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 read your article with tears in my eyes; happy tears. Because I’m not the only one suffering through the anxiety before my wedding.

    To give you a (very small) glimpse into my wedding planning, it started in January and things started getting intense around July. With my bachelorette party and my brand new high-stress job – I simply couldn’t handle it. I spent my bachelorette party in the ER with my first panic attack in my life (which was terrifying). I hyperventilated to the point that my entire body, including my face, went numb and I couldn’t move my mouth to speak. All my girls dressed in heels and little black dresses, at the ER, before I even had a sip to drink…

    It just went downhill from there…I was diagnosed with GERD (because of my anxiety) and had stomach aches every day for the next month which forced me to quit my new job.

    Now with one month until my wedding date, I’m terrified. Mostly of the attention from everyone as I walk down the aisle.

    But finding your article gave me so much comfort to know I’m not the only one that’s done this. And if you can do it, it gives me hope I can too. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!

  2. Ugh, all of this. I have generalized anxiety disorder and just got engaged this week! And while I am explosively happy, I do not handle excitement well. (When I was a kid, there were three years in a row that I puked on Christmas because I was so excited, LOL.) I’ve had constant nausea since he asked and headaches, simply because I’m so, so excited. My poor fiance has asked me if I have second thoughts and I have to impress upon him that placing any kind of meaning on my anxiety symptoms doesn’t help anyone.

  3. Thanks is all I can say….!
    It just felt as if someone has written my story out there.

    Thanks again 🙂

  4. This piece is amazing and it inspired me to write down my own anxiety story (3000 words in one go!) and then publish it here, because it just feels so good to see that there are others out there just like me.
    Thank you for being inspiring 🙂

  5. I was so glad (still trying to work on relieved) I found this article. I haven’t been diagnosed with anxiety, but considering the knots in the stomach I get after just scheduling an interview or Drs appointment tells me something is up. Our wedding is three months away, I was anxious the next few days after he proposed and then was fine for a while. It just kicked up again yesterday. The day before I was perfectly fine and now I’m nauseous and not eating (don’t have to worry anymore about not fitting in the dress). He’s also a busy guy right now, so it’s hard to get the reassurance I need that everything will be okay. I’m definitely the worrier in the relationship! I’m pretty sure I just need to think less.

  6. Thank you for this…as himself says iam a stress head. We are about year out from our day and ive already had a small attack thank goodness he was here! Thank you so much for the advice from you and everyone who has posted here.

  7. Thanks for this post. Came right on time. I thought i was the only one not excited about my wedding that will take place in 5 months. I have been so sad without any reason. I was even considering moving it till next year or next 2 years.

  8. oh gosh. let me tell you. our lives got turned upside down immediately after our engagement. i was hospitalized for my depression/anxiety and just finished a month of intensive outpatient therapy. my fiancé lost his job and is filing for disability for his debilitating ADHD. because he lost his job and his insurance, he’s off his meds which make his emotional regulation next to 0%. all this while i have to take a hunk of cash to a wedding venue in a couple days. i’m trying so hard to keep in mind the reasons i said yes when he proposed, but every moment i look at the questions i have my gut screams at me not to do it, not to get married. i know that’s not what i want, but when everything is crashing down around you, it’s hard to be excited about making a commitment to forever.

  9. I have been engaged for 16 months and recently booked our wedding in Cyprus next year. I have had anxiety since booking it really, although suffered for 13 years with it.
    My anxiety started when I realised how much people were actually paying to come to our abroad wedding. (£1000-£6000)
    I am not great at flying and I am panicking about all these guests seeing me flip out at the airport. I usually get an upset stomach so I get embarrassed and don’t want people knowing.
    The actual wedding itself im not bothered about in the slightest. although the first question I asked the wedding co-ordinator was how long is the ceremony.. lol..
    My bridesmaids want to go dress shopping and I just haven’t got the energy to do this, I get a feel of dread as soon as I think about it. I have already been with my mum and found the perfect dress but my friends want to come with and see it aswell.
    I am not due to get married until 5pm, I am stressing over how am I going to control my anxiety all day without getting drunk lol.
    I cannot pinpoint my anxiety to anything in particular, which is frustrating me even more.
    I know that it will be an amazing holiday with all our close friends and family and the day itself will be perfect. I just cannot cope feeling like this everyday for the next 11 months.
    It was my birthday yesterday and I struggled to go out for lunch with my friends so much. I seriously had flight or fight. after three Imodium and a beta blocker I managed to stick it out.
    I have been off my medication for 11 months but I am now seriously thinking going back on them, just to see me through the next year.
    It sounds so silly when you put it on paper but its such a horrible thing to suffer with as I always seem so happy and laid back, yet inside im screaming.

  10. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am struggling so badly with my anxiety because of our wedding planning and this article helped me to know that I’m not alone!

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