Participating in Dry January can be a great to way assess your relationship with alcohol. From how much money you spend at bars, to the way drinking makes you feel physically, to how alcohol impacts your career, abstaining for a month can be an eye-opening experience. And as far as the latter goes, you might even realize that you're getting more done.
"Depending on the individual and the person’s history and relationship with alcohol, Dry January can certainly have a big impact on productivity and life in general," Dr. Carla Marie Manly, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "The spectrum can run from having an extreme impact to a barely perceptible impact."
If you weren't much of a drinker to begin with, and have a "take it or leave it mentality," the change will likely be small, Manly says. But if you were a moderate drinker, you may notice a positive shift in productivity due to greater focus, clarity, increased energy, and even better sleep, she says.
Of course, 31 days may not be enough time to see drastic changes in your career, but it can give you a glimpse into how alcohol may (or may not) be impacting your daily routine, as well as how much you end up accomplishing. Here, a few ways Dry January can affect your productivity, according to experts.
1. You'll Get Better Sleep
If you're used to spending the evening drinking, Dry January can mean waking up feeling a little better than you usually do.
"Studies have shown that, while alcohol may help you fall asleep initially, it actually has a negative impact on sleep quality, Katie Lear, LPC, RPT, RDT, a licensed therapist in private practice, tells Bustle. "One of the ways it does this is by making it harder to get into REM sleep, a deeper, restorative stage of sleep that causes us to dream," she says. "Not getting good quality sleep can adversely effect the brain and body in many ways, including dulling problem-solving skills and lowering mood."
Then, of course, there's the whole issue of hangovers. Going to bed without a drink can mean getting better rest, as well as waking up without a headache. And that'll set you up for a more productive day.
2. You'll Develop A Different Approach To Creativity
It's not unusual to have a drink or two in order to feel inspired, and get ideas flowing. "Because alcohol temporarily lowers our inhibitions, it can provide a short-term boost to creativity, especially in terms of finding unique solutions to problems," Lear says.
As you sip on a drink, you may find yourself relaxing into a project a home, and feeling extra creative in the moment. "But alcohol also makes it very difficult to focus," Lear says, "and the depressed mood that sometimes accompanies drinking can drain motivation to accomplish tasks. This makes alcohol an unreliable way to harness creativity, whereas abstaining from drinking can help improve sleep and focus."
Without alcohol, you may come up with other ways to relax and access creativity, such as sitting with your thoughts, going for a walk, or bouncing ideas off of friends. And with better sleep and an improved mood, that may be all you need.
3. You'll Find New Coping Skills
If you typically go to happy hour with coworkers, or pour a glass of wine once you get home as a way of decompressing after work, Dry January might mean finding new ways to chill out.
"Meeting up with friends after work for a drink is a time-honored way to blow off steam, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with this," Lear says. "For some people, though, alcohol becomes a replacement for coping skills to manage anxiety and stress, and this can become problematic."
You might realize, as you go without your usual drinks, that you don't know how to relax in other ways. Or, that you've been leaning on alcohol to soothe emotional problems, Lear says. It might inspire you to look for new ways to de-stress, such as picking up a relaxing hobby, exercising, or going to therapy.
"This can help improve productivity and wellbeing in the long run," Lear says, "since maintaining a good, diverse 'toolbox' of coping skills can help with problem-solving and stress management more efficiently than alcohol."
4. You Could Feel Irritable & Less Productive
While moderate drinkers may notice a boost in productivity, if you're someone who drinks heavily, Dry January could leave you feeling less productive — at least at first.
Those who may have alcohol use disorder could experience productivity benefits to a lesser degree than others, or they could find themselves with "decreased productivity, irritability, and angst given the rapid shift away from alcohol use," Manly says.
If that's the case, you may want to consider seeking professional help. You can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357), or reach out to a therapist or doctor.
5. You'll Reconnect With Those Around You
While alcohol may help you feel more connected, seeing as it's a social lubricant, you may find that you're actually having better conversations without it. When applied to your career, this might result in more successful networking and better ideas.
Think about events after work, and how you typically have a drink in hand. And now imagine that same scenario without a drink. You might experience anxiety at first, Manly says, as you interact with people in a new way. But once you adjust, you may start seeing these situations differently.
"When you are feeling more present, your creativity, insight, and mental acuity are all bolstered," Manly says. "Thus, when you are not drinking alcohol and feel more mentally (and emotionally) present, your productivity could skyrocket."
6. You Might Get More Done In A Day
When you're getting better sleep, and thus waking up with more energy, it sets you up to accomplish more in a day. Add in the fact you'll be thinking with a clearer mind, and your productivity could increase even more.
"Often people notice that they feel more clear-headed, alert, and focused when abstaining from alcohol for a prolonged period of time," Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist at Therapy Group of NYC, tells Bustle.
With this extra energy, you might feel inspired to take on new projects, if that's what you've been meaning to do, or it could leave you feeling more in control of the work you already have.
7. You Could Pick Up New Habits
Dry January is a good way to take a look at the grooves you've fallen into, and how they may or may not be adding to your life. "If you found yourself turning to alcohol to destress before, you may find other activities to replace drinking when you feel stressed, such as exercise, meditation, journaling, cooking, and spending quality time with friends," Lopez Witmer says.
This can create a ripple effect, and before you know it, you're swapping out old habits for new ones, and creating a routine that feels better all around.
While you may go back to drinking moderately once Dry January is over, it could still be a worthwhile experiment for these reasons, and more. If nothing else, it's helpful to check in with yourself and make sure your habits are working for you.
Experts & Studies:
Smith, Hannah Lane, "The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Sleep Onset and REM Latency: A Meta-Analytic Study" (2016). Undergraduate Theses. 135.
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist