Stress levels in teenagers are higher than that for adults, and adolescents continue to underestimate the potential impact that stress has on their physical and mental health. After spending three weeks at my summer camp for girls, I rediscovered the key ingredient for reducing their stress: slowing the pace of life.
This slowing down process took on many forms at camp. The most impactful way was to provide lots of unscheduled down time. While waiting for fireworks on the fourth of July, an old school game of whiffle ball broke out, which then morphed into a kickball contest. We took a group of campers on a hike to a field of sunflowers one morning that included eating some corn on the cob filched from a field. Fun, outrageous, silly camp songs sprung up in many of the unplanned moments. My favorite moment was trying to get four people onto a caterpillar raft at a pool party one night; the picture below tells the story best.
Life slowed down also because there were no phones or social media for a week. This took away the angst the girls feel when they are trying to stay on top of every evolving story and drama with friends; no phones, no worries. This also allowed everyone to be fully present and focused on the people and events at hand; closer connections, no stress.
Nature is an incredible asset for grounding us. Walking everywhere all week out in nature is stress-reducing all in itself. Throw in stargazing, watching sunsets, campfires, and evening hikes and you’ve got nirvana. One of my favorite memories was sitting under a pavilion with a group of teens and just listening to the sounds of a rainstorm that erupted around us; pure relaxation.
It is possible to bring these lessons on slowing down into our everyday lives. Practice being more mindful in everything that you do, i.e. eating, vacuuming, walking, brushing your teeth, and even breathing. Doing one thing at a time increases focus and productivity, and also slows us down. Consciously stay on top of your scheduling to insure that there is ample time for hanging out, creativity, trying out new passions, and to just be. Spiritual teachers such as Moses (mountain), Jesus and Mohammad (desert), and Gandhi (countryside), went out into nature when they needed to gather themselves and gain insights and enlightenment. We should follow their lead in regularly spending time outdoors. All of us can learn to take holidays from our devices as a way to relax and de-stress.
Slow down the pace of your life and you will reap some of the benefits we experienced from a week of summer camp.