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Dr. Shay offers encouragement to Black families during the pandemic

It is no secret that in the Black community there is a long-standing cultural belief that only “weak” people seek out counseling and professional help.

However, with all that is happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic, from job losses to homeschooling, it can be a lot to manage all at once and that’s OK, says Atlanta-based marriage and family therapist Shatavia Alexander Thomas, popularly known as “Dr. Shay.”

Dr. Shay, who spoke with rolling out CEO Munson Steed for “Health IQ,” said that now is the best time for families to seek professional help.

So many people are at home due to COVID-19. They’re not moving around, they are now sequestered in an environment that plays on their emotions and the lack of movement. What should families do during this moment?

Families during this moment need to realize that it’s OK to slow down to reevaluate and assess the situation. This is not the time for business as usual in the world. And it’s necessary to see how that applies to the home. Roles have changed, shifted, and become strained. Families are working from home with children; or, one partner may be working and the other may not. Now is the time to assess your physical space, assess where you are mentally and emotionally and actually plan the day, the space and everything in between. Have an action plan for how to function as effectively as possible during this time.

How can families plan their space and function inside the home if they’ve never done it?

It is very difficult, not impossible, but difficult, to function in this time and space. A common term in the medical world is pre-existing conditions. Well, families have preexisting conditions as well! Some partners may have had challenges with intimacy, finances or child-rearing. One of the ways to address concerns is to have an open conversation about how you are organizing your time and space. In what room are the parents working? Where are the children working? Who’s doing what from 9 a.m. to noon? Who’s cooking breakfast? Who’s cleaning up the mess in the living room? The action plan needs to be holistic and practical, addressing both logistics and emotions. It’s easy to get triggered, resulting in tense conversations in front of children. But, couples need to actually set time aside to talk about what’s going on with them emotionally and logistically, including homeschool, remote work, etc.

You mentioned that even families might have levels of difficulty with intimacy. What do you suggest for couples who are dealing with that, given that they’re still on top of each other? And how can they address that?

Again, some were dealing with intimacy challenges prior to the pandemic. Even if it isn’t about sex, some partners don’t make time to snuggle and watch a movie; others are frustrated about the lack of sexual intercourse. For many, sex is a stress reliever, and intimacy is security confirmation. You have to know yourself and your partner. You have to reassess what’s important and have vulnerable conversations about what you need and what’s feasible.