Five years after my wedding, I can still see myself walking through the winery's garden toward my now husband, Michael, who was standing under a rose-covered arch. And I still get flushed when I think back to the wedding guest who told me after the ceremony that I had gently twisted right and left as I held Michael's hands to recite our vows. вЂњYou used to do that when you were little and you got nervous,вЂќ he said, giving me a kiss on the cheek before heading into cocktail hour.
I'm not the first confident woman to experience bridal nerves. вЂњPlanning a wedding can be one of the most stressful things you'll ever go through,вЂќ says psychologist Jennifer Alison, the best-selling author of How to Talk to Anyone. A bride or groom can face a landslide of feelings, from monumental joy to relief over the culmination of months of planning to anxiety about speaking in front of her guests, dancing in the spotlight, or posing for portraits. вЂњThe good news is, there are things you can do to get yourself prepared for your big day,вЂќ says Alison, and to coolly navigate all those wedding-day social situations you don't regularly encounter.
Say вЂњI DoвЂќ
Standing in front of a crowd and expressing your deepest feelings could rattle even the most experienced public speaker. To control that anxiety, repeatedly visualize yourself and your soon-to-be spouse standing at the altar, reciting your vows. вЂњThe more you envision the moment you are most nervous about, the less daunting it will be when the time actually comes,вЂќ says Alison. вЂњOnce you've let yourself feel those nerves, imagine that moment again, but this time feel calm and confident. See it going exactly the way you want it to.вЂќ
Another stage-fright-busting exercise is to use tunnel vision when saying вЂњtill death do us part.вЂќ вЂњTotally focus on your partner,вЂќ advises Brooklyn-based public-speaking coach Jezra Kaye. вЂњJust look him in the eye and speak directly to him.вЂќ
If you're really dreading it, know that you can opt-out of this tradition: some couples are now exchanging their vows in private and hosting a more intimate dinner party afterward. вЂњWe have this idea that there is a template we need to buy into,вЂќ says Laurie Helgoe, a psychologist based in Charleston, West Virginia, and the author of Introvert Power. вЂњMore and more, we see people taking creative approaches to their wedding ceremony. Your big day doesn't have to be a show that's choreographed by our culture; it should be choreographed by you.вЂќ
Raise a Glass
Whether at your shower, rehearsal dinner, or actual wedding, sooner or later you'll be asked to say a few words. Keep it short-three minutes is ideal, five minutes tops-express gratitude, and limit yourself to no more than one glass of вЂњliquid courage,вЂќ which can impair your coordination *you can always drink to a job well done after). Beverly Hills-based therapist Greta Angert, who treats patients with stress and anxiety disorders, suggests вЂњmaking eye contact with a friend or family member who makes you feel calm and supported and repeatedly looking back at that person.вЂќ
Also, rehearse your toast until you feel calm delivering it. вЂњPracticing is key,вЂќ says public-speaking coach Ruth Sherman, who works with everyone from celebrities to CEOs. вЂњIt mitigates stage fright.вЂќ But keep in mind that a little nervousness makes you more engaging. вЂњYou want a little of that adrenaline flowing through your veins, but if you haven't practiced, the adrenaline will throw you off.вЂќ
If all else fails, says Kaye, fake it till you make it: вЂњResearch shows that if you act confident, you will feel more confident.вЂќ
You may have your selfie вЂњsmizeвЂќ down-and that's key-but вЂњthe engagement session is the single best thing you can do to alleviate fears,вЂќ says Chicago-based wedding photographer Bryan Creely. вЂњIt gives you a chance to not only learn what poses work for you but also build trust with your photographer. This trust will pay dividends on your big day.вЂќ
Law Roach, America's Next Top Model judge and celebrity stylist for Zendaya and Ariana Grande, also recommends a bonding sesh, such as coffee or lunch, with your photographer, as well as posing for selfies with your squad so you can figure out your вЂњgood side" (yes, we all have one, says Roach). вЂњTaking a great photo isn't natural for all of us,вЂќ he says. вЂњYou have to practice in the mirror to find your best angles. Once you've mastered that, your confidence level will rise, and it becomes very easy to do it over and over again.вЂќ
And don't forget about your body: вЂњInstead of standing with both legs straight, which makes a column-like effect in your dress, bend one knee nearly across your other knee to put a curve in your figure,вЂќ says Maine wedding photographer Emilie Sommer. вЂњTo help create a more flattering jawline, with separation between your chin and neck, bring your whole face toward the camera, like a turtle.вЂќ
Then subtly turn away from the lens when shooting your close-up. Says Sommer, вЂњMy favorite images are often those when the bride is laughing or looking downward to the side a touch, so we can see those stunning lashes.вЂќ
Hit the Floor
It's easy to feel like a rock star when you're dancing around your house. However, in the spotlight at your reception, things get a little more challenging. The solution for any couple: dance lessons (consider a one-hour class for something simple, four to five sessions for something more complex). вЂњFor someone who is not an experienced dancer, you have to start with simple movement together, and then you can open it up to a couple of steps. Then you teach them a frame. Then you teach them to lead and follow,вЂќ says Dancing with the Stars' Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who also runs Dance with Me Studios, where the most popular lesson package is wedding-day choreography. Chmerkovskiy and his brother, Val, even helped choreograph Chelsea Clinton's first dance with husband Marc Mezvinsky. вЂњYou can put together a number fairly quickly and easily just based on some things that work: a little bit of a dip, a little bit of a turn, a little bit of a twirlвЂ¦ вЂќ
Another pro tip: don't feel obligated to dance to all four minutes and 29 seconds of John Legend's вЂњAll of Me.вЂќ вЂњIf you love a song but it lasts forever, cut it down to a minute and a half,вЂќ suggests DJ Gray, an NYC-based performer, and choreographer. вЂњWe do that all the time as dancers.вЂќ Or you and your husband could take the spotlight for just the first 30 seconds and then have the DJ invite everyone to the dance floor. вЂњYou don't necessarily have to do all the traditional things if it will make you miserable,вЂќ reminds Angert.
Mix and Mingle
While you might prefer to hang with your crew at your reception, you will need to spend face time with your fiancГ©'s family, your parents' friends, and the plus-ones at your wedding. If small talk isn't your thing, think of a few cordial lines ahead of time that work for any guest and don't be afraid to repeat them, advises Angert. вЂњSo happy to see you,вЂќ вЂњHope you're having a good time,вЂќ and вЂњHow do you like the food/music/venue?вЂќ all work. Then politely excuse yourself to the bar, bathroom, or Uncle Steve and Aunt Sally.
If you need to stretch the conversation further, ask people follow-up questions about themselves. Pick up a thread from their last question and turn it on them. For example, if they ask about your honeymoon plans, say, вЂњWe're so excited to go to Mexico. Where was your last vacation?вЂќ
And don't be intimidated about how many people you have to talk to; think of your wedding as tables of 10 versus a party of 200. вЂњYou can have interactions that are smaller, where you roam the room but talk to just a few people at a time,вЂќ says Helgoe. вЂњOnce you give yourself permission to do that, you'll immediately feel less pressure.вЂќ
And remember, вЂњYour guests are rooting for you; they are there to celebrate your love and the future you will share with your spouse,вЂќ says Alison. вЂњLet yourself be present, and enjoy every minute of your wedding so you can look back on that day with love and joy.вЂќ