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.