Dear Is This Normal,
The front of my fridge is starting to fill up with save the dates and invitations—wedding season is here. Most of the weddings will be held outdoors, but I'm feeling anxious about attending as COVID-19 restrictions ease up. Is this normal to feel anxious about attending a wedding? I used to feel excited to hang with friends and family, eat a good meal, and let loose on the dance floor. Now, honestly, I'm wondering if I should just RSVP "No."
It's the sweet summertime and people are out and about, socializing mask-free (for the most part) and lining up for long-lost hugs. Weddings are bringing people together to celebrate, and chances are you haven't seen a lot of those friends and family over the last year and a half. Everything should feel back to normal, right? Not quite.
Jitters, the anxiety you're feeling about attending a wedding is completely normal. Before you mail back that RSVP card with your response, let's talk through your anxiety.
It seems like your anxiety is more than just about "Do I want chicken or steak?" This is a deeper and very real issue you're wrestling with today. Everyone has their own personal comfort level with socializing right now. We're not totally sure of who is vaccinated or not around us, and we've all been practicing social distancing for so long that it feels surreal to jump back in close with crowds of people.
Siobhan Matias, LCSW, LCADC, and mental health therapist, shared some insight on navigating this new season: "With COVID-19 restrictions lifting, things can definitely seem to be getting more difficult, especially when the world is opening back up and our anxiety is ever-present. As we go back to 'normal' and events start happening, be sure to check in with yourself."
According to Matias, asking questions that will help you better understand the situation is key. "Make sure you're comfortable, ask questions to ensure you're informed on how the event will be set up, wear a mask, and see if accommodations are feasible so that you can enjoy yourself while feeling safe." Are you worried about whether guests will be wearing masks or not? Consider asking the bride or groom what the policy will be so that you can plan ahead. Also, find out how many people will be attending and confirm if it's taking place outdoors. Will you need to stay overnight in a hotel? Plan your trip and see if making a day trip is possible. If not, call the hotel ahead of time to better understand their cleaning and sanitation protocols.
You'll also want to closely consider your own personal health risks. Do you have health concerns that put you more at risk? Or do you live with an older adult or at-risk family member? These are all important questions to answer for yourself to help you make the best decision.
"At the end of the day, prioritize your mental health to ensure you feel comfortable and can enjoy yourself," Matias tells HelloGiggles.
My brother recently got married after they postponed a 2020 wedding. Those "change the date" cards mailed out were heartbreaking, but it was even sweeter of a celebration when the day finally arrived. My new sister-in-law Emily (who was engaged to my brother for 994 days waiting to walk down the aisle as a stunning bride!) shared some words of wisdom about navigating the decisions of friends and family about whether they would attend their wedding.
Here's what recent bride Emily said she discussed with any hesitant guests: "Decisions around COVID concerns are 100% a personal decision and you have to do whatever you feel like is right for you and your family and whatever you decide we will support fully and understand!"
Emily also found that many guests expressed anxiety that wasn't 100% about the fear of getting sick. Some shared that they felt overwhelmed about entering social situations. (See, Jitters, I told you these feelings are normal.) Emily would comfort anyone who shared about their social anxiety with something like this: "It's totally normal after being stuck in isolation for a year to be nervous about large group events. We haven't had that kind of social interaction in a while."
Jenny Taitz, assistant clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, offered advice in her article, "How to Deal With Quarantine-Induced Social Anxiety." Taitz suggests that you try to shift the spotlight: "So rather than focusing on your own performance and aspiring to be the perfect mix of hilarious, beautiful and brilliant, or needing to report how you've made the best use of quarantine, consider truly paying attention to who you're with."
Jitters, if you're worried about the social pressure of attending weddings, try taking a deep breath. You don't have to be the funniest person in the room, shining as the center of attention. Believe me, I've had to consciously think again about making eye contact with people and finding the right moments to slip in a joke, all while questioning in my head, I'm still funny, right?
If you're bringing a plus-one to the wedding or know a close friend or family member attending, try talking to them ahead of time about the anxiety you're feeling. How could that person help you feel more at ease?
One of my best friends works in public health and has been close to the pandemic in her professional work. She shared about navigating her own personal decisions about wedding season, especially as she's been more entrenched in the research and policies than the average person. She recently attended a wedding with her boyfriend, and they had to work together to establish what they were both comfortable with doing at the event. Together, they decided to wear masks for the ceremony where they were in close proximity with other guests, but they took off their masks for eating. They also skipped the dance floor for this wedding.
"Ultimately you have to balance your own risk and reward. A true friend will understand if you are not comfortable and you could set up some other time or way to celebrate," she says.
Jitters, pick up that RSVP card and check off the box that feels like the best answer for you. You are braver and wiser than you realize. You'll know when it's the right time for you to get back out there on the dance floor to work on that jitterbug.