Mental Health and SFOs

By Mya Clark

Volume 67, No. 5

Just Breathe: Breathwork as a Coping Skill for Anxiety. Photo by Ellie Beckner 

For Mental Health Awareness Month, the Office of Spiritual Formation partnered with residence life to create SFOs relating to mental health and help spread awareness throughout the month of October.

Stephanie Merchant and Rev. Dr. Linda Leon are the coordinator and director of the Office of Spiritual Formation, respectively. They encourage students to join any SFOs that interest them as they believe it could help anyone emotionally, mentally and spiritually. 

On Wednesdays in October from 8-9 p.m., alumnus Dan Czirr led an SFO  called “Just Breathe: Breathwork for Coping With Anxiety.” Tuesdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m., Betsy Coy, licensed therapist, led “How Do You Feel About That?” A complete list of SFOs is available from the Office of Spiritual Formation.

“October is a great month because it is the first time many people have time to think, and it is usually when [there’s] a spike in the counseling center [interest],” Micah Czirr, counseling center coordinator and RD for Haviland and Fox Halls, said.

“Just Breathe: Breathwork for Coping With Anxiety” is taught in a philosophical and conceptual way. Dan Czirr teaches students what is going on inside the body when having anxiety. 

Max Maline, junior exercise science and occupational therapy double-major, has attended only one SFO this semester, and he selected “Just Breathe.” This school year is his second as an RA in Haviland, and he explained how “fight or flight” is a symptom caused by anxiety. 

“When I think about the smallest movements in my body or my breathing, it always reminds me of how fearfully and wonderfully I am made by God and it is a very sentimental thing for me,” Maline said.

Breathing is a natural thing that all living beings do, sometimes it is unnoticeable until you take a step back and appreciate the privilege of being alive. 

There are two types of breathing Maline learned through the SFO, the first being square breathing. Square breathing is breathing in for four seconds, holding for four seconds, and breathing out for four seconds. The second technique is triangular breathing, and it is similar to square breathing in that you breathe, hold, and breath out for three seconds instead of four. 

“It is easier [for me] to picture a square or triangle when using these breathing tactics,” Maline said. “It helps me calm down when I am stressed about everything.”

Maline is interested in learning coping skills and using them in his everyday life, however, he stays motivated through God’s word to overcome his anxious moments. In Psalms 27:14 (NIV) it says “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Maline chose this verse to represent his anxiety and remembering what the Lord has done for him. 

SFOs are made so students can come as they are while expressing their emotions openly and honestly. Merchant knows how important mental health is and how it affects both students and staff at Malone. As a first-year leadership coordinator, Merchant wanted to make sure that every student had a safe space and that everyone should come exactly as they are.  

“SFOs and mental health are important because we are holistic beings,” Merchant said. “We are full people and are important to God.” 

Both Leon and Merchant emphasize to students that they need to understand and learn more about themselves as a whole person.

“Our spiritual selves and our emotional selves are so interwoven, and we want to help students see their life as an integrated self rather than seeing oneself as separate,” Leon said. 

Leon also reminds students that God created us in His perfect image. He created us with emotions because of the love He has for us. 

Sometimes people believe God is separate from the struggles of mental health, however, knowing and loving God creates a safe space and allows us to move through life knowing that He is with us.

“We honor our brains and our bodies in response to our faith,” Merchant said. “Honoring God is a way of showing up to yourself every day by being honest with him.” 

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV) says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Merchant chose this verse to represent how dealing with mental health should not be a choice to make alone and that God is with each being he created.

SFOs were made to bring each other closer and fight through mental wars as a team and not alone. 

“If students are intimidated in coming to [an SFO], know that you are not alone and that we expect you to come just as you are,” Leon said. 

Interested students can seek information on mental health SFOs from the Office of Spiritual Formation and residence life staff such as RAs and RDs.

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