It’s All in the Lighting

It’s All in the Lighting

I recently noticed a friend of mine who posted exquisite photos on her social media profile. She isn’t a professional photographer, but she has a knack for capturing the world. I mentioned how impressed I was of her ability, and she replied, “it’s all in the lighting, my friend.” In that moment, it struck me how important this concept is now more than ever, and not just in regards to Instagram photos. In a time of such great loss, it is necessary to be intentional about how we view the world.

A global pandemic is a new frontier for all of us. We have been thrust into new roles that are uncomfortable, such as balancing new work practices, managing children’s education, or finding the proper face covering in order to walk the dogs. It is undeniably uncomfortable and each of us are having our own unique experience with it.

But, is there a way to alter the discomfort?

As a therapist, I encourage my clients to embark on the idea of this “lighting technique,” yet I call it by the technical term of ‘cognitive reframing’.  For example, numerous photographers shooting the same object will create different photos. Why? Because there are multiple variables such as a difference in perspective, distance to the object, lighting and camera equipment.

The same could be said about each of our perspectives during this unprecedented time. Our response to the situation will alter the outcome of our feelings about it. The following are cognitive and emotional skills to approach and digest challenging life circumstances:


Our perspective each day is the collection of thoughts and meanings we give to the situations we encounter. During this time of COVID-19, it is important to be mindful of the thoughts you are having. The main concept of cognitive-behavioral theory is that our thoughts lead to our feelings. Change your perspective and you will have a different emotional experience.

While that sounds logical and simple, it’s actually difficult to put into practice. The main thing is to be mindful of the thoughts you are having. If you find you’re having thoughts that lead to crummy feelings, see if you can shift them in a way that still feels valid for you. While this does not alter reality, it does allow you to adjust your perspective (in one way or another). If you can get a better view of the situation, it may make you feel a little better.


There is pervasive loss that is happening right now during this pandemic, and there is no way to avoid it. Sometimes the loss feels close and personal, especially if we or our family members are sick. Other times it feels further away, such as the loss of being able to socialize with friends or watching stories on the news.

It is hard to escape the feeling of loss, and grief deserves its space in order to be digested. We need time to heal our wounds with the flexibility to accommodate our emotions in the process. There may be times you need to step back and grieve on your own or lean in to be comforted by others. Slow down and allow yourself to adjust to what you need. Taking the time to allow this movement will be important in your ability to work through and process the loss.

It’s all in the LIGHTING

In the book Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “We often ask, ‘what’s wrong?’ In doing so, we invite painful seeds of sorrow to come up and manifest. We feel suffering, anger and depression, and produce more such seeds. We would be much happier if we tried to stay in touch with healthy, joyful seeds inside of us and around us. We should learn to ask, ‘what’s not wrong?’ and be in touch with that.”

This could be a great starting point of a daily gratitude practice. Some clients like to wake up in the morning and start their day with this practice, while others have found value in doing it at the end of the day in order to conclude their day with a feeling of peace. I recommend doing both. The act of gratitude allows us to shine light on what we have in order to mitigate the feelings of loss and lack.

We can only work with the CAMERA EQUIPMENT we have

Each of us has a different lens and equipment that shape how we view the world. Sometimes, this can feel absolutely infuriating or invalidating because others have different “equipment” from our own. For example, if you live with someone who likes to be productive in this time of crisis but you are having a hard time focusing, this could cause feelings of frustration or shame.

One of the main assumptions we make as DBT therapists, is to assume that people are doing the best they can. This does not mean that people can’t improve, but in each moment, they are doing the best they can with the tools they have.

This theory originates in a place of compassion and honors that we all have different coping skills, abilities and equipment that inform our response to stress. Those responses will look different, just like a Polaroid camera will create a different picture than an iPhone. However, if we harness our ability for compassion, it can allow us to give others the space for diverse perspectives, ease judgements, and help mitigate our feelings of disappointment and anger toward each other.


Authored by: Alison Trenk, MA, LCSW