Tackle School Year Stress with ‘Paradoxical Intention’

by Katie Godshall, LCSW-BACS, & Jennifer Keith, JFS Behavioral Health Intern


The new school year is upon us! Parents are joyfully stuffing backpacks while kids look on in utter disbelief that summer is over. Whether you are a student or a parent of a student, you may be feeling the onset of New-School-Year-Anxiety. Fortunately, there are ways to manage this stress. The method we’ll discuss in this blog is Paradoxical Intention.

Paradoxical Intention sounds complicated, but in practice it’s easy. The key word here is “paradoxical” which focuses on a contradictory or absurd approach.  This technique is used in dealing with everything from general anxiety, insomnia, and even eating disorders.

Putting paradoxical intention into practice is simple. For example, you’re trying to sleep, but thinking about all the tasks you need to complete is making it difficult.  Instead of focusing on trying to sleep, draw the focus to a different task—such as reading a book, or listening to a story—try to not fall asleep under any circumstances. This action draws your focus away from your anxiety and removes the pressure from trying to fall asleep. Once this pressure recedes, sleep is more likely to happen.

Here are some quick and easy steps to follow:


  • Notice your emotion: As if you were an astronomer using a telescope to see the moon, spot that emotion and hold it in your mental gaze.
  • Allow this emotion to be present: Allow your mental telescope to stay focused on this emotion, noticing the characteristics of this feeling.
  • Think of ways to increase the emotion: Your vision of the moon could increase, if you move away from the surrounding light, so too with this emotion. Increase this emotion, by reducing the distractions surrounding it.
  • Reassess where your emotion is now: Pull back from your mental telescope, take a breath and notice where your mind is focused.


This handy trick is applicable in many scenarios and we hope you find it helpful in the preparing for the new school year. JFS wishes parents and students the best of luck in this academic school year!

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