Stress affects us not only when something bad is going on. It can give us headaches, tense our muscles and disrupt our sleep before a happy occasion, too.
“We don’t often think about stress before good events, but it’s frequently present,” says UNC Health psychiatrist Nadia Charguia, MD. “It can sneak up on us and can be just as taxing as bad stress.”
Dr. Charguia has eight tips for handling stress before a big, happy event:
1. Recognize the feelings.
Awareness is the key to managing feelings of stress before a big event that you’re looking forward to, she says.
“Call it out for what it is,” she says. “When you recognize what it is, that it’s stress, then you can use many of the same tools you use for other stressful times. Remind yourself that you can tackle this.”
2. Ground yourself in the joy of the moment.
Big events, such as weddings, graduations, family reunions and vacations, are usually cause for joy. We can get so stressed out about the details, however, that we forget the reason for the occasion, Dr. Charguia says.
“A wedding is such a perfect example,” she says. “Really, it’s not about the color of the ribbons used to tie back the covers on the chairs. It’s about starting a life together and sharing that love and joy with those who matter most.”
Remind yourself what is really important and allow yourself the opportunity to relax and enjoy the event, she says.
3. Have realistic expectations.
You may be setting yourself up for disappointment if you want to do more than is reasonable or possible. No event is perfect, especially if you overextend yourself.
“Ask yourself what are the ‘needs’ and ‘musts’ on the to-do list and what are the other aspects that may be less deserving of one’s time and energy,” Dr. Charguia says. “And most important, ask what brings you joy and meaning.”
The mother of a bride, for example, might decide to embroider flowers around the hem of her daughter’s wedding veil because she enjoys needlework and wants to create a family heirloom. But if she doesn’t have enough time to finish the project, she might choose instead to be content to go with a standard veil, perhaps creating an heirloom down the road when time is more available.
4. Be ready with a plan B.
Some things you can control, and some things you can’t. In any case, you can make a plan.
“What if it rains on my neighborhood block party?” Dr. Charguia says. “What if my child’s team doesn’t make the playoffs? All the ‘what-ifs’ hold stress.”
Make a list of things you can do, she says. For the outdoor party, perhaps it’s within reason to set up a tent over the food. If the team’s season ends early, have a fun alternative outing in mind as a backup.
5. Learn to delegate.
Rarely do all the details for a big event fall on one person. If you’re in charge, make a list of items that need to be done, then ask people to be responsible for some of them. Who can pick up the balloons and the cake for the party or pick up guests from the airport?
“Let others share the joy of preparing for an event,” Dr. Charguia says. “It feels good to contribute and know you are helping.”
And while you’re at it, ask for help in cleaning up after the event, if that’s needed.
If you are not the person in charge, be mindful of ways you can lend a hand. Perhaps you can offer to mow the lawn before a backyard reception or prepare and serve the meal.
“Suggest ways you could help instead of just asking what you can do,” she says. “The other person may be feeling overwhelmed and would appreciate your ideas.”
6. Communicate how you’re feeling.
You are not the first person to get married, or to graduate, or to get a new job. Other people have been through these experiences. Ask them how they handled the stress surrounding their event.
“This kind of stress is very relatable,” Dr. Charguia says. “Recognize that you are not alone.”
But don’t make the mistake of thinking everyone reacts to stress the same way. If the person you’re about to marry is cool and calm before the ceremony, for example, and you’re fluttering around nervously, don’t assume your spouse-to-be cares less about the wedding than you do.
“How we perceive others may not be an accurate representation of how they actually feel. Such assumptions can be distracting and cause more stress than the reality would,” she says. “Everyone’s stress is different and looks different.”
7. Practice self-care.
“Maintaining healthy choices will help you restore and sustain your energy, allowing you to fully immerse and enjoy yourself,” Dr. Charguia says. “During festive times, there can be a tendency to increase our alcohol intake and stray from our typical dietary habits and daily routines, which can be additionally taxing on our physical and emotional health, which adds to rather than detracts from stress. Intentionally carve out more time for rest and self-care so you can not only go the distance, but enjoy the distance.”
8. Keep the event in perspective.
“If you’ve poured all of yourself into something, when it’s over, you can feel deflated or depressed,” Dr. Charguia says.
To avoid a letdown, strive to make memories along the way and savor them when the event is over.
“Gratitude and mindfulness techniques can help us stay grounded in what was the reality of that experience,” she says. “They can help us embrace the joy of ‘what was’ rather than focusing on the imagined ‘what was supposed to be,’ which can instead result in feelings of loss rather than happiness or satisfaction.”
If you’re having trouble handling the stress of a big event or dealing with depression when the event is over, consider seeking help from a counselor or doctor. Need a doctor? Find one near you.