Planning a wedding can be stressful. At every turn, there are decisions to be made (band or DJ? Chicken or fish? Café-hopping in Paris or zip-lining in Costa Rica?) and challenges to resolve (seating estranged parents, finding a tasty gluten-free cake). Add to that your usual work deadlines and social obligations and it's no surprise your stress level is soaring. Use these nine simple strategies to ease your anxiety so you enjoy the wedding-planning journey.
1. Stop using the "S" word
Stress is a loaded term: You automatically associate it with anxiety, tension, and fatigue, says Scott Sheperd, Ph.D., author of Who's in Charge? Attacking the Stress Myth. But by simply changing your inner dialogue—say, thinking about the seating arrangements as "challenging" rather than "stressful"—you can approach any situation with a more proactive mind-set. "This puts you in a position to solve the problem rather than dwell on it," he explains.
2. Crank up the tunes
Be it Chopin, Clapton, or Katharine McPhee, listening to soothing music can serve up some serious stress relief. Researchers from Monash University in Australia say it has a calming effect on the nervous system, preventing spikes in stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate.
For an even bigger benefit, croon along: A separate study from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, found that singing bolsters your body's immune response and reduces the production of the stress hormone cortisol. "It's an emotional release," says study co-author Terry Gottfried, Ph.D. "You also breathe harder and take in more oxygen when you sing, which may increase the production of certain cold-fighting antibodies."
Your body can help you slow your thoughts and regain a sense of control over any angst-producing situation. "The next time your mind is racing, take a deep, four-count breath from your diaphragm," suggests Holly Hazlett-Stevens, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Or give progressive muscle relaxation a try: Beginning with your toes and working up to your face, tightly clench each individual body part for at least five seconds, then slowly release. In a matter of minutes, the tension will disappear from your muscles—and your mind.
4. Go fish
Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish can significantly raise your levels of serotonin, a mood-boosting brain chemical. Of the 10 most common types of fish eaten in the U.S., salmon supplies the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Aim to get two 4-ounce servings of salmon or another fatty fish, like halibut or canned light tuna, every week. One way to work it into your diet: Top field greens with sliced salmon and walnuts (one of the few nonfish sources of omega-3s) and toss in a vinaigrette made with canola or olive oil. "Avoid using a lot of soybean and sunflower oils," adds Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus. "They contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids, which will undo some of the benefits of omega-3s."
5. Curb the coffee
Because caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, getting too much can make you restless and jittery. Instead of your morning mug of joe or afternoon cola, brew a cup of green tea. Not only does it have less caffeine, it contains L-theanine, an amino acid Japanese researchers say has a calming effect on the brain.
6. Put on a happy face
Making yourself smile—a real smile, using not just your lips but also the muscles around your eyes—can activate feel-good parts of the brain, finds a study from the University of California, San Francisco. Need help turning that frown upside down? Meet up with your most cheerful friend. "Studies show we mimic the emotions of the person we're interacting with," says Elaine Hatfield, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii and co-author of Emotional Contagion.
7. Hit the gym
"Research shows that any type of exercise helps people feel more self-confident and at ease," says Michael McKee, Ph.D., of Columbia University. Aerobic exercise at almost any intensity can stimulate the release of pleasure-inducing endorphins in the brain, while yoga can calm jangled nerves.
8. Use your bean
Have some choline-rich lentil soup at your next meal. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people with the highest levels of this B vitamin in their bodies were 33 percent less likely to feel anxious than those with the lowest levels. Other research suggests that choline increases the production of brain chemicals that control mood. Keep your cool by getting at least 425 milligrams of the nutrient each day from beans, eggs, nuts, and cauliflower.
9. Picture perfection
Instead of anticipating problems on the big day, try to envision everything going off without a hitch. "The positive images in your head will help you relax, feel more confident, and perform better," says Ephraim C. Trakhtenberg, Ph.D., a researcher in the department of neuroscience at the University of Miami. Of course, mind over matter may not work in every situation—if only we could wish our way out of traffic jams and coffee spills—but the lift in your spirits will more than make up for the time spent day dreaming.