When I first starting seeing various "anger rooms" on my social feeds, I initially said to myself, Genius! I'd love to go in a room and just smash sh*t. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered whether it's a healthy form of stress relief, despite it being an interesting concept. If you're unfamiliar with anger rooms, they're places where you pay (by time or package) to destroy things in a controlled environment. Some companies, like The Break Room in Atlanta, provide full protective gear and allow you to pick your instrument of choice (sledgehammer, baseball bat, etc.) and the items you want to smash, like TVs or glassware. You can even bring your own items (like that box of your ex's belongings). So, to find out if these anger rooms are constructive or destructive, we spoke with a child and adult psychologist.
When discussing the topic with Dr. Amy Vigliotti, she mentioned that if someone's anger was toward the higher end on a scale of one to 10, the therapist would give you skills and tools to lower that number. But the idea of a rage or anger room feeds into that emotion, instead of teaching you how to regulate it. "Anger, like any feeling, can be important data to something that's going on in your life, something you should be addressing," Dr. Vigliotti said. "[Anger rooms] are not really getting rid of [your anger] because you're not really paying attention to it, learning from it, or understanding why it's there; you're just doing what feels good in the moment."
Get an idea of how it works in the video below.
Now, we understand that not everybody who participates in anger rooms comes with rage and that they may simply be interested in having a good time. Dr. Vigliotti made a good point that The Break Room, for example, clearly advertises on their site that the "main objective is to have fun." And while she could see the possible entertainment value, she doesn't find any benefits to this method, from a mental health perspective. "Could it be problematic? Could it be risky? Definitely," she said.
"Could it be problematic? Could it be risky? Definitely," she said.
Does it say anything about who we are if we're willing to pay $20 to $90 to destroy things? While Dr. Vigliotti said that it's difficult to generalize behaviors without any studies on anger rooms, the idea can be problematic. "I think what people are willing to do for entertainment doesn't necessarily translate to what they would do in the 'real world,'" she said. "But we do have studies on exposure to television/movie violence and violent video games, and when you look at those research studies, they consistently say that a significant subset of people who engage in violent video games will later show an increase in aggressive behavior."
Dr. Vigliotti went on to explain that physiological arousal, aggression-related thoughts and feelings, and the actual behaviors are looked at when measuring this. But they also look at the opposite, what they call pro-social behavior, and they see a decrease in these helping behaviors after playing violent games. Though she can't make a direct link, she does see how anger rooms can be a risk, especially for younger participants. The Anger Room in Dallas, TX, allows children aged 10 to 17 to participate with parental consent and supervision. Since human behavior is learned through modeling, Dr. Vigliotti worries how parental approval of this kind of method would affect a child's understanding of emotional management.
Letting it all out isn't necessarily healthy, either. According to Dr. Vigliotti, anger rooms mirror early forms of a type of psychotherapy called primal therapy, which is based on the idea of cathartic release. Some examples include directing your anger at a prop, like yelling at an empty chair or screaming at the top of your lungs in the middle of a field. "What we learned from it is that it's not effective," she said. "It's a short-term solution but it's not really understanding the anger and not letting the person learn what to do when it comes up in healthy ways and to heal."
Healthy alternative methods that she suggests include some form of exercise and art. It also doesn't have to be an obvious form of relief like kickboxing, for example. Running, yoga, or barre class would be just as effective because according to Dr. Vigliotti, anger is often experienced in the body "like a move of energy" that needs to be released. Forms of emotional expression like singing, dancing, painting, or rapping, she said, also have therapeutic benefits. "Oftentimes when people are really angry, the English language doesn't seem to be enough. Even curse words don't feel quite like they get at it," she said. "So, symbolic kinds of work can feel that much better to people because it seems to capture the kind of enormity of what they might be feeling."
While it might be fun to book an anger room for your next birthday party, it's not the best idea for when you're looking for a way to actually deal with your anger. And it shouldn't be a reoccurring activity that you rely on as a method of mental release.