I had an anxiety attack right before my wedding: What it meant, what it didn’t, and how to cope

Guest post by Elli Thompson Purtell
My neck, my back, MY ANXIETY ATTACK possum tshirt from Etsy seller SaturnWaves

I did not enjoy wedding planning, for the most part. All of the modern wedding “necessities” seemed totally unnecessary to me. I cut corners wherever possible, saved money at every opportunity, and rarely found myself stressed because I just didn't care about the details. I was getting married to the man I loved, and nothing could ruin that.

About five days before our wedding, however, everything changed. I had a run-of-the-mill stomachache, and a friend said good-naturedly, “Maybe you have the pre-wedding jitters!”

That's when I slowly started to freak out.

Is a wedding anxiety attack the same as cold feet?

I've suffered from anxiety my whole life. When I was five, I was terrified of the the wind. At eight, I worried about the existence of God. At 10, I had my first panic attack and not a clue what was happening to me. I've had phases of compulsive disorder. I've struggled with sleep — worrying that I won't fall asleep, which causes me not to not fall asleep, which causes me to worry all over again the next night. My anxiety is a classic case of the self-fulfilling prophecy.

That's the thing with anxious people. We worry about worrying. We worry about why we are worrying. We convince ourselves that the most dreaded thing we can think of is happening, no matter what logic tells us. When it came to my pre-wedding freakout, I thought, What if this anxiety means I am having doubts? What if this is a bad sign? Normal people don't freak out before their wedding!

To make matters worse, my fiance was back in Chicago finishing out the work week, while I had headed to my parents' house early to get things in order before the big day. I felt like an old-fashioned bride, sequestered in my parents house, not able to see my betrothed until he lifted my veil the day of our wedding. Just the weekend before we were living our ordinary life together, and now suddenly everything seemed like such a strange and big deal. I suddenly wanted it all to be over with and to be on our honeymoon.

I wasn't anxious about standing up in front of everyone at the church. I wasn't anxious about being the center of attention, which is something I typically don't like. I wasn't anxious about getting married to my fiance. I was anxious simply because I was anxious. Simply because my brain is wired in a way that I can't always control.

I had an anxiety attack right before my wedding
A totally non-anxious Elli on her wedding day. (Photos by Claire O Design)

Does having a wedding anxiety attack mean your marriage is doomed?

In an attempt to stave off further anxiety, I decided to do what any good writer would do and research. I searched “I'm anxious before my wedding,” “How do get through the wedding when you're anxious,” “How to not be anxious for your wedding when you're an anxious person in general.” Similar to how googling an illness automatically tells you you have cancer, every search I made indicated that my marriage was doomed. “Pre-wedding jitters aren't a thing. They mean you aren't sure,” one article said. “If you aren't excited about your wedding, you're probably not excited about your marriage,” said another. My anxiety got more intense with every article. That awful little voice in my head was telling me They are right, even though I knew they weren't. Wasn't there someone out there who suffered from anxiety and could relate to what I was going through?

wedding anxiety issues on @offbeatbride

So I did the only thing left for me to do: I cried to my parents. I broke down. It felt amazing. Finally, I got relief from the build-up of all my nervous energy.

Then my dad, who has been a witness to my peculiar breed of anxiety for 29 years, said the most powerful thing: “This wedding is going to happen no matter what, so there's no use fighting it.” To normal people, that may seem like an extremely odd thing to say, but let me explain. Anxious people live with a perpetual monkey on their back. We feel responsible for, guilty about and a prisoner to our thoughts. By telling me that this feeling I had wasn't going to ruin anything, my dad had freed me from the burden.

That night, I called my fiance and told him about the last few anxious days. He wasn't even phased. (I would hope at that point he knew what he was getting himself into.) “It's a crazy week, isn't it?” he said. “I'll be there soon.”

Our wedding ended up being beautiful and wonderful and miraculously anxiety-free. But I'll tell you what was even better. Leaving it all behind to go on the honeymoon and then returning to our simple, normal, happy life.

To any of you who suffer from generalized anxiety and are feeling off right now, let me reassure you: Your anxiety isn't sending you any sort of hidden message. If you didn't want to get married, you would have been having nagging doubts for a while, not just this sudden burst in an otherwise great relationship. Let go of the burden and guilt. Know that you're not alone. And most importantly, know that your wedding is going to happen, no matter how much you worry about it.

Anyone else have a pre-wedding freakout? What happened, and how did YOU cope?

Comments on I had an anxiety attack right before my wedding: What it meant, what it didn’t, and how to cope

  1. I was actually engaged twice. My first engagement? The anxiety was a blessing. I knew from the start it wasn’t what I wanted and without anxiety to steer me immediately in the right direction, I might be married to the wrong person right now.

    The second engagement was also riddled with anxiety, but I was able to direct it productively. I made my engagement shorter rather than subjecting myself to over a year of stressing. I learned to be decisive, as my mother’s wishy-washy “helping” was the worst source of anxiety for me. And I did a lot of self-care, a LOT, saying no to stressful social affairs, saying yes to a few hours in the bathtub, eating right, sleeping as much as I could, and trying not to guilt myself when my work fell behind. The anxiety followed me until just as I walked down the aisle and knew we weren’t going to have a torrential downpour.

    Try to remember, the wedding isn’t the important part. The marriage is the important part, the best part, and so worth it. You’re about to embark on a life of adventure and happiness with your best friend!

  2. This article could not have come at a better time. I am getting married this weekend and have been very very anxious for about the last month. Very nervous about being stared at. I am so lucky to be marrying my best friend but also terrified! I just have to remember it’s going to happen, no matter if everything runs perfectly or not, by the end of Saturday I will be a married woman :).

    • Ahh, I was literally about to make this same post. My wedding is also this weekend and the anxiety has kicked into high gear over the last few days. I’m not nervous about getting married because I know 100% in my heart that he’s the right fellow for me. If this were a courthouse wedding, I’m sure there would be no anxiety at all.

      I’m nervous about the wedding, which basically amounts to a public performance on my part. I’m extremely socially anxious, and sometimes crippled by the fear of how others might judge me in a negative light. I’m not worried so much that things are going to go wrong as I am worried that people are going to judge me for even the most innocuous decisions, for the small guest list, for the lack of traditions. I try to keep telling myself that at the end of Sunday, I’ll be married to my favorite person ever but I’m struggling to keep the anxiety tamped down.

      • I understand! I literally told myself, “This week you are calm. This week you are fearless!” I have been trying to make this my mantra over our engagement lol. And actually I do feel better this week. Much better than the last month, I’ve been a wreck. Hang in there we will get there! Congrats on your upcoming nuptials 🙂 And on the day of tell yourself “”Today I am calm. Today I am fearless!”

        • Thanks, and congrats to you as well!

          My BFFIA (Best Friend in Anxiety) is texting me regularly that everything is going to be okay, a la Ann Perkins. It’s helping a lot.

  3. Not only do I have anxiety issues, most of my family do too! The thing I’m most anxious about is them being anxious at the wedding and not having a good time 🙁 I often wish we’d just eloped.

  4. As a person who deals with high anxiety, this article is a huge help. Sometimes it’s just nice to know there is someone who fully understands the worry about worrying thing. I have certainly made sure there is lots for guests to do so its not lots of attention on us, cutting the first dance as that just makes both of us anxious!
    However I tend to get ill when I get really anxious, so my current fear is throwing up in my dress..

  5. “I was anxious simply because I was anxious.” THIS. I can so relate to this 🙂

    Me and the hubster both have anxiety issues in varying degrees depending on circumstance, state of health, etc. It’s an embuggerance but we support each other by reminding the anxious one that their lizard brain is acting up and by just giving hugs, tea, space, as required.

    What a fab Dad – “This wedding is going to happen no matter what, so there’s no use fighting it.”

  6. Thank-you for writing this. 68 day count down to our day and I am starting to feel my anxiety creeping up. I really don’t care about all the little crap so I am hoping I will be good the day of as well.

  7. Thank you for this, it’s just good to know there are others out there feeling like this. I worked at a wedding venue for 5 years and the whole time I was imagining what our wedding would be like, looking at all the happy faces and different themes. When we got engaged I was so excited to start planning! We still have 15 weeks until our big day, but in the last few weeks I’ve been getting increasingly anxious. Not because I’m scared anything will go wrong or that I don’t really want to marry him. Mostly at being the center of attention, being hugged by people I barely know (a lot of his relatives live far away). When the invites went out I felt worse because I’m thinking what if they don’t like me as much as I like them, or if we invite him we have to invite her etc. Then, like you, the feelings of if I’m anxious does that mean I don’t want to get married. I had a bit of an anxiety attack last week, but I’m very lucky to have a man that understands anxiety too. He’s talked some sense into me (Doesn’t stop me from being anxious but I find it helps to put some logic to it) and he’s said if I’m not there on the day he knows it’s not because I don’t love him, and we’ll run away together. Of course I’ll be fine once I’m there and there’s no way I’m letting my man down, but it’s wonderful to know that I don’t have to have the wedding and he’ll support me through it. x

  8. I’m another person with anxiety a week or two ago I got incredibly anxious that my fiance doesn’t really love me as much as I love him. Then he got super busy and was a bit inaccessible, which confirmed that he doesn’t like me. Then I got anxious because why am I marrying someone who clearly hates me. It just kept spiraling like that until we actually got a chance to spend time together and my anxiety couldn’t keep up the farce in the face of reality. I just know I’ll be anxious before the wedding. I get anxious when I host a 10-15 person potluck and movie night, so a formal wedding with almost 100 people will be a huge anxiety trigger, especially in conjunction with a major life event. This actually gives me interesting things to think about in terms of whether my fiance and I just sleep in our normal bed the night before or if we get rooms elsewhere.

  9. As a person who has struggled with anxiety problems since I can remember… THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! I can relate to this on so many levels and I’ve done the whole looking up articles about that stuff and other wedding related things and would send myself into a depression over the horrific things said in those highly opinionated and narrow minded articles. Then I would spend a few days letting ridiculous ideas stew in my head then go to confront my fiance and all he would respond with was logic and a lot of love. Lesson learned (well still learning at times!), all those articles will get me no where and I just need to enjoy the moment I am in and just enjoy the fact I am marrying someone who genuinely loves me for me and I love him for who he is.

  10. I’m so glad you posted this. Very affirming for those of us who deal with anxiety and well as other mental health issues, in my case anxiety, panic attacks, depression, OCD. My anxiety tends to come out of the blue and smacks me upside the head really hard. I am so grateful my FW gets it and has learned the best way to deal with it is to just give me a hug or rub my back.

    My wedding is 31 days off. For the most part my anxiety has been related to the planning process. It’s a destination elopement, and we have never seen the destination. A pretty big leap of faith for someone with anxiety. We are getting our marriage licenses tomorrow, so we’ll see what effect that has on my anxiety level.

    I just have to add — you are one of the most beautiful brides I have ever seen, and I love your bouquet. Chinese lanterns are one of my fave flowers, and they remind me of my later grandmother who used to grow them for me in her garden.

    • WOW, thank you so much for your incredibly kind words, CS. It’s so uplifting to be able put out a piece like this and receive such supportive feedback. I’m glad you could find some comfort in my story. You’re definitely not alone! 🙂 Sometimes those of us with anxiety have to force ourselves to do things out of our comfort zone. I think your sight-unseen destination wedding will be an amazing experience. P.S. Aren’t Chinese lanterns the best? They’ve reminded me of fall since I was a little girl, so it was an obvious choice for me.

      • HI THERE I GET MARRIED IN 12 WEEKS AND BEEN VERY ANXIOUS FOR ABOUT 2 MONTHS SO NERVOUS AND DOUBTS ARE FLOODING MY MIND NOT SURE IF THIS IS MY ANXIETY/DEPRESSION SWAYING MY THOUGHTS?
        WE PLANNED WEDDING LAST YEAR AND EVERYTHING OKAY UP UNTIL THIS TWO MONTHS.
        AT WITS END NO LONGER INTERESTED IN WEDDING,PLANNING OR MY HEN PARTY WHAT DO I DO X

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