Leigh Wyryha is scared out of her wits. Why? She’s getting married.

Even though her wedding is still six months away, Wyryha is filled with anxiety about her big day. It’s not that she fears she’s marrying the wrong man; her fears have nothing to do with marriage itself. For her, it’s all about the wedding.

“I’m absolutely terrified to walk down the aisle,” says the 26-year old Okanagan bride-to-be.

Wyryha has always been shy and uncomfortable being the centre of attention. In fact, she skipped her own high school graduation because she couldn’t fathom the thought of being in front of a crowd.

“I had 23 family members waiting for me to come out and when they called my name I never came out,” she says.

She fears she might do the same thing at her wedding.

Wyryha is far from alone. Considering that shyness affects half of the population and that 13 percent of the population has an extreme form of social anxiety called social phobia, it’s safe to say that there are many brides (and grooms) who agonize over the fact that they have to be the centre of attention for their wedding day.

For shy types a wedding can be excruciating. Not only is there the agony of being in the spotlight for several hours, there’s usually public speaking involved. For brides like Wyryha, the thought of having to give a speech is enough to call the whole thing off.

“My fiancé and I have already talked about this and he has agreed to do all the speeches. I told him from day one I wouldn’t have the wedding if I had to do speeches,” she says.

Wyryha has already trashed her initial plan to have a big wedding, partly because she doesn’t want to face a large crowd. Instead, she’s opted for a destination wedding in Las Vegas with 30 people, which she says is still too many guests.

“I hate the idea of everyone looking at me and only me. It makes me sick to my stomach,” she says, adding that Pepto-Bismol tablets, Imodium and a bottle of water will be key components in her emergency ‘bridal bag.’

Calgary’s Tracy Reid, 23, who is getting married in July, is another bride-to-be who is not exactly anticipating her nuptials with unabated joy and exhilaration.

Her biggest fear is that she will do something embarrassing on her wedding day.

“I’ve spent so much time and money making sure everything is perfect, but the thing that scares me the most is being the centre of attention. I’m worried about walking down the aisle and tripping on my dress, and not being able to get up,” she says.

She’s talked about her feelings with her husband-to-be. Thankfully, she says, he understands because “he’s shy too.”

Reid says she tries to keep her anxiety at bay by focusing on the true meaning of her wedding.

“I keep thinking to myself it’s one day … Who cares if I trip on my dress, stumble during my speech, or even fall when dancing? It’s meant to be a happy day, it’s for us, and if something bad happens at least at the end of the day we will be married,” she says.

What’s a bride or groom to do when anxiety is overshadowing the joy of planning a wedding?

Whether it’s mild butterflies, or full fledged panic, Erika Hilliard, a Vancouver-based clinical social worker and author of Living Fully with Shyness and Social Anxiety says there are several helpful techniques that will help to banish these bad feelings.

According to Hilliard, one of the most important things a bride or groom-to-be can do is to start planning early.

“Don’t procrastinate. Get as much possible done so you will have a few days of down time. If you have everything prepared in advanced you can decrease the stress level,” she says.

Just recently, a client of Hilliard’s who is getting married in November, expressed concern about her upcoming wedding. Even though the bride-to-be had every little detail pinned down months before the big day, she was still concerned about one thing:

“The only thing she worried about was walking down the aisle … This woman is a confident, competent professional and the prospect of having all eyes on her was daunting,” she says.

Hilliard says brides that are anxious about their weddings can benefit greatly from a technique called grounding.

Essentially, grounding is physical awareness. It’s immersing oneself in the present moment by becoming mindful of physical sensations, much like meditation, says Hilliard. Ideally, it should be practiced weeks, even months before the wedding.

During a typical grounding session with Hilliard, a client would be seated. She would be asked to feel the sensation of her feet. How do they feel in her shoes? How do they feel resting on the floor? How does her back feel pressed against the chair? How do her hands feel resting on her thighs? Finally, she’s asked to feel the sensation of her breathing and to be conscious of where her out-breath stops and her in-breath begins.

“When you are focusing on the present sensation, you don’t worry about anything else, like what your guests think of you,” she says. “This is a place of power and composure.”

When the big day finally arrives, brides can take what they have practiced with them down the aisle.

“If you are walking down the aisle, feel the sensation of every footstep,” she says, once again pointing out that present moment awareness will bring a sense of calm.

According to Hilliard, grounding is a “wonderful tool for any type of stressful situation.”

Hilliard says another helpful technique to decrease pre-wedding anxiety is visualization.

“Imagine a time past the anticipated wedding. Imagine you are on your honeymoon and you are relaxing with your spouse… You’re talking with each other about how wonderfully the wedding went,” she says.

Like grounding, visualization should start weeks, or months before the wedding.

Another technique that will help reduce anxiety is what Hilliard calls “welcoming people with your eyes.”

“If you are avoiding eye contact at your wedding it creates tension because you are not feeling part of the moment, you are putting yourself away in a corner,” she says. “I tell people to practice welcoming others silently with the warmth of their eyes weeks before the wedding. When your wedding day comes and you walk down the aisle, meet people’s eyes with a silent “I welcome you.”

What about the dreaded public speaking?

Hilliard says a bride or groom should not feel obligated to give a speech. However, she says that saying a few works is always a nice touch.

“Just don’t make a big deal about it. Don’t call it a speech,” she says.

And one more thing: don’t get hung up on perfection.

“I think people need to be prepared that not everything is going to go perfect. If something unexpected happens, {like tripping on your wedding gown} you need to go with it and laugh it off as best you can,” she says. “Don’t let anything spoil your day.”