Try This Three-Punch Combination to Knock Out Anxiety

An all-in-one approach to calm down, regain perspective, and feel empowered.

Posted Jun 15, 2020

Anxiety can leave you feeling overwhelmed, alone, and miserable! Making matters worse, the impact of anxiety that is not coped with appropriately can be very serious for you. Anxiety is commonly described as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something perceived as threatening with an uncertain outcome. It may not be surprising to hear that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.  

Being in the fast-paced digital age, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we are facing more pressures and worries than any generation before us. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, high stress related to coronavirus is the new normal for many parents, according to the new Stress in America survey released in May, 2020.

My very recent book, the Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, distinctively combines three therapies [mindfulness, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and positive psychology] into one powerful approach. This three-punch combination has shown to be very helpful for people of all ages who struggle with anxiety. Briefly, these three approaches can be thought of in the following way:

Mindfulness Activities

Mindfulness is about focusing on what is going on around you and within you in the moment and noticing your concerns without judgment, which helps to quiet your mind. With the commonly estimated fifty to seventy thousand thoughts that go through our minds each day, mindfulness activities help you become aware of your thoughts and feelings without being so attached and reactive to them.

All mindfulness techniques are a form of meditation. Meditation simply means focusing your awareness. Mindfulness helps you notice and accept what is going on inside your mind, inside your body, and in the world around you, shifting your focus away from the troublesome thoughts buzzing around in your head. It will help you appreciate joys and notice challenges in life without overreacting to them. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Strategies

The thoughts we have influence the feelings we have and the consequent feelings we have influence what we do next. Then, what we did next influences the thoughts we have later, and so on. CBT enables you to identify evaluate and challenge your upsetting thoughts and replace them with emotionally healthier ones. According to the CBT model, negative thoughts drive negative feelings, which lead to problematic behaviors. If you don’t interrupt the cycle, you can get locked into a spiral of doom and gloom. 

When you use CBT skills, you see firsthand how changing your thoughts changes your feelings, and this helps you change your behaviors. Let’s say you’re riddled with anxiety about an upcoming job interview. How awesome would it be to transform those thoughts that are plaguing you—thoughts like “I’ll bomb out at this interview!”—to thoughts that help you feel more confident and encouraged like, "Yes, I'm anxious, but this can drive to practice so I can truly shine and more likely get this job."

Positive Psychology Skills

Positive psychology is a way to further gain hope and work through anxiety by focusing on the things that are going well in your life. Positive psychology includes seeing your strengths, learning how to become more optimistic, gaining grit, finding flow (kind of like being “in the zone”), and having gratitude. Grit and resilience are similar, but there is an important distinction. Resilience is the ability to adapt in the face of stress, in times of hardship, or in light of bad past experiences. Grit is the determination to keep working toward your dreams and develop the skills you need to accomplish even the toughest goals. These three types of tools can all be used to cope with not only anxiety but also depression and anger.

Putting Your 1-2-3 Punch Together

Let's revisit that job interview I mentioned earlier. If you were to be feeling anxious about it, your three-part combination anxiety knockout punch might consist of:

Leading with mindfulness you could:

  • Do some belly breaths to slow down your reacting brain.
  • Notice and focus on what you hear, see, and feel around you.
  • Visualize some calming images from nature.

Following up with CBT you could:

  • Identify your distorted, self-imposed negative label, e.g., feeling like a fraud.
  • Evaluate how this thought is groundless.
  • Replace this thought with, "The more I remind myself of all my valuable work experience, the better I feel about this well-deserved great opportunity."

And, with positive psychology, to nail down feeling empowered you can:

  • Make a list of all your personal strengths (e.g., creative, determined, detail-oriented).
  • Remind yourself how optimism leads to better performance.
  • Feel grounded with gratitude by valuing all that you have in your life as seek to achieve even more. 
  • Feel in the flow during the interview by being fully in the process and then noticing afterwards how the time flew by.
  • Feel gratitude once you get the job—and if you don't, draw upon your grit to make a list of past setbacks you have overcome. 

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Bernstein, J. (2015). 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (2nd Ed.) Perseus Books, New York, NY.

Bernstein, J. (2019). The Stress Survival Guide for Teens. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Bernstein, J. (2020). The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.

Bernstein, J. (2017). Letting go of Anger—Card deck for teens. Eau Claire, WI: PESI Publishing.

Bernstein, J. (2017). Mindfulness for Teen Worry: (Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications)

Stress in America