Spring is here. The days are getting longer, flowers are blooming, and nature is waking from months of hibernation. The air is still crisp, though we have enjoyed a few unusually hot days in the Pacific Northwest thus far, and mornings are cool.
With spring break come and gone, parents are planning their child’s summer adventures. For many, the American tradition of summer camp is on the books. Unfortunately, for many others, camp is out of the question. These parents are dealing with one of the millions of American children who are plagued with anxiety, intense shyness, excessive worry, obsessive thoughts, panic attacks, and homesickness. For these families, convincing their child to spend a few nights away from home is almost impossible.
The benefits of attending a summer camp have been shared by Americans for generations. We have likely experienced this, or know someone who has returned to the same camp each year, and look forward to seeing their camp friends, participating in camp activities and “unplugging” from daily stress. We know this to be true anecdotally, and the mere amount of camps available is evidence to their growing popularity and enjoyment. The question is, why are they so great, and will the aforementioned anxious kids benefit too?
Researchers are interested in this topic as well and have conducted decades of studies showing evidence that summer camps are effective for building relationships, increasing self-esteem, and achieving mastery in outdoor activities. Camps are shown to help individuals who feel “different” feel included and bring together children with common illnesses or traumatic experiences.
When coping isn't enough:
Fight Fear Summer Camp, our camp for youth with OCD and/or other anxiety disorders, strives to build the same cohesiveness for children who may not have otherwise attended camp. The gold standard treatment for Anxiety Disorders is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Exposure Response Prevention, commonly known as exposure therapy.
The premise of exposure therapy is to help individuals experience the feared stimuli (i.e., social event, being away from home, performing in public, or eating with peers) without avoiding. This teaches the brain that no actual or real harm will come and that the body’s alarm system can turn off.
Attending camp will be exposure enough for many children - an opportunity to feel anxious around other children while supported by licensed therapists. They eventually feel safe and calm, all the while retraining the brain. Children naturally cope. We hope to help build tolerance to those yucky feelings.
Other examples of exposure tasks while at the camp:
Why Attend Fight Fear Summer Camp?
Fight Fear Summer Camp will utilize highly effective cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to teach campers self-soothing skills, confidence building techniques, thought challenging tools and provide social opportunities.
Examples of these include:
Less is more:
Camp is about unplugging and being present with oneself. Attending camp is a vacation for the mind. A place where sleep, meals, and activities are scheduled. Campers can relax from the uncertainty of daily worry, breathe fresh air, and learn to tolerate their own thoughts (and themselves). These basic changes to a camper’s day can reduce overall stress and anxiety considerably. When there are no tv’s, iPads, or phones, campers engage with one another, have fun and laugh. Camp is about fun. And when we laugh and smile, we activate mirror neurons (part of the brain designed to identify what we see and copy) in those around us. This is contagious.
Few things build confidence like challenging oneself. The intensity and degree of the challenge is less important than the act of engaging in a novel situation. Fight Fear Summer Camp, led by therapists, provides daily opportunities for campers to challenge themselves and develop a sense of mastery in an activity. This could be socially asserting oneself to navigating a high ropes course, from playing a sport for the first time to asking a peer to sit with them.
Insight is derived from awareness and feedback. Insight is often the precursor to change. At Fight Fear Summer Camp, we provide ongoing feedback to our campers, regular coaching, group therapy, and individual attention to help campers reach specific goals. Staff are trained to help campers recognize changes in mood, physiology, and negative thinking patterns.
We all experience anxiety and distress. For some of us, it’s too intense and can take over our lives. We created Fight Fear Summer Camp for children who deserve the camp experience but, due to anxiety, may have not thought about attending. We also created this camp for experienced campers who want to be around other teens and peers who share similar fears. There are few better therapeutic interventions than feeling like you fit in!