FRIDAY NIGHT IN Gurugram is the subject of much discussion. Some take it to mean an early night, others a chance to catch up with friends or family. Some know tonight they’re going to drink their troubles away, while others prefer to unwind with a book, a movie, Chinese takeout, or just some mindboggling sex. The Millennium City seemingly offers it all with its ever-expanding list of pubs, food courts, spas, malls and gaming zones. Yet, its workers are some of the most stressed in the world, experiencing rising levels of corporate pressure with each passing year, according to a survey by Regus Business Tracker. The good news, however, is that companies aren’t taking things lying down. And so, in come the over-attentive HR managers, squeezy stress balls, game rooms, free music lessons, friendly sporting matches, yoga breaks and, of late, a chance to pick up a baseball bat and smash a television set into smithereens in what’s known as a ‘rage room’.
The Breakroom, set up in Sector 29, Gurugram, by Ctrl.Shift. Esc games, is one such example. Here, just about anyone—from a 20-year-old with upcoming university exams to a 55-year-old whose new boss has the devil-wears-Prada act down pat—can walk into a room, close the door and then proceed to vent their frustration on a number of destructible objects. For Rs 150, you can smash four utensils, Rs 350 will fetch you an entire desktop, a large TV will set you back Rs 800, and if you’re willing to pay an additional Rs 200, you can bring your own item to smash (like that brand new Wii console your ex left behind, for example).
“At first, the idea sounded silly and immature,” recalls Ananya Dasgupta, a 31-year-old architect, whose boss insisted she try out a rage room after a Tinder date went wrong. “I met someone whom I really liked and after two months of seeing one another, he stopped talking to me. I was given no reason or chance for closure. This made me feel very low and depressed. My colleagues started to notice the change and they felt I should let out my pain instead of holding it in,” adds Dasgupta. And so, one Friday night, armed with a Rs 2,000 note and a Dom Pérignon bottle she’d once shared with the man who broke her heart, Dasgupta drove over to The Breakroom. “I had to put on a white jumpsuit, safety hat and goggles. And then I was closed into a room with lots of graffiti, two TVs and two printers. I laughed for a few minutes because I felt uncomfortable. But then I decided to get into it, and swung the bat. I very clearly remember the sound of the glass breaking—it felt unbelievably good, and freeing. I saved the bottle for last.”
The benefits of rage rooms are up for debate, with some experts claiming that aggressive ways of dealing with stress leads to more anger. According to Dr Ramandeep, a psychiatrist at AIIMS Delhi, the physical release leads to an adrenaline rush and thereby a temporary feeling of happiness. She adds that there is also excitement in being able to be “naughty” and “break things without fear of punishment or consequence”. But repeated episodes of violent activity can result in addictive behaviour, with the mind ceasing to distinguish between accepted and unaccepted anger. “The best way to cope with stress is to take up a relaxing or calming physical activity. This is why yoga, walking or playing a game is encouraged—because it exercises your mind in a positive way along with your body,” she explains.
The rage room trend is fast catching on. From Venting Place in Tokyo (which started during the 2009 recession) to The Break Club in Buenos Aires (where breaking things with Trump’s face on it has become a favourite), from The Punch Ball in Bengaluru (which lets you punch a mannequin for 20 minutes) to The Screaming Shack in Hyderabad (where you’re free to yell yourself hoarse), there seems to be plenty of bottled- up bitterness the world over. “No one wants to go to the therapist’s office anymore, it’s passé. But tell people, ‘Here’s a weapon and here’s something to break’, and they’ll love it because it’s fresh and everyone wants to let themselves go,” says Shiva Reddy, who started The Punch Ball two years ago. “The idea came to me when after a bad day all I wanted to do was lash out. I realised a lot of people wanted to do the same,” he adds. The Punch Ball closed down two months ago after Reddy moved to the US, but he says market demand never wavered during its 18 months of operations.
As we rush towards a life of unpredictability, cyber connectivity, 12-page appraisal forms, merciless traffic jams and love which has no rules (or strings) attached, there’s a study out every day on a new thing that is going to kill us, rob us, or take away our peace of mind. Nielsen’s 2011 survey concludes that Indian women are the most stressed in the world and Optum’s 2016 study says that 46 per cent of the country’s workforce suffers from mental illness. “I don’t think we are more stressed today; the factors that lead to stress have increased. If only we could learn to share grief and help the one next to us because what we care about and what hurts us is the same world over,” says Dr Ramandeep. Rage rooms prove just this—our anxieties, and our ways to cope with them, are indeed universal.