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'Wedding doctor' Jocelyn Charnas offers tips on coping with stress as the big day approaches

'Wedding doctor' Jocelyn Charnas offers advice for planning

'Wedding doctor' Jocelyn Charnas offers advice for planning a stress-free wedding. Credit: Roger Sherman

You said "yes," and now it feels more like "yikes!"

Planning a wedding can be super stressful. There is much to do, from choosing the members of your wedding party to making decisions about venues, photographers, DJs, videographers, flowers, invitations, favors . . . the list is seemingly endless.

Jocelyn W. Charnas, a Manhattan-based licensed clinical psychologist who received her master's and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from Adelphi University, works with couples from the tri-state area on how to better cope with the stress and anxiety that comes with getting married. Dubbed "The Wedding Doctor" in a New York Magazine Weddings article from 2012, Charnas, 35, who's met with dozens of couples in her Upper East Side office, has identified strategies and skills that, if incorporated into a relationship early on, can lay the foundation for improved communication, effective problem-solving and emotional connectedness for the engagement period and beyond.

Charnas chatted with Newsday about her work and the ways in which couples can ease some of the stress in the days leading up to their big day.

What is it about getting married that's so darn stressful?

Engagement is a time of extraordinary transition and change. Every hairline fracture in a family dynamic has the potential to open up and intensify. It is like shining a giant spotlight on the most sensitive issues, such as family structure, including any divorces or strained relationships, family finances, and sometimes stark differences between families in terms of values and culture. As a rule, most people aren't at their best when faced with change.

What are the signs or symptoms of pre-wedding stress or anxiety? What should couples look for?

One of the most common manifestations of pre-wedding stress is extreme, often disproportionately strong, feelings over wedding details. When a bride has an anxiety attack over the precise shade of nail polish to be worn by the bridesmaids, typically it's a sign that something else deeper is going on. I encourage engaged couples to continually check in with one another, so they can keep on top of how the other is coping.

What is the biggest cause of stress during an engagement?

Naturally, family dynamics, finances, and differences in culture and values can contribute to pre-marital stress and anxiety. However, I find that the biggest culprit is unrealistic expectations. The notion that your wedding day should be the most perfect day of your life puts a tremendous amount of pressure on a couple. I work with couples to help manage expectations to be more in line with reality.

Does pre-wedding stress affect both brides- and grooms-to-be?

Pre-wedding stress affects both the bride and the groom, but men and women tend to act out their stresses in different ways. There are certainly exceptions, but men often seem to internalize their stress and can become less communicative. In contrast, women often act out their stress in more externalized ways, such as micromanaging the wedding-planning process. Beyond gender, though, I have found that it is people's personalities and personal psychologies that contribute most to how they manage stress during engagement. My job is to help couples find common ground on which to share their anxieties.

Would you say engagement stress has increased over the years you've been practicing?

Wedding planning as a stressful endeavor is certainly nothing new. However, several factors have changed the game. One is the proliferation of social media. Whereas before the Internet age, a bride might worry about the impression she will make on her 200 guests, now that same bride is worrying about the impression she will make on her 700 Facebook friends and 8,000 Instagram followers. I think the increasingly public nature of how we live our lives can amp up the pressure.

What are some things couples can do to minimize their stress during this time?

It is unrealistic to believe that a couple can avoid any stress and anxiety as their wedding approaches. However, there are a number of things a couple can do to better cope with the stress that does come their way:

Take some time each week where you do not discuss anything wedding-related. I find that this helps couples to keep their eye on the prize-which is the marriage, not the wedding!

Become a skilled negotiator. Planning a wedding is like running a business, and sometimes seeing it that way can help couples to make decisions and keep things moving along. If flowers are of the utmost importance to the bride, but she is willing to bend on the ceremony music, then strike a deal.

View your fiance, or fiancee, as your best ally. At the end of the day, you two are in this together and the more you can empathize, support, compromise and understand one another, the better prepared for marriage you will be.

If you were to give couples one piece of advice as their wedding approaches, what would it be?

Maintain perspective. Remember that the wedding is not an end in itself, but a symbol to mark the start of a lifetime together. Your big day will be wonderful, but there will be more wonderful days to come in your married life. Don't lose sight of the big picture.

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