Balancing Act: Camps for adults help workers recharge

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A year ago, Joseph Dawson, a communications manager at a South Florida biotech company, sat at his computer dreaming about connecting with musicians who shared his passion for rock music. So Mr. Dawson jetted to Las Vegas, where he spent a week playing drums at a rock 'n' roll fantasy camp with other working professionals looking to escape their routine.

"It was kind of like self-help group therapy," he said. "It changed me on a level I didn't expect."

With time demands and stress levels rising, U.S. workers are desperate to connect with others who feel trapped in the same dynamics. Camps for adults have become increasingly popular as an antidote to workplace stress, offering workers a weekend or weeklong opportunity to unplug their devices, recharge their personal batteries, re-evaluate priorities and experience much-needed camaraderie.

Stress experts say building bonds with others in a completely new environment encourages positive thinking and resilience. "The brain is hardwired that we must have a tribe or community in order to survive in this very challenging world," said Heidi Hanna, CEO of Synergy Solutions and author of "Stressaholic." "Social support not only boosts optimism, it makes challenges appear less difficult."

For Mr. Dawson, 32, rocking out with rock legends like KISS's Ace Frehley and Alice Cooper was decidedly cool. But the deeper experience came from bonding with bandmates who were strangers just the week before. He has stayed in touch with all of them -- insurance agents, doctors, IT experts, all tethered by a common love of music. He said they support each others' lives outside work, even traveling to attend performances.

According to GrownupCamps.com, there are more than 800 adult camps in the U.S., most of them operating throughout the year.

Camp organizers are discovering even the young generation of workers sees the benefit of breaking away from the modern world for a camp experience.

Levi Felix, 29, co-founded Digital Detox in 2012 to lead device-free retreats and programs. He has hosted more than 15 three-day retreats for people who feel addicted to their gadgets. For 72 hours, the participants eat vegan food, practice yoga, swim in a creek, take long walks in the woods and keep a journal about being offline.

From those retreats, Mr. Felix got the idea for Camp Grounded, a full-scale, adults-only camp held in June on former Boy Scouts quarters about 2 1/2 hours north of San Francisco. Last summer, about 300 people from all over the country attended and participated in activities such as truffle-making workshops, yoga and archery. Campers, mostly in their 30s, were prohibited from electronics, watches and work talk.

"People are looking for a place to unplug, re-energize and build community," he said. "The idea is to leave with new perspective."

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC, a provider of news and advice on how to balance work and life. She can be reached at balancegal@gmail.com


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