Smash Away Stress

Who among us hasn't wanted to take out a bit of anger or frustration on an inanimate object? The impulse to throw a phone across the room after a frustrating call, to smash an unwieldy piece of build-it-yourself furniture, or to take a baseball bat to a balky computer—these fleeting desires are nearly universal. 

And a lot of us occasionally act on those impulses. 

If all that sounds familiar, you might like the notion of a place like the Anger Room in Dallas, where you can break somebody else's things in a controlled environment. In fact, these pay-to-throw-a-fit businesses have been popping up all over the world—the most recent to launch are The Break Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and The Rage Room in Novi Sad, Serbia.

Donna Alexander, owner of the Anger Room, told Healthline that she moved her business to a larger location last month after only two years in business. Hotheads pay $25 and up for sessions ranging from five to 25 minutes; then they suit up in protective gear, grab a bat, and go wild, destroying donated items like computers, lamps, sofas, and refrigerators.

Alexander can create a room that looks like an unpleasant environment for a customer—for instance, a troublesome client's office. Sometimes, more than 80 people a day stop by.

“They are people from all walks of life; there is no one distinct group of people who visit us, because everyone has stress and anger,” Alexander said. “We have never had an out-of-control situation, and we hope never to have that type of situation.”

On its website, The Break Club in Argentina says it can provide a “refrigerator for a day of rage from someone in the field of hospitality, or a room full of monitors for the newly fired editor” to destroy.

Learn the Basics of Stress »

Reasons to Behave

But as cathartic as destroying a refrigerator may be, it may not be good for you.

According to Dr. Nelly Alia-Klein of the Icahn School of Medicine and Mount Sinai in New York City, smashing things to exhibit anger or to display physical abilities is counterproductive in the modern world. “The police will be called on you. You will lose you job. Your wife will hate you. Your children will be afraid. The dog won't wag its tail anymore," Alia-Klein told Healthline.

And while it may seem that throwing tantrums in a controlled environment gets around these negative consequences, there's a problem: By destroying things when a certain situation makes you angry, you're training your brain to go into "destroy mode" every time you feel that way.

“The types of behaviors you engage in over long periods of time ... are the types of things that train your brain,” said Alia-Klein, a psychiatrist who specializes in aggression and intermittent explosive disorder. “If you think of yourself as the owner of your brain—this amazing thing that can change—you need to nourish it with positive, proactive things.

Explore 10 Easy Ways to Leave Stress Behind »

Good Clean Fun?

The Anger Room's Alexander knows that some mental health professionals don't agree with the service she provides. All of the places mentioned in this story have emphasized they do not claim to be trained counselors and are simply offering stress relief and entertainment.

“But I cannot deny the fact that it has produced an overwhelming response of happiness and healing,” she said. “I've had many customers say that this has helped them in so many ways—we have even deterred potential fights and domestic disputes because of our services. So it seems to be a healthy alternative to have available.”

The Break Club founder Guido Dodero told Healthline that corporations send employees there. Sometimes there will be cocktails with "some good old-fashioned breaking sessions." What else?  "We also have lots of first dates," he added. "Tends to smooth things and works as a perfect ice breaker."

Rethinking Your Release

Alia-Klein acknowledges that letting pent-up stress build is not a good idea, but she emphasized that long-term solutions are the best way to prevent “explosions.”

“Long-term benefits come from changing your thoughts about a situation.”

Physical activity does provide temporary relief of stress, but there are better ways to do it. Alia-Klein offers these tips for dealing with stress:

  • Stay positive. Realistically assess your reaction to whatever provokes you. “Your flight may be delayed, but say, 'OK, I'm healthy, I'm standing here, I'm alive. This gives me a couple of hours to read,'” she said.
  • Try yoga or meditation. As with staying positive, learning to quiet the mind is a long-term solution to dealing with stress.
  • If you want a physical release, try a competitive sport. “Retrain your brain to smash the racquetball,” Alia-Klein said. “You can do things on the same motor sequence that are not linked to violent behavior.” 

Get 10 Tips for a Stress-Free Thanksgiving »