Personal Path Finding

Featured Image
close-up of compass on a blue map and brown, dried leaves
Rebecca Porter is a Clinical Ethics Nurse for University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Like so many other health care workers this year, Rebecca has worked hard to find ways to keep moving forward during an unimaginable and exhausting point in our history. Below is an excerpt from her essay, Personal Path Finding, which encourages developing the skills to find purpose, practice resilience and use the tools around you to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Orienteering was a necessary survival skill I learned when I hiked or skied in the mountainous backcountry of western Canada or kayaked in the ocean. It’s a skill that involves answering the questions: where am I; and where am I going? Orienteering, as both art and skill, helps one safely navigate from point A to point B. It has served me – as an analogy—for emotionally navigating the challenges wrought by Covid-19. I needed to find a personal path forward to maintain my emotional, mental, and spiritual health.  

Almost every journal, magazine and newspaper article since COVID-19 became integrated into our lives and includes at least one article about the effects of chronic stress on our health. There are stories of people feeling sad, angry, frustrated, lonely, hopeless or overwhelmed. Other stories describe people finding meaning and renewed pride in their work, discovering increased compassion for others, finding a new hobby and ways to exercise; and re-thinking the things that bring purpose to their lives. Even with the challenges and heartaches of Covid-19, people are finding ways to flourish emotionally and psychologically.  

However, my sense is that to flourish is a bit like orienteering – in that both require knowledge and practiced skills. When I planned my back-country ski or hiking trip, I took time to use my orienteering tools: my map and compass. After reading scientific and psychology literature along with several articles in the newspapers, eight orienteering-like skills emerged that seem to existentially answer those 2 questions: where am I; and where do I want to go? Here is a list of those skills I found useful: 

  1. Name the emotion I am experiencing because my emotional state will guide my response to a situation. I need to calm myself so that I can focus on the problem at hand and think from an emotional perspective, ‘Where am I? Where I want to go?’ so that I can be productive.  

  1. When I express gratitude to others, my mood improves, and I find that I can focus on the positive things in my life.  

  1. Silently well-wishing others as I pass them by improves my thought processes and my mood. 

  1. Learning a new skill creates new neural pathways which helps me consider alternative strategies for problem-solving. 

  1. I can focus my thinking and calm myself when I consciously let go of the things in my life that I cannot control. 

  1. I know that I am not alone in grieving the losses of Covid-19, but by consciously acknowledging and grieving those losses, I know that I am creating a ‘new normal’.  

  1. I realized that laughing and feeling joy has even more meaning in the past months. It helps release tension and makes me relax. I have found respite in reading or watching a movie instead of relentlessly doom-scrolling through online news sites.  

  1. Intentionally staying connected with my family and friends brings meaning to my life and reduces the times I feel alone. I find a deeper sense of community because I realize that my experiences are not that different from what others are experiencing.  

It is normal to have intermittent days of feeling sad or angry or frustrated. It is time to get help if those days turn into weeks. The University of Iowa has many resources. Here are resources to explore for help: 
  • UI Employee Assistance Program: Free confidential counseling service available to all UI employees. Contact UI EAP at 319-335-2085 or eaphelp@uiowa.edu.  

  • Mental Health at Iowa: A hub of mental health resources and options available to faculty, staff, and students across the UI campus. Visit mentalhealth.uiowa.edu.  

  • COPE Team: Supports UI Health Care staff with work-related experiences and challenges such as COVID-19. Contact COPE at UIHC-COPE@healthcare.uiowa.edu.   

This article originally appeared in the liveWELL 2021 Winter Employee Well-Being Newsletter.