As a camp counselor or other staff member, you already know the upside to camp — the excitement, fun, laughter, new challenges, lifelong friendships, and so much more. You may also be aware that camp is a lot of hard work, yet still be surprised along the way by the actual amount of effort your job entails. Camp is a microcosm. It is a literal home for a few months out of the year, providing food, shelter, and a plethora of activities all wrapped into one smallish place. And your job literally takes you out of your comfort zone and places you in the midst of caring for other people’s children. At camp, you are a parent, a mentor, and a caregiver in many ways, almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a weighty responsibility, and a week in the life of camp can feel like a month in the real world.

Camp can be stressful; it can be tiring — and it can be so much fun that you’ll be devastated when the summer comes to a close. As a young person, working with your peers can be one of life’s most rewarding experiences when it comes to learning, playing, and forming truly wonderful friendships. But the old adage “work hard, play hard” doesn’t always result in your summer success.

Because camp never turns off, it’s important not to use your precious free time to pile more on your plate. Self-care and wellness are paramount! As you’ve likely learned over the past two-plus years living within a pandemic, flexibility and patience are essential. And you’ll find these virtues are equally as important at camp. When you feel rested and fulfilled, you will be able to do your job much better. You’ll be a better role model and have more fun (and be more fun) overall.

I recently heard stress being compared to a soda can. Shake the can, try to open it, and all of a sudden there’s soda overflowing everywhere. Shake the can, place it on the counter for a while to settle down, and then open it. Voila! You won’t have a mess to clean up. This is very much like life as a camp counselor. If you haven’t been able to take the time to let yourself settle, you might be more likely to lose your cool and explode. It is imperative that you take the settling time you need. Everyone is different. You may be someone who needs a lot of time alone to recharge, and you may find the bustling camp environment a challenge. Or you may possess the ability to “chill out” more quickly after a stressor. Either way, you can use these simple strategies to relax, recharge, and regroup:

1. Pay attention to your body and your personal wellness.

If you are feeling sick or unwell, either physically or mentally, take the required time to attend to your needs. You cannot take care of anyone else until you have taken care of yourself.

2. Maintain great nutrition.

Someone in your life has most likely told you that eating a well-rounded diet is important. Well, at camp, where you are being physical, moving around often, playing, running, and helping campers with their needs, good nutrition is even more critical. Without a proper diet filled with fruits, vegetables, proteins, and not too much sugar, you will crash.

3. Get adequate sleep and rest.

You can compromise your immune system if you don’t get enough sleep. This certainly leads to a much higher chance that you will become ill, which impacts your ability to do your job. Inadequate amounts of sleep can also exacerbate anxiety and depression.

4. Take a few moments every day to step back, breathe, and be mindful.

Just five minutes of daily meditation has been shown to dramatically increase productivity and feelings of general wellness, and it will help you perform better at camp.

5. Make time for genuine connections with others.

Take a moment to appreciate a camper’s success and celebrate it with them. Or have a meaningful conversation with a fellow camp staff member. These small moments and connections can really refill your emotional cup.

6. Practice grace and empathy with yourself.

If you make a mistake, acknowledge it, say you’re sorry, and move on. Mistakes are part of learning.

7. Don’t be scared to ask for help.

This little sentence might just be the most important one you read all summer. Everyone needs help at some point. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, request assistance from your co-counselor or division leader. If you don’t know how to do something or what the answer is, just ask.

8. Have fun!

Last, but definitely not least, remember to have fun!

Your camp’s leadership is invested in making sure that you have a safe and successful summer. Don’t hesitate to lean on them or other seasoned camp employees for support. Remember that your health and wellness truly do matter.

Wishing you a summer filled with joy, learning, and new friendships.

Photo courtesy of Camp Brave Trails, Los Angeles, CA

Jane Glazer, MSN, MA, CPNP, FNP-BC, has practiced in urgent care, college health, and residential camp health. She is interested in education, evidence-based best practices, and providing care to campers in a safe and fun way.

ASAP Camp Safety Program