Source: Shutterstock

After two months of living with the anxiety and confines of the Covid-19 pandemic, I finally broke down last week. Melancholy, which had been steadily creeping over me, enveloped my psyche as the death toll continued to rise (particularly in the places closest to me my heart, New York and Stockholm), unemployment soared, and it became clear that social distancing restrictions would be in place for the foreseeable future. I’m usually pretty good at boosting myself up, but the coronavirus is so insidious, its implications so far-reaching, I turned to one of my oldest and best friends, experienced clinical psychologist and wardrobe strategist Ania Schwartzman, Psy.D., for additional support. Ania is a licensed clinical and school psychologist working for nearly two decades with children and adults. A graduate of Brandeis University, Ania obtained her Master’s Degree and Doctorate in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York. I had many questions about my feelings and fears and hope Ania’s advice can help others grappling with similar emotions.

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Ania on the set of NBC NY Live with journalist Raina Seitel in March 2019.

I’m a news junkie but feel overwhelmed by the data and saddened by stories of human tragedy. How can we balance our need to stay informed without succumbing to the anxiety of information overload?

Living in these uncertain times leaves most of us feeling anxious and worried. Research shows that feeling uncertain about the future is worse for our mental health than knowing what to expect. My advice for avoiding feeling overburdened or overwhelmed by the news is to commit to sticking with only one reliable news source. This helps to minimize the amount you are exposed to in a day. Additionally, avoid checking the news first thing after you wake up or right before you go to bed.

I’m scared that I or my loved ones will get sick. How can I manage that fear?

Instead of focusing on the “what ifs,” focus on the “what is.” In other words, focus on the present, the here and now. For example, right now I am feeling healthy and strong and right now I am doing the best that I can to protect myself.

I worry that when going out in public, people may be sick. I may be sick and spreading and not even know it! How do I deal with this new phobia?

Being afraid that others are sick is a rational fear. You can manage the fear by taking control of the steps you take when out in public. You can follow [CDC] guidelines such as wear a mask and gloves, keep at a safe distance (6ft is the recommended distance), limit your time outdoors, and wash your hands often.

What if the social distancing, self-isolation, and quarantine lead to depression? How can one prevent this?

If an individual develops symptoms of depression, seek out a clinical therapist. Talk therapy and medication help to alleviate the symptoms of depression. To avoid feeling lonely and isolated, make efforts to connect with others. It can be done virtually through Zoom or Facetime or outside with appropriate distance. Ask a friend to meet for a virtual coffee, meal, or happy hour.

It feels like no matter what we do, the coronavirus is one step ahead. We still don’t have a treatment, vaccine, or the capacity to reopen society fully.  What can we do to feel more in control of our environment and protect our loved ones near and far?

One of the hardest parts about this pandemic time is the feeling of not having control over our lives. The best way to manage your feelings is to focus on what you can control. You can control whether you wear a mask when outside, keep the appropriate social distance from others, store whatever essentials you need at home, limit the amount of time you spend on social media and the news, and how you manage your day. We cannot control how our loved ones from afar live their lives, but we can offer support by keeping in touch with them daily.

How can we tackle job loss and insecurity? What can we do to prepare for a better tomorrow?

Anyone going through job insecurity now is understandably worried and anxious. Best practice during this kind of uncertainty is to make a plan of action and follow through with it. Call/email colleagues and friends and let them know you are looking for work. Revise your resume and send them out. Attend virtual networking events/job fairs. Research what supports are available from your local government and seek out those supports. For some, this is a good time to consider a career pivot. It could be something within their field or something brand new. One silver lining in all this could be that more people start the venture of their dreams.

How should we talk to our children about this crisis? From preschoolers to college students?

There are so many resources available online now to help parents talk to their kids about Covid-19. Most will agree that children should be given information that is developmentally appropriate for their age and maturity level. The conversation you have with your high school son will not be the same as you have with your grade school daughter. Let them lead the discussion. Be honest. Stick with the facts. Validate their feelings. Remind them what your family is doing to keep them safe. Offer ideas for how they can be helpful (ex. Send thank you cards to nurses/doctors). Check-in with them periodically to find out if they have any thoughts or questions. If they don’t, drop it and let them know that you are available when they do.

There’s so much uncertainty about the future. We’ve had to write-off many personal and professional plans. How do we cope with the turbulence and after-effects?

We are suffering a community trauma. That said, we all manage our feelings differently. There will be those that come out of this feeling more powerful having survived and maybe even thrived. And there will be those that have suffered tremendous loss and grief who will need significant time to recuperate. In times of uncertainty, it helps to look for the silver linings. What good has come out of this time already? For me, it’s been being able to wake up later than I usually do, having more time with my children, testing out new recipes. I believe that the long-lasting effects will differ depending on how one has coped during this time.

What are some helpful anxiety-coping strategies?

The best strategies to manage feelings of anger and anxiety include meditation (there are tons of apps and online options); exercise (includes walking, running, dancing, yoga); seek out virtual connections with friends/colleagues (social connection improves mood); journal your thoughts and feelings (research shows that naming feelings increases well-being); laugh (watch comedies, read humorous books); practice positive mindset (I don’t know what will happen but I know I will be okay); look at pleasant or memorable photographs (helps to feel relaxed); practice self-care (take a bath, give yourself a manicure, try a face mask, take a nap). Helping others is also good for our minds and bodies and gives us a sense of purpose. Being connected to a larger community reduces feelings of isolation (which can lead to depression) and helps decrease blood pressure which is good for our overall health. Looking out for neighbors, assisting with errands and shopping, donating to a cause or charity you care about, delivering food, making masks, and sharing information are all ways to help. But stay safe and be sure to follow guidelines when supporting others. 


Ania recommends this calming exercise: Find a quiet spot to sit. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Keep breathing. Stay like this for a few minutes. When your mind wanders, come back to your breath. Repeat after me: may I be healthy, may I be safe and protected, may I live life with ease, may I be happy. Repeat 5 times. When you are ready, open your eyes. Photo Source: Shutterstock

I practice gratitude and am a firm believer of keeping things in perspective but lately, I’ve found myself missing things like trips, restaurants, dancing, and dressing up. How can I manage these frivolous thoughts?

What you describe as “frivolous” are really the joys of living a good life. I do not believe in feeling guilty for missing the things we miss. I do believe that it is important to consider with whom and how you share these feelings. Be mindful of your audience and what they could be experiencing. If someone is dealing with loss, they may not appreciate hearing that you miss dancing or getting your daily Frappuccino. That said, everyone going through this unprecedented time appreciates distractions. I have been busy with helping others organize their closets and plan outfits. They tell me it helps them feel calm and hopeful about the future.

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A few years ago, Ania Schwartzman, Psy.D, decided to combine her clinical therapy practice with her love for fashion, and The Fashionologist was born. The photo above was taken a while back, but in keeping with the coronavirus social distancing rules, Ania has been seeing clients virtually.

Sometimes I feel like my book writing is futile in the shadow of the pandemic. What should I and other creatives do?

Continue to write your book! This pandemic is truly terrible, but it will end someday. When that day comes, you will know you used your time well.

Thank you so much, Ania, for your valuable insight. For more about Ania’s work, please visit her website, The Fashionologist.

Readers, how are you coping with coronavirus anxiety?



Social-distancing. Self-isolation. Stay at home. Lockdown. Shelter in place. Working from home. These have been my catchphrases for half a year, albeit unknowingly and under different circumstances. Writing my next novel has taken up all of my waking, non-family hours. I’ve been plugging away towards an April 1st rough draft deadline, striving for a summer release date. I’ve barely had time to socialize with friends–or to be out and about–so the directives from the World Health Organization to flatten the coronavirus curve were easy for me to implement. I prefer to work at home, close to my research material, and don’t want to lose precious time getting properly dressed and leaving the house. I work best when I can totally immerse myself in my fictional universe.

Writing is my creative outlet; it gives me joy, focus, and structure, but what happens when you do it in the shadow of a pandemic? When Shakespeare was in quarantine from the plague in 1606, he wrote King Lear. My concentration, however, has been shattered, torn between wanting to conduct business as usual and keeping abreast of the latest developments. Rather than writing full-time, a big chunk of my day is spent following the latest information on the virus’s trajectory and consuming news reports about patients, government policy, the healthcare challenges, and economic fallout. CNN is usually on in the background; the reporters’ solemn, sincere voices have become my soundtrack throughout this pandemic.

In order to ease my anxiety and get into work mode, I take occasional news breaks. Even so, reality doesn’t disappear. I may write a paragraph or two and then forget, for a split second, that we’re in dire straits, but then I come out of my writing bubble and it hits me again. I’ve asked myself repeatedly: What’s the point of what I’m writing? Does it matter in these apocalyptic times? When life and death hang in the balance? With economies and livelihoods on the brink of collapse? Sticking to a schedule, planning for a summer release–is that realistic or feasible?

Like everything else, the book world has been turned upside down. A number of writers have had their publication dates delayed or book tours canceled. Writing a book can be a lonely undertaking; doing events and meeting readers are among the most rewarding parts of the job. Luckily, the literary community has found alternative approaches to promote their work and connect with the public. Books have remained an essential part of my life during this crisis. I take reading breaks to escape, to be inspired by another writer’s inventiveness, and to marvel at their flair for words. I also support new releases by downloading them on my Kindle. Although I’ve avoided pandemic fiction–too close to home–I admire the research and imagination that went into conceiving them. These are the books currently in my Kindle library: The Glass Hotel; In Five Years; The Herd; My Dark Vanessa; Followers; Smacked; Oona Out of Order; and These Ghosts Are Family. My husband and I binge-watched Netflix’s adaptation of Harlen Coben’s The Stranger and it was a thrilling diversion. Listening to literary podcasts like Zibby Owen’s Mom’s Don’t Have Time to Read Books and buying online from independent bookstores are additional ways to support writers and the industry.

I’m acutely aware that I’m in a fortunate position where I can stay home and still manage my life under stricter guidelines. Many do not have that possibility. Coronavirus victims and caregivers are constantly on my mind. I don’t bemoan changed plans or canceled trips. These are small “sacrifices” for the greater good of public health and safety. My gratitude to the frontline professionals and first responders in healthcare, food retail, pharmacies, and other essential services is immense. I feel healthy right now but COVID-19 is a silent predator. If afflicted, I don’t want to inadvertently infect others or become a burden on hospitals at the expense of other vulnerable individuals. Out of social responsibility and solidarity, I stay home and write.

The coronavirus forced me to change a crucial element in my new book. The story was supposed to take place during the summer of 2020, the first one of the new decade. I loved the sound and symmetry of it and imagined warm, sunlit days to contrast with my characters’ inner turmoil. Yet as this pandemic progressed, I realized it would be unrealistic to ignore its presence given that every aspect of our lives has been affected thus far. But it also felt opportunistic to insert an unfolding, unresolved crisis for the sake of historical accuracy. For this reason, I restructured the narrative timeframe to 2019.

Who knows where we’ll be this summer? But I’ll keep writing and, hopefully, I’ll finish and release my new novel, humbly offering to others the distraction that has sustained me these last few months.

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Greetings from the Swiss Alps! I’ve spent the last week skiing with family and friends for the annual Swedish Winter Sports Break. Snow has been falling heavily for the past few days and visibility is poor. My husband and son can handle those challenging conditions, but I prefer to stay inside by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and a book. I’m currently engrossed in Real Life by Brandon Taylor, a debut novel that has received much praise.

Regarding my own book project, I’m halfway-done to a finished first draft. Although I felt guilty putting the manuscript aside this week, the invigorating mountain air and expansive views have stimulated many ideas and I can’t wait to pick up where I left off when I get back to Stockholm. March will be an intensive writing month since I have an April 1st deadline for submission to a developmental editor. As an indie author, it’s particularly important to ensure that the plot makes sense, the characters are well-developed, and the grammar and spelling are correct.

However, as much as I’ve been trying to stay laser-focused on my writing, it’s been impossible to ignore the recent controversy embroiling the literary world. It centers around a novel released last month, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, the story of a Mexican mother and her son whose family has been massacred by a drug cartel. They are forced to flee, instantly becoming migrants, and embark on a precarious journey north to the American border. It was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club pick, sparking controversy over the exploitation of migrant stories by non-Mexican and non-migrant writers. In addition, American Dirt has drawn attention to the lack of racial diversity in the publishing industry, along with issues of representation surrounding the books that get published and marketed.

I have not read American Dirt and will not delve into that specific debate, but it did make me think about my own publishing journey and the difficulty I had attracting agents and publishers for my first novel, Uptown & Down.  One the one hand, some said they couldn’t envision a broad audience for the story while others told me it wasn’t “black enough.” You can only imagine my confusion! Thankfully, I found one agent willing to take a chance on the story and she, in turn, found an editor at Penguin/NAL who “got it.” I will always be grateful to both of them. Ten years later, I experienced many of the same issues with Lagging Indicators and that frustration led me to publish independently.

Cummins’s novel has also renewed the discussion about cultural appropriation and writing outside of your race, culture or experiences. I passionately oppose limiting the world or characters a writer can imagine. Of course, if we go outside of ourselves, we should do our homework and approach it with sensitivity, but self-censoring our imagination is a dangerous proposition creatively. My novels have always contained a diverse cast of characters, both for depth and to reflect the multicultural world we live in.

Which brings me to my new book, a mother/daughter story set in the Swedish archipelago. The narrative is told from two points of view and my main characters are a white Swedish mother and her bi-racial daughter. I am neither–does that mean I don’t have the right to write from their perspectives? Should I scrap this story because I might open myself up to criticism? Although I feel I can justify my creative choices based on my years living among Swedes, I’m still very much aware that I’m writing outside my cultural and racial identity. But when crafting the characters of Linn and her daughter Zoë, I’ve tried to inhabit their emotions, inner conflicts, and motivations, hoping our outward differences will transform into something more universal. To be continued…