoiding is feeling a certain way that may be uncomfortable or unpleasant? When you start to pay attention to your feelings, rather than run away from them, you are able to identify what it is that you're experiencing, process it, and then proceed. Taking a step back and seeing the forest for the trees will make this whole process more fun and enjoyable - because that's EXACTLY what planning your wedding should be.