Oh, how times have changed. If the past week has taught me anything, it’s that the lens through which we see the world is never stable, nor objective. In journalism, we call this “framing.”
When brainstorming how to approach a story — be it breaking news, academic research, or cultural commentary—debating the framing has always been my favorite part. In the newsroom I worked at, we spent at least 15 minutes messaging back and forth about framing for every story. Is Facebook’s redesign really a tech story? Or is it a reflection of sociocultural shifts in Gen-Z attention spans? Or perhaps it has nothing to do with Gen-Z at all—who even are Facebook’s power users? Boomers?
Framing is fun because it’s open-ended, creative, and collaborative. But more importantly, I adore framing because it reinforces the belief I’ve internalized as COVID-19 continues to ravage America: If you’re seeing any life circumstance through one point of view, you’re missing the point.
Complimentary to the journalistic concept of framing is the cognitive behavioral tool of “reframing.” Deemed “therapy’s most effective tool” by Talkspace, reframing can be understood as a technique used in therapy to help patients form different ways of looking at a situation, person, or relationship by changing its meaning.
“Another way to understand the concept of reframing is to imagine looking through the frame of a camera lens,” writes Amy Morin, LCSW in VeryWell. “The picture seen through the lens can be changed to a view that is closer or further away. By slightly changing what is seen in the camera, the picture is both viewed and experienced differently.”
Seems simple enough, though it’s hard to practice in the heat of the moment. Whether you’re experiencing a “passive aggressive” partner, a “difficult” boss, or an “unfair” disadvantage, we often need reframing most when we are overcome by blinding emotion.
Now is such a moment. COVID-19 is undoubtedly a global crisis to be taken extremely seriously—both in terms of how we behave (your girl is entering day 8 of self-imposed quarantine), and how we feel. Millions of innocent people are dying and falling ill from this virus. Sitting here and thinking about the situation from a detached, intellectual perspective is an immeasurable privilege. If you have a roof over your head and food to eat, you are the lucky minority right now. Take care of yourself, but then look to others. Donate. Volunteer. You can do both virtually.
Over the past week, I’ve been terrified, anxious, lonely, angry, stressed, relaxed, annoyed, overwhelmed, comforted, and at peace. Our collective conscious is confused—with reason. There is no rhyme or reason behind this virus. It does not discriminate. We don’t know when it will end. It’s really weird.
Whatever you feel, it’s valid. And whatever you feel, I’m confident that reframing can help, if only momentarily. Practicing reframing as an exercise won’t stop the spread or flatten the curve, but it will give you some relief, and that matters. Practicing reframing may make you uncomfortable, as it can feel as if you’re making light of a momentously serious occasion. If you feel that guilt, it’s a sign you’re taking the virus seriously, and that’s a good thing. But just as joy and laughter are rightfully framed as a form of resistance against social oppression, reframing your isolation, quarantine, and this pandemic can be viewed as a form of self-protection, refusal to let uncontrollable circumstances consume your humanity.
So, here’s a challenge: Take three minutes, grab a pen and paper (or a keyboard, fine), and let your brain dump out every possible reframing you can think of for your present circumstance. Be outlandish, absurd, and light-hearted. It’ll help, I promise.
This idea was motivated by pulling out a quote card I’ve kept in my wallet since this fall, when my brilliant mentor and friend, Lauren Brown, passed away. I miss Lauren so much, and I read this quote every day: “I’m an asshole, and I like adventures big and small.” Lauren was a spitfire and that’s why I love her. This quote every day brings me solace and makes me smile, but today, it took on a new meaning.
In many ways, this whole quarantine thing is an adventure—big and small. It’s an unfortunate opportunity, but an opportunity nonetheless. Lots of important people in history did lots of momentous things when quarantined in their respective times. Good for them! But even if you’re taking more time to sit on your couch, close your eyes, and do absolutely nothing, that’s an adventure and an accomplishment in these trying times.
Anyways, I’m setting my timer for three minutes. Below is my reframing list. I’d love to see yours, too (@leahfessler on Twitter):
Quarantine and this crazy COVID-19 experience is…
- An opportunity to write more
- Space to finally start that podcast I’ve always wanted to do
- More quality time with my fiancé, Sean
- An opportunity to reflect upon my health and privilege
- More time to read the countless books I buy and don’t finish
- More time to endlessly stroke my pug’s velveteen ears and play with him
- An opportunity to get to know my colleagues in a more human, real way
- Time to reconnect with family in a genuine way, instead of just seeing them around holidays
- Time to watercolor and draw
- An opportunity to deeply understand the huge responsibility of parenting and think critically about whether I actually want kids
- More time to exercise and run since I don’t have to commute two hours a day
- More time to learn about subjects I miss from college
- Space to take a step back and think about my longterm professional desires/visions
- Cooking cooking cooking, and healthier eating. Besides the roll of cookie dough I’ve mysteriously consumed in a week
- Even if my wedding could be cancelled, at least I have more time to prepare for it
- An opportunity to realize that my anxiety doesn’t make me abnormal or unique
- An opportunity to miss people, which helps me understand why I love them, and to tell them that
- An opportunity to feel glum and listen to sad music, which I sadistically enjoy
- An opportunity to learn some Gen-Z Tik Tok dances and feel like a #youth
- More sleep
- I get to see my colleague Clare’s adorable babies Victoria and Thomas on screen more. And lots of other babies
- My nails look better than ever because I’m terrified to bite them
This list could go on forever, but time’s up. Try it out, I dare you. And be well.