Camp Style Coping

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If you’re like us, you might be starting to feel a little under siege by Fall 2020. There’s no doubt our families are all courageously confronting the daily challenges of school and work during a global pandemic. The stressors don’t need to be enumerated, honestly, I think it would stress me out completely to have to type up the list.

Instead, let’s think about Camp! Let’s think about why, for the last 73 years, Sanborn Western Camps has been “that magical place” for tens of thousands of young people and staff who made the long trek to the mountains of Colorado each summer. Like the trip to Narnia, Oz, Hogwarts, each one had to leave their known world behind and approach the adventure as the Hero of their own story. How many of us are remembering to do that now, today, every day?

There are very specific and intentional things that make Camp a magical place for each of us. The good news is that they are, without question, things that we can do in our own daily lives too. We just have to be as intentional about making these practices part of our daily routine.

On World Mental Health Day (Oct, 10, 2020) Prof. Laurie Santos, Ph.D. of Yale University shared her five favorite coping strategies, and they really resonated with me. They did because they are all things that we practice at Camp everyday. Let’s see if any of these simple practices might be something that you could adopt during these trying times.

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1 Exercise - 30 minutes a day of even light cardio can significantly improve your mood and outlook. In many replicated studies, daily exercise has been shown to be more effective than a prescription of Zoloft. Walking is just as valuable as running…we’re not training for a marathon here (unless that’s a new goal!) we’re just getting out and getting our heart-rate up.

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2 Practice Gratitude - Again, in study after study Gratitude has been shown to increase our happiness and sense of well-being. Focusing on things we are grateful for comes easy in good times, but taking the time to recognize our blessings in times of stress provides a needed lift for our hopefulness and happiness. Grab an old notebook and write down 3 to 5 things at the beginning and/or end of the day and the results can be surprising. (Today I wrote: making breakfast with my kids, the taste of my coffee, the text connection with my Mother and brothers, it’s Friday…nuff said)

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3 Sleep - We’ve all heard this over and over but I struggle to put it into practice. Dr. Santos reminds us that turning off all of our screens at least 30 minutes before bed is a crucial step in preparing us for a peaceful sleep. Make this a ritual along with the gratitude practice and go to sleep feeling thankful for the things that are going right in our day.

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4 Get Social - No matter who you are the act of getting social provides a positive boost. Even the introverts among us benefit from connections with others…though they feel comfortable with a smaller circle of friends. I’ve taken up Zooming with my family back east, and friends around the world. I’m not talking about the huge Zoom with tons of people with whom you feel thinly connected. Get face-to-face with people who know you and who help you remember who you really are. Double getting social with exercise and take a walk/hike outside with someone who makes you smile.

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5 Be With Your Emotions - This practice is a way of recognizing that, yes, these are stressful times, and, I can still be centered and present. It’s expected that we are going to feel anxious, worried, sad and that’s okay. Denying our feelings and stuffing them down is what gets us in trouble. Being able to feel our feelings helps us to be more present and authentic. The practice that Dr. Santos describes was developed by the Psychologist, Tara Brach, Ph.D. and is represented by the acronym RAIN:

Recognize - Name the emotion you’re feeling

Accept - Invite the emotion in and just be with that feeling without avoiding or masking it.

Investigate - Explore the physical aspects of the emotion, get curious, where do you feel it in your body? Heavy chest, tight muscles? Breathe and relax.

Nurture - Think about how you might talk to a 5-year-old who was struggling with the same thing. Try to offer yourself the same grace, patience, understanding, and compassion. Remember, this too shall pass.

Taking time to take care of ourselves in these days of uncertainty and unease is absolutely necessary. These practices take very little time and offer strong and proven benefits. Camp has always promoted these healthy-life-hacks and when we resume programming you can bet these will be at the forefront of our minds. Please feel free to share these practices with your families and friends by linking the Sanborn Blog to your social media, or directly through email.

May your every day be like a day at Sanborn!

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Matthew Cook
About Matthew Cook

Matty Cook has spent the last 27 years in the camping industry, 19 of those as a Camp Director and Executive Director. Matty started his professional camping career as the Camp Director at Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in CT, a position he held for 13 years. For the last four years Matty was the Executive Director at Teton Valley Ranch Camp in WY. Matty joined the team at Sanborn Western Camps in January of 2020 and is currently the Incoming Co-Director at Big Spring Ranch. Matty earned a B.S. in Psychology at Northern Arizona University, and a Masters in Social Work at Arizona State. He lists his favorite activities as backpacking (in Colorado and Utah especially), paddling anything on moving water, skiing, and cooking/baking over an open fire…anywhere. Matty is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor and has many years of experience in leading backcountry and adventure based programs. Matty and his family currently live in Victor, Idaho.