Science and Health

Rage Rooms Feel Good, But They Might Make You More Stressed

Rooms where patrons pay to smash and break things to vent anger may seem like an healthy option this stressful time of year, but are they helpful?

Rage Rooms Feel Good, But They Might Make You More Stressed
KMTV / Scripps

Smash rooms, rage rooms, or anger rooms — no matter what name they go by, they all have the same goal: be a place where patrons can beat stress by literally beating things.

"People are feeling really angsty. Politics is crazy right now. People are starting to surface all at once, and everyone is just like, ‘What do I do with this energy?’ — and breaking stuff really kind of does the trick," says Nick Kreifels, who co-owns a rage room called "Le Smash".  

Around the stressful holiday season, these rooms may seem like a good place to burn off steam. A 2015 survey found sixty-two percent of people said their stress level was “very or somewhat” elevated during the holidays. Dr. Michael Ziffra, a psychiatrist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital agrees: this time of year, we have a lot to be stressed about.

“You know there's there's a lot of expectations that come with the holidays. You know there's sort of this societal pressure that it's supposed joyful everyone's supposed to be happy. When really there's a lot of reasons to be stressed. You know there's a lot to do. You have to buy gifts. You have to go to parties. You know you have to deal with the weather or deal with the crowd. And you know it can be sort of contagious. You know some people are stressed and then you go to a crowded mall and everyone's stressed and angry,” he says.

But mental health experts aren’t sold on whether these rooms really help with stress. In fact, in some cases, they might just reinforce aggression. The debate involves catharsis theory, a topic studied as far back as 1959. Catharsis theory holds that if you act out angry feelings, you might lower later aggression. 

But it's not clear that it works. In one experiment, researchers subjected participants to 10 minutes of insults, and then asked people to release their stress by hammering nails, or by doing nothing. Participants who hammered nails were reportedly more hostile afterward. 

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And more recently in a 2002 study, scientists had participants hit a punching bag and think about the person who had angered them and report how angry they felt afterward. They also reported being angrier. 

"There are two facets of it. One being that the breaking things it's not really solving the problem. You know again it maybe provides a temporary release but it's really not doing anything to address the key issue that's causing the anger. So you're just leaving a key issue unresolved. And then there's the second piece which is just that sort of emotions tend to often feed off of each other. So if you're doing something that's very aggressive and destructive you know those feelings are likely to persist after you stop it," Ziffra says.

Ziffra says sure, you might get some physical exercise while you're throwing some glass bottles or hitting a vacuum against a wall.  But ultimately, when it comes to handling stress or mental wellness, consider things that get you less fired up. 

"Maybe you'll feel temporarily better but whatever was bothering you was still there and you're gonna feel angry again. See it for what it is," he adds. "So see it as you know this may be a little bit of fun. Maybe I'll get a little bit of feelings out of me but don't see it as a cure for feelings of anger. You don't see it as really a mental health intervention."