Photo by Chris Bethell
“Hangxiety” (noun): the sinking feeling you experience when you wake up the morning after drinking 1 x bottle of wine and 5 x margaritas, and remember that, mere hours ago, you smashed the TV in your mate’s flat because you were dancing too aggressively to “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”.Yes, maybe this is “way too specific to be an actual dictionary definition” and/or “quite an embarrassing thing to share, Lauren”. But, in my defence, haven’t we all, to our immense discredit, been there?
You know how it goes: you rouse, the inside of your mouth feeling like dirty carpet, as the night comes back to you in waves – spilling red wine on someone’s rug, talking at length about Southgate’s management style to friends of friends, whose boredom you were fully registering but chose to ignore. You know. Hangxiety. These days, The Morning After is even worse than it once was. After 15 months of isolation, in which it’s been drummed into us that large gatherings can be breeding grounds for COVID, nights out – whether at the pub, a random gaff or, as of this week, a legitimate IRL nightclub – now carry with them a lot more concern than they used to. On top of “What the fuck did I say?” and “Did I rely too heavily on Peep Show quotes while talking to that person for the first time?” we now also have to consider, “Did I get so wasted that my COVID precautions went out the window?”For Abi, 32, that last question was one she recently asked herself. “I got blackout drunk, presumably from lack of practice, and puked on the pavement outside a pub,” she says. “I don’t remember getting home. My absolute shame about this was compounded by all kinds of worries. I was worried for the bar staff and how they’re feeling about COVID, and then worried about how I got home and having no idea how careful I was being.”
Florence, 29, tells me she’s recently caught herself worrying about “whether my sore throat is the start of COVID or [due to] talking lots, louder than usual, over the noise of the pub”, while Freya, 31, says, for her, COVID hangxiety is “like ‘the fear’ multiplied by ten-thousand”. “After generally going out and getting quite pissed, I've mainly been worried and anxious about what I've said,” she explains, adding that there’s now “an added fear of: a) have I got COVID and I've passed it onto someone? Or b) being in a situation such as having seven people inside and then worrying about breaking the rules.”Abi says the fact her COVID awareness may have slipped when she was drunk was difficult to deal with in the aftermath. “I was so careful throughout all of this – the idea of fucking it all up for one messy night really added to my sense of shame the next day,” she explains.The pandemic has been a drawn out, stressful experience for everyone, and our anxieties around it frequently take different shapes, especially when alcohol is added into the mix. Sian, 25, lives in a house-share with 15 other people, so hasn’t been too concerned about mixing in big groups again. However, like an estimated quarter of UK adults, she feels last year has led her to drinking more than she might have otherwise.
“It feels like COVID is accelerating us towards worse things,” Sian says. “There was so much hope at the beginning of the pandemic that this could help us to rebuild better, but it feels like our Tory government are just going to use it to strengthen capitalism, austerity and inequality, and crack down on our rights to protest.“So, definitely, I’ve felt myself needing to dissociate and escape from reality more than before. Because it’s heightened all of these things that were already there. I find that I’m enjoying being tipsy, but I’m not enjoying being drunk because I usually end up feeling sad, or angry, or I just get emotional in some way, because it’s bringing to the surface all these things, and the constant feeling of, ‘What the fuck is going on?’”There’s something of a vicious cycle, then, wherein pandemic escapism via partying becomes COVID hangxiety the next day. This is doubly frustrating now that responsibility for our own – and each other’s – safety seems to have shifted onto individuals instead of the government, and there’s no perfect fix for that on offer (while COVID passes and vaccine passport proposals may help, they have also been criticised for their potential to create a “two-tier” society).While responsibility shouldn’t be entirely on the public’s shoulders, there are measures we can take when we’re out out to mitigate the next-day stress. Maria Langan, senior harm reduction team member at The Loop, says: “Please consider wearing a mask in large crowds and around vulnerable people. Use lateral flow testing prior to events, if available to you. If you’re showing any signs or symptoms, please stay at home. Wash your hands and use alcohol gel after contact with surfaces, handles or hands, and cover your mouth if coughing or sneezing. And like all harm reduction advice to stop the spread of infectious disease, use your own, clean [drug] paraphernalia, and do not share equipment with others.”If we take these precautions, we might be able to rest a little easier. However, it’s unlikely that COVID hangxiety will be totally banished any time soon.