The Effect of a Self-Monitored Relaxation Breathing Exercise on Male Adolescent Aggressive Behavior

Article excerpt

Aggression is a focus of therapeutic interventions with adolescents already involved in the legal system and who may well be on their way to establishing intractable behavior patterns. These patterns may be carried into adulthood and likely result in criminal activity and incarceration with recidivism reported as high as 50% (Snyder & Sickmund, 1999). While not all adolescents with aggression problems will follow this developmental path, almost all incarcerated adults bring a history of delinquency and aggression with them into their troubled existence (Kazdin, Siegel, & Bass, 1992).The World Health Organization has reported violence as being a global health problem, and so, to intervene effectively in an early stage of this problem's development holds important social merit (Krug, Dahlberg, Mercy, Zwi, & Lozano, 2002).

According to Goldstein, Glick, and Gibbs (1998), the definition of aggression derives from social learning theory and, therefore, constitutes learned behavior that stems from the interaction of the individual with the environment. The development of violent conduct as reported by Nietzel, Haseman, and Lynam (1999) occurs when biological, environmental, psychological, and social factors blend in certain patterns. These definitions and origins notwithstanding, the point at which the individual responds to the stimulus, either in a deliberate or automatic fashion, contains elements that can be ameliorated regardless of the aforementioned factors and origins.

Researchers have focused on aggressive behavior among adolescents in various environments to include education (Frey, Hirschstein, & Guzzo, 2000; Deffenbacher, Lynch, Oetting, & Kemper, 1996), corrections (Steiner, Garcia, & Matthews, 1997; Swenson & Kennedy, 1995), and mental health treatment settings (Margolin, Youga, & Ballou, 2002; Snyder, 1999). The authors of this study sought to contribute to efforts which identify effective prevention measures that educators and other professionals who work with adolescents can incorporate into a variety of settings, which are cost effective, and which entail the least disruption to normal daily activities and routines.

Anger management interventions typically include relaxation exercises for stress and anxiety reduction, and these exercises often focus on the breath (Fraser, 1996). When adolescents learned about the physiology of anger and how to use the techniques that promote relaxation and self-regulation, teachers, parents and the adolescents themselves reported improvement in their behavior (Kellner, 1999). The recommendations made by Rutherford, Quinn, and Mathur, 1996) described an approach to aggression and problem behaviors that included the various components of social skills training, cooperative learning, anger management, and self-control strategies. The anger management component emphasized the teaching of specific relaxation and stress-reduction breathing exercises, which included deep breathing and deep muscle relaxation. Other relaxation techniques that have been shown to be useful in arousal reduction are progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, yoga, guided imagery, and biofeedback.

Relaxation exercises and techniques are frequently included when behavioral problems are the focus of interventions because of their association with physiological arousal reduction that can have a negative influence on behavior (Novaco, 1975). The physiological arousal associated with aggression includes an increase in heart rate, muscle tension, and breathing rate (Kellner & Tuttin, 1995). With an increase in this physiological arousal comes an increase in angry thoughts, even more so when combined with alcohol and or drugs, and results in an inhibition of internal control (Hollin, 2003). The ability to reduce the arousal response through increased self-regulation is a necessary ingredient in the prevention of an aggressive response. When adolescents were instructed in relaxation coping skills, they were able to calm down, to not become so angry in the first place, and to better think through and to proactively cope with their angry feelings (Deffenbacher et al. …