The introductory video to Anger Room is like a late-night infomercial crossed with scenes from a reality TV show. Hard rock music is the soundtrack to Anger Room participants decked out in protective gear, ready to let loose. Once they do, there’s scene after scene of smashed objects. The first time I saw this video, I had to know more.
What are they?
The draw is simple and relatable. A bad breakup, a lost promotion at work, or frustration with politics are good reasons to lash out physically. (Mannequins dressed as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have had to be replaced more than once, Anger Room founder Donna Alexander told The New York Times.)
The lure of Anger Room is being able to pulverize junk in a safe space. So, does smashing inanimate objects really feel that good?
One visitor of a Buenos Aires anger room called the Break Club, Anna-Cat Brigida, recently gave her positive account in The Washington Post.
“It felt rebellious and liberating to embrace my most visceral reactions, especially after being with someone who made me feel I had to repress my feelings,” she says. “I had to let my emotions out in an environment where no one was going to judge me for it. In an environment where intensity is expected.”
She’s not the only one interested in paying for this form of stress relief. Since the first location opened in Dallas, Texas a few years ago, similar establishments have sprouted up around the United States and the world. Currently, there are locations in New York City, Los Angeles, Prague, and Bucharest, to name a few. In Atlanta, it’s “Rush Escape Room.” In Toronto, “Rage Room.” In Minnesota, there’s the innocently named “Break Room.”
It’s not like a visit to a psychotherapist. But the differences might be exactly why some people flock to these stress-relief rooms. With packages ranging from $25 to $90 per session, a visit to an Anger Room is typically the cheaper option.
Donna Alexander, president and founder of Anger Room, came up with the concept in her teenage years, opening the first Anger Room in December 2011. Since then, demand has been so high, she’s had to relocate to larger spaces three times. Now, Alexander claims her local branch (the original Anger Room) has up to 75 visits a day. Plus, 85 percent of participants come back after their first session, she says. Many even become regulars.
But do they help?
While the idea of releasing anger with such intensity in a safe space seems ideal, it also begs the question: Is this a sustainable method of releasing emotions of frustration or sadness? Some psychologists and wellness professionals are skeptical. Even in a controlled environment, letting out rage this way has its psychological limitations, they say.
John P. Garrison, PsyD, a clinical and forensic psychologist, says these types of rooms only treat the surface of a potentially deeper anger management problem.
“Logic would dictate that [anger rooms] are cathartic, but research suggests that such behavior is counterproductive,” he says. “Rather than getting the anger out, acting upon it reinforces aggressive and violent behavior, and doesn’t address whatever the underlying issue might be.”
In other words, a quick 15-minute Anger Room session acts as a kind of “quick fix” for whatever problem you may be having, treating the angry response instead of tackling the reason behind the anger. In fact, using the space openly can lead to normalization of violence and aggression. Bernard Golden, PhD, a psychologist and author of Overcoming Destructive Anger, believes Anger Rooms can actually glorify feelings of rage and highlight the rewards of destruction.
“Cultivating healthy anger entails learning how to pause and reflect on, rather than react to, our anger,” he wrote in an email. “It requires patience, practice, and commitment. It involves learning new habits that manage anger more constructively and learning to choose those constructive habits for a given situation more often and more easily.”
The better option, of course, is to unpack the emotion you’re experiencing, rather than physically releasing the frustration. If the cause of the anger in your life is still there, going to an Anger Room will only delay finding the solution.
While Garrison has never actually recommended visiting Anger Room or a similar establishment to one of his patients, he frequently gets requests for referrals. Men, he adds, are far more interested in the practice.
So, while you might be tempted to destroy a bunch of junk after a stressful day at work, anger rooms might not do you much good. The medical and wellness opinion is that they’re not the answer for long-term emotional issues, especially if you’ve had a history with violence.
When push comes to shove, anger rooms shouldn’t be your treatment choice for emotional issues like anxiety, depression, or rage. Even when it feels like the answer is a break.
Try this instead
You might remember your parents telling you to take a deep breath until you calmed down. It might have only made you angrier (because, come on, you were a kid), but they were onto something. Deep breathing is an effective method for relieving stress. And if you’re going to put yourself in a “safe space,” you might as well do a few yoga poses. You can even try a mindfulness app to give meditation a go. The point is, there is more than one way to release your anger without smashing things—and it won’t cost you a dime.
What are your thoughts on this new stress management trend?
Alina is a journalist and social media expert currently residing in Brooklyn. Her works have covered everything from tech, music and art, to environmentalism in America. Find her other published work in Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Times, Medium, and Thought Catalog.