For some moms, stress relief comes in the form of a great foot massage during a pedicure. Others unwind with retail therapy at an outlet mall boasting their favorite brands or in bed with a laptop surfing Amazon.
Crystal Garcia and Shenta Pietrzak just need a bat, a basket stuffed with beer bottles and glasses, and a room where they can smash it all up. You can find them and their kids at Desert Smash in Chandler, where starting at about $28, “rage rooms” are open to almost anyone who needs to let off some steam.
Inside one gray room, Rammstein’s “Du Hast” rocks out on the speakers. Both moms pull on white suits, headgear with face masks and gloves.
“That feels so good,” Pietrzak says after knocking down a vase that skids off a wooden table and shatters into pieces. On the walls, menacing skulls, angry faces and crazy eyeballs stare down at the moms. The concrete floor becomes a temporary Jackson Pollock canvas dotted with broken glass and plastic shards. The visceral thrill of smashing stuff gives them both an addictive adrenaline rush and leaves their hearts racing.
“I need to go again,” Pietrzak says as she aims her bat at a broken computer monitor.
Desert Smash opened inside a shopping plaza on West Ray Road in September. It’s among four rage room businesses that have popped up in Phoenix and Tucson since 2017, and the second one to open in Chandler.
“Whatever stress or anxiety or whatever life is happening, I can just go in and release all of it,” says Garcia as her kids make slime at a nearby arts and crafts table. “It’s like I can breathe again.”
Krysten Leach is the brains behind Desert Smash — Arizona’s newest rage room. She got the idea from a date night at another local rage room inside Simply Smashing in Tempe.
“We got our basket, picked out a couple other random items, and we beat the holy crap out of all of it,” Leach recalls. “The whole sense of anxiety from life and having kids and trying to keep our kids alive — all the stresses were gone.”
That’s what keeps people coming back for more. Leach and other rage room owners have tapped into a desire for a safe space that normalizes breaking stuff. These businesses charge by the clock and offer a cornucopia of breakable goods, from plates to office supplies to glass bottles stuffed with confetti.
“I definitely see this as more entertainment,” Leach says. “But I do think that there [are health] benefits. I don’t think it will cure anger, per se, but I think this will help you have an outlet. Yeah, it’s a safe place.”
What happens after the thrill of stress release dies down? Mental health experts warn against relying on rage rooms for long-term anger or stress management. Dr. Bahar Altaha, a child adolescent psychiatrist with Banner Health, says a rage room allows people to avoid looking at the root problem that is causing them to be angry or stressed out.
“It gives immediate gratification like drugs, alcohol and sex,” Altaha said. “It’s immediate, but it doesn’t address the source of the problem, and that’s a concern. The wrong message can be that this is the correct way to deal with anger instead of learning about where it’s coming from and learning to deal with anger in a more constructive way.”
Ian Franulovich agrees. He opened Breaking Point in Tucson last year. He says his rage room customers range from young kids to senior citizens.
“We do not say that we are trying to replace any sort of mental or medical health [care] that you need,” Franulovich says. “But we do provide a therapeutic space if you wanted to use it that way. So I always tell people to use [a rage room] for what you want to use it for. You can use it as a place to have fun, or you can use it to get out some aggression in a physical manner that’s safe. I mean, you could do that at home, but that’s going to be a mess.”
Franulovich says he’s interested in teaming up with psychology experts to conduct a study on rage rooms. “We want to see if there’s something we can do to make it more beneficial for those using it therapeutically,” he says.
Back at Desert Smash, Crystal Garcia’s 9-year-old daughter Evie suits up next with her friends for a rage room session. “Butterfly” by Crazy Town plays on the speakers as they take turns thrashing a black monitor.
“I get to go into that room and get all my anger out through smashing stuff, and it makes me more positive when I come home,” Evie explains.
Leach says her niche is that she wants Desert Smash to be a family destination. Based on her personal experiences, she says rage rooms can be used as team building for families. For parents who think their kids are too young for a rage room, Leach set up an arts and crafts station where her 9-year-old daughter teaches slime-making classes. She also built a small batting cage and bowling lane where beer bottles replace baseballs and bowling pins.
“Kids need to get out their aggressions,” says Leach. “Our kids don’t know how to react to their feelings. And half the time they end up reacting in a way that is inappropriate. Here, they can react in all of these ways and then go home and not destroy that room.”
Altaha again expresses caution: Even though people are drawn to the immediate release of anger, therapy and mental health education go a long way in helping children deal with challenging emotions and situations.
“There’s no fast fix,” Altaha says. “So there are a lot of components that need to be addressed with children. Like, what are the reasons that kids are acting this way? So it takes time and the education provided by mental health providers is absolutely essential.”
Rage rooms in Arizona have their own rules for kids and families. Many require parents to stay in their room with their children. Simply Smashing owner Steve Wilk says families use his Tempe rage rooms for what he calls “recreational and therapeutic destruction.”
“I tell people that it’s a safe place to lose control and, you know, they have permission to yell, scream and even cry,” says Wilk, adding rage rooms are more than just fun and games for some families. He recalls a mother who brought her 8-year-old son to Simply Smashing after his father died from cancer.
“The boy was acting out, and he was depressed. He needed an outlet to express his anger,” says Wilk, who was told the boy felt great after one session.
“The little boy came out of the room, tired and with a big smile on his face,” Wilk says. “His mom was kind of emotional because she was so happy to see that. Plus, she got a lot out of it herself.”
Sept. 3, 2020 update: The Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to rage room businesses, along with so many others. When we checked on the businesses listed below, all but one, Breaking Point in Tucson, appear to have closed.
Arizona’s rage rooms
Purge Love Peace
106 S. Oregon St., Chandler
480-857-0022 • purgelovepeaceragerooms.com
5865 W. Ray Road, Suite 10, Chandler
480-401-6144 • facebook.com/desertsmashaz
1301 E. University Drive, Suite 101, Tempe
602-909-1996 • simplysmashingrageroom.com
5740 E. Broadway Blvd., Tucson
520-286-2189 • thebreakingpointtucson.com