How to Deal with Pre-Camp Jitters: Anxiety & Excitement as Two Sides of the Same Coin

Feeling anxious?  Instead of trying to calm down, try renaming the feeling as excitement.  These two emotions actually feel the same physiologically, your heart beats fast and cortisol surges.  The difference lies in how we conceptualize that feeling.  Both feelings indicate that uncertainty lies ahead: excitement indicates it’s something to look forward to, while anxiety indicates it’s something to be feared.  When we do anything for the first time, there’s always uncertainty.  We all need uncertainty; in fact, you can’t grow* without it.  Stepping out of your comfort zone will always feel, well, uncomfortable and that’s a good thing!
Here’s how to re-frame anxiety as excitement:
When your child expresses they are nervous or anxious about camp, acknowledge their feelings and normalize them.  You could say something like:  “Those butterflies in your stomach are just telling you you’re uncertain about what’s going to happen.  That’s what we feel when we try something new.  It’s exciting to try new things!”  Then, you can remind them of a time they were successful trying something new they were nervous about (ie. the first time they tried a new sport, went to a sleepover, started a new school, talked in front of the class, dove into the water headfirst, etc.).  Be encouraging and positive, reinforce that there’s something to look forward to.  Shift the focus by talking about the aspects they might be excited about.  If they stay focused on aspects they are anxious about, make a plan with them to address specific concerns.
Other ways to build excitement:
  • Make sure your child has seen the video of camp, talk about the different activities that camp offers, and ask them what they are most looking forward to.
  • Have them help pick out new gear they need for camp (ie. flashlight, sleeping bag, stationary for writing home).  Note: Having them pick out the items helps them feel ownership of the decision to go to camp.
  • Hang up pictures of camp or have a countdown calendar to camp.
  • Schedule a tour or come to the Open House. Call us for details 828-885-2900
  • “Practice” for camp by sleeping over with family or friends, or camping out in the yard.
Small comforts with big impact:
  • Make sure to pack their favorite “stuffie” or “lovie”
  • Have your child pick out a picture of your family to take with them.
  • Request for your child to have meals with their friend or sibling.
  • Be sure to write letters or send emails to them while they’re at camp.  Please remember we have a No Package policy.
  • Please do not tell your camper you will come pick them up if they are homesick because we find this undermines their confidence and does not set them up to succeed.  Instead, remind them that they are ready and reassure them that you know they can do it and will have fun!  Read more about homesickness,
Sources: Read more about re-framing anxiety as excitement in these articles:
Khazan, Olga. (2016, March 23). Can Three Words Turn Anxiety Into Success? The Atlantic.  Retrieved from
Dahl, Melissa. (2016, March 23). You’re Excited Not Nervous.  You Just Keep Telling Yourself That. New York Magazine.  Retrieved from
The science is found in this study published by the American Psychological Association:
Brooks, A.W. “Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143, no. 3 (June 2014): 1144–1158. (Received Outstanding Dissertation Award by International Association for Conflict Management 2013.)
*Want to feel like a child development pro?  Help your child develop a growth mindset.


Dear Campers, Parents and Friends,

For centuries, nature has been a source of healing and inspiration. Now, studies show exposure to nature has endless physical, cognitive, social, creative and emotional benefits for children. I am not at all surprised by this finding. This is why a good camp experience adds so much to the overall development of the whole child. Today’s children get 50% less unstructured outdoor play time than kids of the 1970’s, according to the Alliance for Childhood, a non-profit group. Our lives are over-scheduled, so free time, for both children and adults is sparse. We are hyper-competitive and dictated by security concerns. Video games and electronic devices vie for children’s time, and all the while, parents are dealing with the demands of balancing work and home life.

Camp is one place where unstructured outdoor play exists in its finest form. Outdoor play at camp is meaningful and relevant to how we live today. Camp helps to reinvent the outdoor experience. Camp allows the child to get close to nature in a fun and hands-on manner. Sometime back in the sixties adult directed sports for children began to replace pickup games and unstructured free play. As you might guess after 9/11 children did not venture as far from home and play was mostly supervised.

Gwynn Valley is a giant playground where children are well supervised in a nurturing environment. The traditional playground and the playground industry are redefining themselves to meet the demands of our high-tech world. Traditional playgrounds have incorporated technology into physical exercise for children who are participating. It’s an active and fun way to relate to the modern child who’s been raised in a technological world. Camp’s massive playground comes without technology and all the things that provide for all the senses that children need to take in on a daily basis.

First and foremost are the relationships they make while here at camp with other children and staff. The playful camp environments are large and varied from sports, to adventure challenges, to creative/artistic skills, to nature itself utilizing all types of forest surroundings, streams and meadows. All of this plays into life skills for growing happy and healthy children. How often does one get to go directly to the source where your food comes from.  How often does one get to participate in harvesting the food that they will eat at their next meal.  How often does one get to physically interact with the animals that are a part of a farm to fork program.

Camp leaders, manufacturers, educators and researchers must work together to better understand the physical, cognitive, social and emotional aspects of what happens when children play. Whether they’re playing tag, biking the flow of single track, or placing rubber bands to create the  tie-dye masterpiece, they are using all their senses and building the foundations for making the whole person. Camp’s playground is a nurturing and meaningful place for children where experiences build confidence, spur on creativity, and  help build strong relationships.  Play is powerful and camp is powerful.

PS – Here’s a link to a video on our new dining room / kitchen building progress!  Enjoy!

New Building Update