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.

Summer Camp and Children’s Mental Health

Dear Parents and Friends,

On Friday I will be attending a workshop on Mental Health for Camp Leaders. The North Carolina Youth Camp Association is sponsoring this event by bringing in two speakers that will discuss these issues with camp owners and directors.  This is a topic that has received a fair amount of attention in our industry and the field of education at the national level in conversations and workshops over the past couple of years.

While summer camp is certainly not a cure all, we definitely know that it greatly benefits the overall mental health of children who attend.  Studies have proven the effects of playing in nature, being away from the “screen life”, collaborative living, positive role modeling, under-scheduling instead of over-scheduling, gaining resiliency and much more.  Each year we all see the effects of the complicated choices and lifestyles that children are exposed to.  Some of those choices pull them in directions that aren’t always what’s best for their own mental and physical well being.  Camp is a safe haven where they can thrive, guided by young adult role models through their camp journey and toward positive measurable outcomes (more on that in a later post here).Airstrip biking

The American Camp Association recently  published an article on Anxiety and the Importance of Play: An Interview with Shimi Kang, MD.  Just click on the title and you’ll be taken to the article.  After reading this, I think it’s something our parents would be interested in.  I hope you enjoy it and hope your new year is off to a great start.

Your Child on Nature!


Dear Parents & Friends,

Sorry for not posting a blog yesterday.  I was on a day off and frankly you can pretty much guess what transpires each day when you view the pictures.  There was a short storm last night just after dinner and much of our internet went down for a good and many of the pics were late in loading and getting into your hands at home.  I sometimes forget how rural we are when I go to a larger city and see how connected they are.

One of the great aspects of camp is that we are plugged into nature here and one another with no access to screens if you’re a camper.  I spent a good portion of my young life outdoors and in a neighborhood that bordered lots of vacant land; woods, fields, streams and the like.  I was probably in high school or college when I realized that I had ADD.  Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s we were kids that had somewhat mild behavior issues (which explains the “Unsatisfactory” and “Needs Improvement” on conduct that frequently was listed on my report card in my elementary grade years). I don’t think I was hyperactive but had a really hard time listening and focusing.  Testing was difficult and any distraction or noise during those times made it difficult for me to focus.  Outdoor sports were parts of life that I looked forward to.  When I got into outdoor adventure activities in my late teens and early 20’s I realized how much more focused I was when I was in nature and performing some tasks that really required my full attention.  I loved climbing because you had to be right there all the time and I realized that I could focus and keep my attention span going for much longer periods.

Back during this past winter two articles on nature and our brains and children with ADD/ADHD were written by a woman named Florence Williams.  One appeared in National Geographic and the other in Outside Magazine.  The article in Outside specifically targeted teens with ADD/ADHD and how an outdoor program called SOAR has had a great deal of success in working with these groups (mostly boys) and how they met with that success.  SOAR just happens to be in our backyard right up the mountain from Gwynn Valley.  What’s worked for them is shifting the whole academic year outdoors, where they alternate two weeks in their basecamp (rural and wooded) and then two weeks in the field.  Their executive director states, “We’re not reinventing the wheel—we threw out the wheel.” They’ve found that outdoor pursuits like climbing, backpacking and paddling were a magic fit for their students.  Ms. Williams states, “If you look at the symptoms of ADHD, maybe they’re not really symptoms anymore if you get in the right profession or the right ecological niche.  We learned some of this by looking at extreme athletes, who found that niche.”  The traditional classroom is probably not the place for these kids.

For these and all children, camp is such a respite from those classrooms where great things can and do happen, but it’s nature and the outdoors that we need so much.  We need nature for the reasons above and to get us away from those screens that occupy so much of our time.  You know the statistics and I won’t go there.  Camp promotes exercise and fitness and studies consistently show that aerobic activity targets the same attentional networks that ADHD medication does.

In Ms. Williams Nat Geo article, “This is Your Brain on Nature”, she discusses how scientists are looking at how nature affects our brains and bodies.  ”Everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers—indicate that when we spend time in green space, there is something profound going on. In 2009 a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space.” What researchers suspect is that nature works by lowering stress.  Just a simple view from a window can make a huge difference.  One Stanford researcher says “Nature may influence how you allocate your attention and whether or not you focus on negative emotions.”  Somewhere in our DNA we still have that connection to nature. Spending more time outdoors might be the antidote for our modern lifestyle and that distant connection to our primitive self.

Enjoying creative time outdoors!

Enjoying creative time outdoors!

I think camp is certainly much more than the antidote.  When kids engage at camp, they stimulate the areas of their brain responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and creative thinking. They learn cooperative skills living and working together and solving problems together.  They gain resilience, perseverance, curiosity, self-control, and more!

I see this every day at camp.  This morning I was working with some Mountainsider’s who are trying their hand at primitive woodworking using a drawhorse (shave horse) and draw knives to build a stool.  This project will take them over 10 hours to complete.  We are delving in skills that are very old but not forgotten.  We’re taking a red oak log sections and making stool legs.  We then will pick and cut the stool tops from a downed White Pine from last year, that has been rough sawn into 2 inch slabs, that are 10 feet long.  At first it was a bit overwhelming because we dove right in.  In just an hour and a half working on the legs they gained so much confidence and familiarity with the tools and the project.  We were also working outdoors in the shade next to Carson Creek.  This project kept their attention for that long without a break and really focused.  Play around them and people passing by were un-noticed.  Great things happen when we work and play outside.  Our bodies need and crave that connection and the simple joys of camp life does children a world of good.  Stay tuned!

I urge you to read these two articles and get out there yourself to enjoy the green space around you.

ADHD Is Fuel for Adventure

National Geographic – Your Brain on Nature