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The *real* reason you’re feeling anxious about returning to work this week

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Anna Brech
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Work anxiety

January blues and so-called “work dread” may actually be caused by alcohol withdrawal after a period of heavy drinking, according to a leading physician.

We’re all familiar with that niggling feeling of low-level dread that starts to gain pace in the New Year

On the 20th December, you were all sweetness and light at work – happily kicking all your most difficult tasks into the long grass, safe in the knowledge that you wouldn’t be back for years (well OK, two weeks: yet it feels like the same thing).

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But fast-forward 10 days, and suddenly the thought of those delayed deadlines and demands comes back to haunt you. Not only that, but you’ve been so busy mainlining leftover Mince Pies and generally letting loose for days on end, the idea of tackling anything at all seems near-on impossible.

For who can truly operate on a diet of Stilton and trash TV? 

As Bridget Jones so beautifully describes the Christmas-New Year transition: “Was really beginning to enjoy the feeling that normal service was suspended and it was OK to lie in bed as long as you want, put anything you fancy into your mouth, and drink alcohol whenever it should chance to pass your way, even in the mornings. 

“Now suddenly we are all supposed to snap into self-discipline like lean teenage greyhounds.”

At times like these, a hefty duvet and a time machine seem like the only way forward.

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According to a leading medical expert, however, there’s a reason why we feel so bad on the run-up to the New Year back-to-work season. 

Dr Mark Wright, a consultant in liver medicine at University Hospital Southampton, says people tend to attribute the January blues to “work dread” – when in actual fact, it’s more likely caused by alcohol withdrawal. 

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“People up and down the country will now be feeling anxious about their impending return to work and may also be feeling sick, shaky and irritable,” he says (as reported via the Telegraph). 

“However, far from concerns about the end of the Christmas and New Year period and the reality of work, the cause of this for many will be alcohol withdrawal symptoms following sustained heavy drinking.”

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Alcohol is a depressant, which means it alters the balance of chemicals in your brain. This exacerbates feelings of stress and anxiety.

“Many people will have had a very intense festive period in which they will have consumed significantly more alcohol than usual which will undoubtedly affect their mental state,” Dr. Wright continues.

“The danger is that people don’t realise how the body will react to alcohol withdrawal and confuse it with anxiety about returning to work, which could then fuel more drinking.”

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According to research, the average Briton will get through 26 units of alcohol a day over the Christmas season – the equivalent of nearly nine large glasses of wine. 

Although this seems like a lot, what with constant socialising – and rounds of Baileys, mulled wine and whiskey macs, even if you’re just in front of the TV – it’s easy to see how it all clocks up. 

Woman stressed next to her bed.
Alcohol withdrawal could be responsible for so-called "January blues"

With alcohol consumption spiralling out of control at Christmas, the toll it has on our mental health can be swift and unyielding – even if we’re not quite aware of it at the time.

Writer Rae Ritchie, who gave up alcohol three years ago, says: “The relentless clarity that comes with not chemically altering my mood on a regular basis, or even taking the edge off after a tough week at work, was terrifying to begin with. 

“Yet with each drink not taken, I’ve become better at facing my feelings. Three years in, I see this relentless clarity as a strength that I’m not willing to compromise on.”

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While quitting completely may not be the right decision for you, it’s worth bearing in mind how Christmas bingeing is impacting the way that you feel. And, as a result, the back-to-work season is a good time to reassess where you’re at.

“We see Dry January as a chance to reset your relationship with alcohol,” Lauren Booker, alcohol consultant for Alcohol Change UK tells Stylist. “If you think it’s going to be easy, there’s no reason not to give it a go, and if you think it’ll be hard, that’s an even better reason to try it. 

“Right away, you’ll find you have more energy in the morning and sleep better. A couple of weeks in, your skin starts to feel brighter, and your hair and nails tend to improve. A whole month without alcohol can improve your liver function, and bring down your blood pressure – and, of course, you’ll save money.”

We’ll cheers to that.

Images: Getty, Miramax, Unsplash

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Author

Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.

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