Whatever you do, do not let Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" come up on your playlist.
“Some small creature of the night had used his mouth, first as a latrine, and then as its mausoleum.” That’s from Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis and it will probably never be bettered for a description of a hangover. We’ve all woken up feeling like this. The problem with Christmas party season is that it’s not uncommon to feel like this on a weekday morning with the prospect of work looming. What to do? Phone in sick? But you did that last week. Sometimes you just have to tough it out.
I have a lot of experience with being in just this position. I’m a drinks writer, so I can always justify having one more as ‘research.’ Sometimes it feels like I spent most of my 20s drunk (which is probably why my hoped-for high-flying publishing career never quite worked out). What I did learn, however, was how to deal with a hangover at work—mainly by a process of trial and error. Now I am going to share my hard-earned wisdom with you. There are no easy cures, but follow these simple steps and the disaster of the hangover can even be turned to your advantage:
1. Drink Coca-Cola
America’s national drink never tastes better than when you have a hangover. In fact I only drink it when hungover or sick. I always have a couple of cans in the fridge for emergencies. It must be the full-calorie version, none of that diet nonsense, served very cold—ideally over ice. What is it about Coke that’s so effective? Psychologically it’s good for you because it tastes so delicious, but all that sugar and caffeine will also give you a much-needed boost. After that, top-up your caffeine levels with tea. Coffee will dehydrate you.
2. If possible, go for a swim
I once had a most fantastically boozy holiday with some friends to Greece. We drank wine, beer and ouzo constantly for ten days and I only got a hangover on the last day. I put this miracle down to the cool swim I took every morning. It sharpens the brain and cleanses the body. If you’re a member of a gym go for a swim at lunchtime or, better still, combine it with some time in the steam room. Sweat out the booze! If you can’t swim then have a cold shower. It’ll hurt but it does work.
3. Look and smell immaculate
If you have to go into work hungover, make sure you are scrubbed, shaved and made-up. This applies to men as well as women. Both sexes should moisturize. Careful grooming can cover up for a multitude of sins. Keep a change of clothes, Don Draper-style, at work for those nights when you don’t make it home. Nobody wants to sit next to a smelly, sweaty person in the office. Finally, to get rid of that latrine mouth, brush your teeth as often as you can and chew gum.
4. Embrace the power nap
Many of your woes will have been caused by lack of sleep. In my drinking-and-working days I sometimes used to go to sleep under my desk. That didn’t go down well. Instead, mutter something about going to get coffee or meeting with HR on the 10th floor and go to the bathroom, set the alarm on your phone for 20 minutes, close your eyes and drift away. Sometimes 20 minutes is all you need to feel refreshed. Warning: don’t do it for longer as you’ll drift into a deep sleep and could feel worse after waking.
5. Resist the lure of bacon
I know, heretical, I tend to like bacon at every time of the day and never more than when I’m hungover, but it almost always makes me feel worse afterwards. It might be the grease or the salt or it might be that it absorbs that last little bit of alcohol that was keeping me going, but I find as a hangover cure it’s worse than useless. Same goes for corned beef hash, sausage and egg McMuffins, etc. Far better to have fruit, granola or yogurt. There, I’ve said it. Now will find a place to hide.
6. Another drink?
Well, you know it’ll work—but are you ready to go down that road? What will people think? A glass of champagne or Bloody Mary in the morning is perfectly acceptable on the weekend, but at work you have to choose your moment carefully. A pint of beer or glass of wine at lunch is fine. A bottle of vodka kept in your desk for emergencies less so. The trick is to make your drinking seem convivial, which at Christmas isn’t so hard to do. Remember, only have a drink if someone else is having one.
7. Choose the right music
If you’re going to listen to your iPod on the way to work it’s critical you don’t choose the wrong music. Some badly timed bee bop jazz or death metal might send you into a downward spiral. You also don’t want anything catchy and poppy that will set an earworm burrowing into the pained recesses of your brain. This will exacerbate your pounding head. The absolute worst song for a hangover is "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney. What you need is music to sooth your soul: Sam Cooke, Bill Withers, Stan Getz, or the trippier end of reggae. 90s chillout compilations suddenly make sense when you’ve had four hours sleep and you’re fighting your way onto the subway.
8. Face the night before head on
The only way to deal with that awful nagging paranoia that you did something stupid at the office Christmas party and told your boss that his whole lousy operation stinks is to confront it head on. Admit that you had too much to drink, try to gauge how much of a dick you were, and then apologize if needed. It (almost) never fails. This is much easier if everyone else is hungover too. Remember that a hangover shared is a bonding experience. In fact for the British it’s sometimes the only way we get to know each other.
9. Embrace the hangover
Sometimes hangovers can be quite fun: those moments of unpredictable hilarity, the out of body experiences in meetings, the giant spider coming out of your desk (or is that just me?). Hangovers can be eye-opening and mind-expanding. I’ve had hungover meetings that reminded me of surrealist films (thankfully nothing by Luis Buñuel). And as a writer I’ve had some of my best ideas following a night of debauchery. Just don’t even attempt any important work. It’ll hurt and you’ll do it very badly.
Finally, remember that a hangover doesn’t last forever. A day at the most. Maybe two. It’s life’s way of telling you to slow down a bit. Now, where are we going tonight?