The Highly Sensitive Introvert’s Survival Guide for Getting Through a Wedding

Wedding guests lift up the bride

Weddings aren’t easy for introverts, but when you’re also highly sensitive, they can be even more overwhelming.

If you think weddings are overwhelming, destination weddings in a hot location are the ultimate introvert nightmare — especially if you’re highly sensitive, too. Think high-volume, loud music, uncomfortable clothing, alcohol, sweat, and all the flashing color lights. (So many lights!)

My high school friend got married last week. This is how it went and what I would have done differently. 

But first you need to know that I left my hometown as an 18-year-old and went to live in the Mexican Caribbean. Now, after 10 years of not living there, I got invited to a wedding. It was a big deal, as I hadn’t seen these people in so long, not even Skyped with them. Even though I hadn’t stayed there, they did and made a life for themselves there. So I had to go.

If I am socially anxious in an average situation, this wedding had me on-edge. But I can easily mask my feelings and pretend to cope (that is, until it becomes unbearable). Please don’t be like me, ignoring your needs to surpass social expectations — it’s never a good idea. This made me burned out for at least a week — it was the longest “introvert hangover” ever. Here’s what I would have done differently.

5 Ways to Survive a Wedding as a Highly Sensitive Introvert

1. Double-check the date, time, and place (twice, at least).

I know — this sounds a little too obvious, but if your brain is feeling anxious, it may not be thinking the clearest. I’d looked at the invitation several times, yet when I arrived at the church, all dressed up, I wondered where everyone else was. 

I texted the bride — I was a day early! After I realized my mistake, it became a funny story, an ice-breaker for uncomfortable conversations with all the people I had not talked to in over a decade. 

But still, I had social anxiety: not one, but two days straight, just for misreading the date. 

I also realized — during the burnout — that I should have just skipped the wedding ceremony and jumped straight to the celebration. 

In the church, there were only close family and friends crying their eyes out, and it was a highly emotional environment. Suffice it to say, I felt quite out of place.

Plus, attending the whole event means spending significantly more time around unexpected social situations. I did not want to drive, so I was dropped off and needed a ride from the church to the actual party. Then there was an entire hour between the mass and the party for the happy couple to take photos. To sum it up: Between the mass, the waiting, the wedding ceremony, and the reception, there were at least three good hours that I could have spent at home, saving some of my social battery. I also realized that others had skipped the church ceremony and only attended the reception — noted.

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2. Protect your ears and eyes as best you can.

I honestly will take a few sets of earplugs to my next wedding. It is just too much: the music is not only at high volume, but it may be outdated and not very enjoyable. As a result, everyone is screaming instead of talking, and there is so much happening that it is hard to keep up with everything.  

There was another sensory issue that had me uncomfortable — the lighting. Highly sensitive people experience light sensitivity and this was very apparent at the wedding. I do not know if using sunglasses would have helped dim the flashing lights, but it’s worth a try. At this wedding though, instead of doing something about it, I drank alcohol to numb my senses (a terrible idea). 

3. Using alcohol to “cope” is a double-edged sword.

Was drinking alcohol fun? Yes! Although not the hangover. 

I am aware that I drank to numb my senses and to lessen my social anxiety — and I do not think people should drink just as a way to deal with sensory input.  

In general, I wish weddings and social events were more introvert-friendly. I mean, what is wrong with having dim lighting and a softer volume and more subdued setting? Not to mention fewer guests… Small weddings are lovely (and perfect for introverts!).

Alcohol did help me focus less on the environmental conditions that were driving me crazy at the beginning of the party. (Highly sensitive people are very affected by their environment!) But drinking also made me lose track of how much I was ignoring my sensory needs and then having to deal with them the next day. 

So, the next day, I was not dealing just with exhaustion and a hangover (from drinking), but I was also recovering from an “HSP hangover” (from the noise, lights, loud music and voices, and so on). Afterwards, I could seriously not move or focus on anything for at least a week. 

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4. Be realistic about your needs, like having to leave early.

My friends getting married — and other guests at the wedding —  knew me from my teenage years. I was wild back then. 

How do I suddenly tell them that I’ve changed? That I am agoraphobic and have not left my mother’s house in the last month? How do I tell them that I am incredibly anxious almost all the time, that I get panic attacks out of nowhere, and that driving freaks me out? 

I preferred not telling anyone anything and just figuring it out along the way. So I didn’t know if I was coming back home in the middle of the night or if I was going to stay till sunrise, if I needed an Uber or if I could get a ride from someone. (I also didn’t know if it would even be safe to accept a ride from someone who’d been partying all night long.)

What I mean is, there were plenty of things I didn’t know and was too afraid to ask about in advance. Next time, however, I will have a plan — to leave the wedding early and in a safe way. 

5. Express your discomfort to others — they’re your friends, after all!

At some point, a friend came over to me and said, “You know what? I’m happy that you are here. I never told you, but I think you understood life sooner than we did. I’m sorry, but now I understand.”

I wasn’t sure what he meant, not exactly. But I wanted to hug him and cry. I replied, “Strobe lights make me nauseous.” He smiled and said: “My boyfriend feels the same way.” So I went up to his boyfriend and asked about the strobe lights — and we ended up laughing and bonding over our mutual dislike of them.

Talking about it didn’t solve the problem, but I wasn’t ashamed anymore about what I was feeling, and saying it out loud lifted a weight. 

I wondered what would’ve happened if I had been a little more open about my anxiety and sensory issues. What if someone else would have validated me, too? Thinking about this further, I wonder what would happen if we talked about these things more, normalizing them in the process.

Would weddings be different? Would we find some other introverts (or highly sensitive ones) resisting the overstimulating environment(s), too? Would they be trying to adapt to this loud, bright world just as we are? 

I have a hunch, though, that if we did open up to others, I think we’d feel a little less alone.

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