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Burnout? Not this summer!

Working for a camp is great, but any position that deals with kids is going to be stressful (just ask any parent). Being able to handle the responsibilities and the pressures without being overwhelmed is a key for any successful camp administrator or counselor.

Stress in itself is not a negative force. Many people claim to work better under pressure. It's the recurring, prolonged job tension that has been linked to physical and emotional problems.

Every person has a point of "overload," where performance starts to slip or even break down. Yet some people handle stress much better than others. The real distinction lies not in the number of stressful events, but in the person's reaction to it.

Stress is a very personal response. What is easy for you to do, may be very stressful for me. In that sense, no one can really gauge what is stressful for someone else. Co-workers may see the symptoms of overload, but not really understand the cause. (To check whether you are at risk of stress overload, see Seven Signs of Burnout on page 34.)

Stress Busters

Dealing with pressure at work is a skill. People that handle it well have learned their own tolerance levels; they don't wait until it gets really bad. A little forethought can go a long way.

Do you know what's stressful for you? Can you tell when it's getting to be too much? Do you know what to do then? Better yet, do you know what you can do now?

Ideas that may prove helpful are:

1. Set realistic long- and short-term goals.

* Do a lot of your thinking and planning before the kids arrive. Disorganization causes mistakes, extra work, and anxiety.

* Long-term goals serve as a constant guideline for decision making. A master calendar for the session, deadlines decided well in advance, and a practical budget are ideas utilized by effective organizers.

* Set short-term goals to delineate what you are doing this month... this week... today.

* Most important, make your goals realistic. Planning too much leads to overwork, feelings of disappointment, and lots of stress! If you consistently don't get your daily list of things done, try letting someone else make the list.

2. Enjoy your small triumphs; don't get down on yourself for mistakes.

* An outgrowth of setting realistic goals are many small successes...and large ones, too. Break large projects into small steps. Feel good about completing the first half of something; this technique gives you more energy to complete your task.

* You made a mistake! So? Now what?What can you leam from it? Can you feel good about what you have learned? You need the positive energy especially after making a mistake.

* Give to yourself some of the kindness and understanding you give to children. It reduces stress ! 3. Be positive with others.

* Your job is to encourage, guide, teach, and work with others. If you see yourself as a "police officer" looking for mistakes, trying to catch people doing the wrong thing, you're expending a lot of negative energy. It's stressful to constantly be against people.

* Train yourself to look for what people are doing right and share your observations with them. Their success is your success, or, as the saying goes, "What goes around comes around." The positive energy will flow both ways.

4. Delegate: Train others to do some of the simple jobs you really dislike be replaceable.

* Feeling irreplaceable may be good for the ego but it can cause a lot of stress. Do you really have to do everything yourself?

* Utilize your assistants. Delegate the jobs that can easily be done by someone else. Maybe someone would actually enjoy doing a part of your job that you really dislike.

* Save your energy for the more important responsibilities - not because you are lazy, but because you are trying to reduce stress.

5. Insist on doing the fun parts of your job.

* This is camp; lead by example. Have fun.

* You need fun to keep your positive energy flowing. Decide what camp activities bring out a smile, a laugh, and engage in them regularly.

* Insist on something fun every day (your personal vitamin). This reduces stress and keeps everything in perspective.

6. Change just for the sake of change.

* If boredom is causing you to feel burned-out, do some things differently. Why not try a fresh approach? There must be more than one way to get the job done.

* Come to work a different way; change your hairstyle; eat dessert first (not while children are looking).

* Do whatever it takes to get out of the rut ! 7. Make good personal relationships a priority.

* Few things are more stressful than working with someone with whom you don't get along. It can have a powerful negative effect on your attitude and energy.

* Don't wait around hoping things will change. Be assertive ! * Work on your attitude.

* Try to talk it out directly or seek a mediator. You don't necessarily have to end up being friends, but can you at least have a "working relationship?" (See "We Can Work It Out: Resolving Staff Conflicts," on page 21 .)

* Ask someone else for help.

* If all else fails, consider avoiding the person, or getting a transfer.

8. Eat decent meals.

* You ask a lot of your body - show some respect for it.

* Coffee and a doughnut is not a decent meal! Eat balanced meals: Fruits, know good stuff!.

* Smaller meals with small snacks provide more energy than one big meal.

* Eat sitting down - take a real lunch break.

* We all know how important you are and how busy your day is... but even the President gets a lunch break.

9. Get some exercise.

* Frequent exercise is linked with better health, less disease and less depression. Japanese firms believe in it so much, they schedule exercise on company time.

* Be creative; find ways to integrate exercise into your workday. Walk or bicycle instead of drive.

* Join in camp activities that require exercise. Play ! 10. Don't procrastinate! Deal with problems head-on in a timely manner.

* Procrastinating uses up energy. The difficult things we put off stay in the back of our minds nagging at us. As the deadline approaches, the stress mounts.

* Develop a management style that makes decisions without first putting them off.

Go home! Get a life! * Camp is great. Don't tell me this is all there is for you!?! Too much of anything can burn anybody out. * Have other interests, other activities, other.friends. Variety provides a perspective.

Have a Great Summer! Peter Gero, Ph.D., M.F.C.C. is director of Tom Sawyer Camps, Inc. in Altadena, California, and works with families as a staff therapist with Descanso Pediatrics Medical Group in La Canada, California.


1. You dont't want to go to work: you are absent more frequently, late to work, taking longer breaks.

2. What used to be fun and chanllenging isn't any more.

3. It takes a lot of energy to "fake" the enthusiasm that used to be real.

4. Your responses to mild crises are inapproriate and ineffective; your're short-tempered, you snap at people; you yell at people; your're bitter, sarcastic, negative; you complain a lot.

5. You have difficulty staying focused; home problems, vacations, hobbies, personal phone calls.

6. You're not as professional; not as careful with details, you find yourself saying, "I really don't care," when you would never have said that before.

7. You have physical symptoms such as ache, pains, illness, depression, feeling "old".
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Title Annotation:stress management for camp counselors
Author:Gero, Peter
Publication:Camping Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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