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Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Writer Jo Kibble smashes a DVD player with a crowbar. Rage rooms are becoming an increasingly popular form of therapy.

Loud music is blaring. Glass and debris are flying everywhere — vases, bottles and appliances, smashed to bits. It may sound like chaos — and it is. But it's also therapy.

"Rage rooms" are spreading across the world, with more than 60 now in the U.S., including two recently opened locations in the Tennessee Valley.

The venues let customers pay a fee and, after suiting up in hard hats, gloves, safety goggles and booties, Hulk-smash breakables in a controlled environment, leaving what looks like a scene from a robbery in their wake. Tennessee's Cleveland Rage Room, for example, located in the Colony Square shopping center off of Keith Street, lets customers warp washing machines, demolish DVD players, pulverize plates and crack computers.

While the specifics of each location may differ, the goal of rage rooms is the same: to provide a safe space to let loose and de-stress.

According to Dr. William Hillner, a clinical psychologist in the Chattanooga area who's been practicing for over 40 years, we're all more angry and stressed than we used to be — which is not surprising, given the last couple of years. According to the American Psychological Association, two in three adults say that they have experienced increased stress throughout the pandemic.

Why? That's "the million-dollar question," Hillner says, though contributing factors vary.

Certainly, the pandemic is at play, but Hillner also believes that the increased stress and anger stems from "our political climate and increased polarization...and changing economic issues."

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And while that may be the case, Crystal Hammar, senior clinical and wellness supervisor for Chattanooga's Partnership for Families, Children and Adults and a licensed marriage and family counselor, believes that even with these stressors, we've gotten better at expressing our emotions.

"Previously, talking about mental health...was not as widely accepted," she says, which led to the stigmatization of mental illness. These days, though, more people are willing to talk about their emotions and feelings. The stigma is gradually starting to lessen. And as it does, our need for mental health outlets is growing.

Destigmatization is something that Anibel and Conner Hamilton, owners of both Cleveland Rage Room and the recently opened River City Rage in Chattanooga, want to provide their customers.

Ultimately, "we wanted to create an inviting place that reduced the stigma of going to therapy," Anibel explains. "We want this to be another outlet [for expressing emotions]."

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New 'rage rooms' in the Chattanooga area are helping smash the mental health stigma

Because emotions can be triggered while using a rage room, the couple has ground rules in place to prevent any kind of accident or problem from happening. For starters, there is a time limit. And rules include wearing protective equipment at all times, not hitting the walls, ceiling or specific spots where equipment is set up and, of course, not hitting other people in the room with you if you're "raging" with friends.

The room is pre-staged with appliances in various corners and a bin set off to the side with smaller breakables, alongside various implements for breaking things, including crowbars and hammers. Anibel, a soon-to-be-licensed therapist, remains on standby if someone were to be triggered during their session.

"With it being controlled, it's supposed to allow those opportunities to let those anxieties and frustrations out while being aware of [what's] happening," she explains.

When smashing a washing machine with a wrench or crowbar, there is the chance to become angry in the process. Anibel notes that "if you go in there and notice you're getting angrier and angrier, [rage rooms] may not be the best option for you."

The Partnership's Hammar concurs, explaining that "different things work for different people," and so depending on a person's background and what they may be dealing with emotionally, rage rooms may not be the best option. For example, if someone has a background involving domestic violence or PTSD, then they might want to discuss their options with the rage room owners beforehand.

For the most part, though, while destroying appliances and glassware with crowbars and wrenches may not seem like the most zen thing to do, customers often find themselves positively "working through things they didn't even know they needed to work through," says Conner. That could be anxiety, stress or something else. Customers generally come out of the rage room feeling better than when they entered and often say as much to the Hamiltons as they exit.

So, what's the most common refrain from customers after a session?

That's easy, Conner says, "Laughter, lots of laughter."

_____

Ready to rage?

River City Rage; Chattanooga Rage Room; 615 East MLK Blvd.

Cleveland Rage Room; 2538 Keith St NW #8, Cleveland, Tennessee

> Participants must be 8 and up

> Cost ranges from $35-$140

> Bring your own items to break for a discount

> Bring your phone to play your favorite music while "raging"

> Group experiences are available (groups of seven or more should call in advance to reserve a spot)

> Time limits range from 15-30 minutes

> Book online at clevelandrageroom.com/ or rivercityrage.com/

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