Panic at the dress shop: 4 secrets to wedding dress shopping when you have a panic disorder

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Photo courtesy of Julia Miren Dresses

Panic disorder is a tricksy hobbit — it can manifest in many ways, but the common experience of a panic attack involves an overwhelming sense of fear that descends when the fear response isn’t necessary or justified. This is accompanied by an adrenaline flood that produces very real and upsetting physical symptoms. Although there are almost as many panic triggers as there are people living with the disorder, some of the more common triggers include being in an enclosed space or feeling unable to leave, getting too hot, and feeling scrutinised.

For brides who get panic attacks, wedding dress shopping can be a scary prospect.

I’ve lived with panic disorder for ten years, and it is gradually becoming more accurate to say that it lives with me. Wedding dress shopping did send some of my panic spidey-senses tingling, but by using a few tactics, I not only got through it — I enjoyed it!

Here are some tips to make wedding dress shopping with your panic attacks in tow a little easier:

1. Know thyself, and thy panic attack triggers

My triggers are: feeling too hot, feeling like I can’t leave where I am, dizziness and heart palpitations (which I get sometimes when hot, tired and stressed — like after a long day of shopping). Every bridal shop I went to was warm, probably to accommodate all of the people getting their strip on. Forewarned of this, I brought lots of bottled water and dressed lightly. I have heard some salons don’t allow you to eat or drink, but in my experience everyone was fine with me sipping from my water bottle between dresses, and one salesperson even brought me a mug of water while I was wearing a gown. If your salon doesn’t allow this, having some water can be a great excuse to step outside and take a breather while your salesperson is hunting for the next dress.

Euphemisms are also your friend. If you need to take a break, step outside or sit down in the changing room and regroup, saying you feel “a bit unwell” or “not so good” is true, but generally most people assume physical discomfort so you don’t need to broadcast your panic.

2. Keep your meds easily-accessible

I occasionally use medication to manage the symptoms of my panic and I had some with me for every appointment (note: if you use medication that affects your ability to drive, have someone with you who can drive your car home, or just cadge a ride with them or your friendly local public transport provider in the first place). As it may be difficult to have it on your person while changing, keep it in an easily-accessible pocket so you feel you can get to it fast. I found I didn’t need to take anything, but knowing it was there helped. Some people who get panic attacks have comfort items, or like having their mobile phone on hand — do what you need to.

3. Bring “safe” people with you if possible, or shop alone if you need to

Just because you love someone, doesn’t mean they’re a great panic-attack ally! I am incredibly lucky with my bridesmaids, but if you are bringing along someone who wouldn’t deal well with panic, someone you’re not close to or — worst case scenario — someone who is one of your triggers, try to counterbalance them with a friendly face that you trust. Also, don’t be afraid to brief your trusted folk and let them know that you may need to step out, grab water, or manage your panic in a way that works for you.

4. Wedding dress shopping advice is often gold for panic sufferers too

Get shop recommendations from other brides before you start; don’t schedule more than a couple of appointments in a day; eat beforehand and wear appropriate underwear; choose a budget and stick to it; don’t bring too many people; research before shopping so you don’t feel overwhelmed… all of these tips will help to reduce the background stress levels and uncertainty that allows panic to gain a foothold.

The cultural myth of The Wedding Dress does nothing to alleviate the stress of shopping for one, so I strongly recommend one of my all-time favourite articles on Offbeat Bride, about how there is no single perfect dress. It helped to take the pressure off me during the shopping phase and was a definite factor in keeping my panic levels low. This take on what to do when there is no teary-eyed moment is an excellent read for any bride.

With the help of accessible water, sympathetic friends, lovely bridal shop staff, and wise internet links, I had a fantastic time wedding dress shopping. When I found my dress, I was almost a little sad that the dress shopping was over. But I still need shoes

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