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Why this is the most horrible time of the year

Rachel Idzerda/The Globe and Mail

The new sweaters have been worn, the toys played with (some already broken), unforeseen flaws detected in the shiny electronic gizmos. Confetti-sized bits of wrapping paper still dot the floor. The eggnog has expired. Will the school break ever end? Will the freezer ever be liberated from "15 Leftover Turkey Dishes Your Family Will Love!" You curse yourself for ever dreaming of a White Christmas. Oh the weather outside is frightful all right, but delightful? Please. Somewhere in your home, someone is sneezing or barfing, maybe both. Where once sweet children's voices caroled about the Lord, you are now serenaded by cries of "I'm bored."

And yet the freshly cracked calendar reminds you that it is all coming to an end. That reality is about to set in, removing you from your domestic paradise and returning you to the work force with a jolt: Monday morning breakfast to be made, lunches to be packed, kids to motivate, cars to be de-iced, and then, once back at your cubicle, 800 e-mails to return, all with a jolly "Happy New Year!" at the sign off, because you know you're supposed to be emanating optimism during this special period. You imagine yourself taking another swig of your lukewarm coffee and hitting send again and again and again.

Yes, it's the most miserable time of the year: the post-holiday, pre-back-to-work lull when outside it's dark, inside it's cluttered, and any holiday magic you felt in your soul has been replaced by the dull ache of reality. Yes, Virginia, there is a sanity clause and it's this: This may be the furthest you feel from it. This day, this Friday, Jan. 4, may be the worst day of the year: standing squarely at the almost-end of your too-long holiday, with the far worse reality looming, clouding whatever little joy may be left.

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The tree stands in your living room, at once a reminder of all the glistening that so recently was, and a reminder of all you must now do: remove the needle-dropping fire hazard, box up the gewgaws. A top priority is dismantling the reindeer antlers from your car, which you now acknowledge looked ridiculous, no matter how many people smiled while you waited patiently to exit the liquor store parking lot.

You have yet to find space for all the stuff received over the holiday, which, once enclosed in tidy boxes under the tree, has multiplied like some 1950s horror film. If you step on one more Lego block, it's all going into the garbage! The children laugh at your empty threats. In the post naughty-or-nice-list period, you have lost all authority.

Your pants are tight. Even if you could get to the gym (see: children/weather/general lack of motivation), you would find yourself in line for the seated chest press behind all the other newly-resolved fitness enthusiasts. Really, who has time for that? You browse fitness programs online, mindlessly reaching for the dregs of the shortbread. You switch exclusively to jeggings. Elastic waistbands are your friend.

The VISA bill will arrive any day. When you review it, you will have no choice but to confront your Muzak-fueled consumption with some tough questions. Was the inflatable rooftop Santa really necessary? Reindeer jammies for the entire extended family? You will recall how nonplussed the recipients were by gifts you deemed at purchase over-the-top but worth-it-for-the-reaction. You laugh at the memory of toddlers opening gifts, only to ignore them in favour of the packaging. If this were a movie, the camera would pan over the long shameful bill, skidding to halt at the total (insert cash register sound effects here), and you would be forced to ask yourself: all this for one day?

You can't remember your New Year's resolutions, but vaguely recall something about being more positive.

The cabin fever has set in; there's no room on the couch, and everyone is driving you crazy. But you love them like mad, and know that come Monday, when you're lunching alone in the basement food court, you will miss them something awful. You tense up, knowing that no matter what you may have vowed during this idyllic pause – back when it was idyllic – the daily madness of life will begin again, and the stress will threaten to overwhelm you. Far off in the distance hovers the promise of Family Day, or, depending on your location, Easter. You can hardly wait.

Post-holiday stress-busting tips

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Want to bring some happiness into your life at this loathsome time of year? Who better to consult than Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier At Home:

If you make only one change

Get more sleep. "People act like they can just decide when they go to bed, and it just doesn't work like that. You can't be like 'Oh I work so hard, I can only get five hours of sleep.' It's not up to you to decide," says Rubin. "If you're too tired to do anything except watch TV or cruise the Internet, you should go to bed."

No. 1 New Year's resolution

Abstaining. "It sounds easier to indulge in moderation. Because it sounds like every once in a while, it's fun to indulge, or life's too short not to eat a brownie every now and then. But I think for a lot of people it's actually easier to give things up altogether," she says. "If you're just like 'You know what? I don't eat cake,' then you don't have to grapple with it. You're just free."

Those ever-tightening pants

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Exercise isn't just good for the body; it's good for the soul, says Rubin. If you're one of those very busy people who just doesn't have time for a spin class, start small. A 15 or 20 minute walk can make a big difference in your health, and your mood, she says. "And it's almost always easier to get something done first thing in the day because the later the day goes, the more interference crops up and also the more justifications you will come up with for why you don't have to do it, if you're not so inclined."

Stressed out over bills?

Go for a cash-only system. "People feel the pain of cash," says Rubin. "If you have a certain amount of cash in your pocket and then you spend it, you're aware of the fact that the money is gone."

Post-Christmas clutter

Ask yourself: Do you need it? Do you use it? Do you love it? If you don't, recycle it. "Outer order contributes to inner calm for most people. It seems like a trivial thing, having a crowded coat closet or a messy toy box or whatever, but it really seems to make people really get a jolt of happiness when they get stuff under control," says Rubin.

If family is driving you crazy

Remember why you love these people, and why you're grateful for them, says Rubin. She also suggests finding some solitude; a lot of us are starved for some alone time.

Prepping for the return

"It's always good to just say to yourself how much you enjoy your ordinary day. And to really think about all the things that you look forward to about it. Because surely there are things at you enjoy about it. And if there's nothing you enjoy about it, then you should think about why that is, certainly."

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