Ah, the holidays! A joyous time of year that bears down like a freight train rolling on the tracks whose arrival is inevitable – complete with the extra stress that goes with it.

A time to celebrate peace and goodwill and yet, by now, you may be ready to crawl into bed, pull the covers over your head and not come out until January.

This doesn’t happen by accident. There are some predictable elements that converge to create a perfect storm of stress.

* First there is the expectation of how the holidays should be: everyone smiling and having a great time, exchanging the perfect presents, gathered around the dinner table enjoying a feast that would bring tears to the eyes of Julia Child. Essentially, a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Totally realistic, right? Believe me, this is one of my favorite fantasies!

* Then there is the shopping: The financial stress of spending money you don’t really have in your budget. The over stimulation of crowds competing for parking, and the last gotta-have-it gadget on the shelf or the net.

* And let’s not forget the over eating at the parties on your over-committed social schedule.

Is it any wonder you’re not having a good time?

The good news is that it doesn’t have to go this way, this year. You have choices. And I’ve put together some strategies that can help you relieve stress, realign your expectations, simplify your life and de-stress your holidays. Here is the first.

Strategy #1: Examine your Expectations

What are the origins of your holiday expectations? Is it a perfect childhood memory you want to recreate for your family? Is it the lack of pleasant memories you are pushing against determined to have the holiday you always wanted for you or your kids?

It is important to take a moment and examine your expectations and check them against reality. What desires are you projecting? How possible is it for you to let those desires and expectations go and focus on something more realistic?

Once you get clear on what is driving you, you can make a different choice, a choice that is more empowering for your life.

Stay tuned for more tips to help you take control and make the most of this holiday season.