12/19/2011 02:58 pm ET Updated Feb 18, 2012

3 Ways to Cope With Holiday Stress and Feel More Joy

The holidays are upon us and the anticipation of family time often comes with the dread of unwanted conflict and confrontation. Every year, it's the same tension. When family gets together the kid gloves come off within hours after all the relatives arrive. With a full house, tempers can flare and those oh-so-sensitive issues seem to drop like bombs into conversations that start out simple.

Rather than resorting to an even earlier batch of Bloody Marys this year, try these three new ways of coping with family stress. You will feel better about yourself and everyone around you.

1.) Make "Decision to Love" your motto between now and New Year's Day. Years ago my best friend coined this expression as the code word or key phrase to trigger mindfulness in our primary relationships. Think of it as that "whack on the side of the head" that reminds you to behave and see every interaction as an opportunity to be thoughtful and loving. It allows you to openly perceive normally irritating conversations as a time to listen and be supportive. A "decision to love" mindset also allows you to let love in and embrace the possibility of forgiveness and acceptance. Keep asking yourself, "How can I respond in the most loving way?" Give lots of hugs and compliments.

2.) Create a secret pact with yourself in advance to treat close family members more like colleagues and acquaintances. Make small talk and ask more questions. Raise the politeness level and smile more. Do not bring up emotionally charged memories or topics. Answer your sibling the same way you would if your boss made the same comment. It surprisingly makes you feel the most in control. Which leads me to the most important and final piece of advice...

3.) Choose not to say everything you think. Guard your comments and do not share negative opinions or express a response that could be inflammatory. Keep your lips on their best behavior even after that first round of bubbly. Can't you hear your mother saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all?" This is the time to put that advice into action.

Follow these three simple rules and I guarantee you will be heading toward a de-stressed, relaxing, love-filled holiday time with family and friends. Happy holidays!