How Breaking Things Helped Me Deal With My Anxiety

 
This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

This article originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.

It feels good to break something that cannot be put back together. I like the finality of it.

I pick up a glass Mason jar and hurl it at the cement wall in front of me. It disintegrates into pure dust—thousands of tiny fragments of something once delicate and whole. The sound of the glass shattering is oddly satisfying. Quick and crisp. It feels good to break something that cannot be put back together. I like the finality of it.

I pick up a glass Mason jar and hurl it at the cement wall in front of me. It disintegrates into pure dust—thousands of tiny fragments of something once delicate and whole. The sound of the glass shattering is oddly satisfying. Quick and crisp. It feels good to break something that cannot be put back together. I like the finality of it.

“Rollin’ ” by Limp Bizkit—the classic, pump-up metal song from 2000—is blaring in the background. I pick up my pace. I shuffle my feet around like a boxer does just before he gives a jab-jab-uppercut. I’m energized. Unburdened and free. I don’t feel the familiar urge to check my makeup in the mirror to see if it has smudged. I don’t dwell on how frizzy my curly hair has gotten in this humid warehouse.

I breathe deeply for the first time in as long as I can remember.

The sweat beneath my gloves is so thick it’s as if I’ve dipped my hand in a sink full of water. I grab a crowbar with both hands, tighten my grip and BAM. I smash the first glass pane in a six-pane window. The sound is so immediate and piercing that my ears start ringing. I take off my glove and clasp my hand over my ear to make the ringing stop.

The echo dulls after about 30 seconds. I don’t skip a beat. I put my glove back on and grip the crowbar tightly and squint menacingly at the second pane.

I’m at the Anger Room in Dallas. I’ve dropped $75 to spend 25 minutes inside a humid, dirty, cluttered warehouse demolishing things. Similar spots are popping up across the world—Atlanta, Houston, Toronto and Australia all have some form of a rage or anger room. I’m here because I think getting out of my head could be beneficial—almost like a form of makeshift therapy for my anxiety.

I don’t enjoy copious amounts of relaxation. I never have. But the alluring lull of binge-watching TV or mindlessly surfing Reddit regularly grips my attention. I know I need to spend more time out in the world being active and doing things instead of at home with my thoughts. My anxiety thrives on stillness and silence.

So on a hot Texas night after a particularly draining day at work, I decide to give the Anger Room a shot.

With the help of the Anger Room receptionist, Rosy, I gear up for massive destruction. I put on light-blue surgical booties, a black medical mouth cover—like a dentist wears—goggles, gloves, a black helmet and a full-body, white gauzy hazmat-looking suit.

I’m presented with a wall of weapons. Baseball bats, golf clubs, mannequin legs, crowbars and other long metal devices line the wall. My weapons of choice are the lightweight aluminum baseball bat and the crowbar. I want to do the most possible damage with my limited strength from barre workouts, which is mainly in my core and legs.

I hand the employee who will be watching me—a roughly 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound man—my iPhone. He turns on my Anger Room playlist as loud as possible. It’s a collection of metal songs I had in my iTunes library from a brief angsty phase I went through at 14. My quiet form of a teenage rebellion.

After I remove my gloves and wipe my sweaty hands on my legs, I brace for my next hit. I’m ready to keep going.

I’ve already broken two openings in the windowpane. Because I have almost a half an hour to kill and the glass items are limited, I pace myself and head for a wooden dresser. I know the dresser will be a challenge for me and my scrawny biceps, which is why I’ve been avoiding it. But my muscles are warm and loose by now.

I hit each spot at least three times before I crack the wood open. When I finally break the surface, the sound of the splintered wood is even more satisfying than the shattering glass. It took strength and effort to break this, and I did it. I’m proud. I feel my heart pounding in my chest. I check my Apple Watch and see my heart rate is at 120.

I forget the worries that plagued my mind throughout the day. My heavy thoughts change every day, but their presence is consistent. Why is my weight 2 pounds higher than normal? When will we finally get our wedding video back? Should I email the videographer to check in? Is my dad going to be annoyed that I didn’t return his last two phone calls?

My right shoulder starts pulsing in pain from all of my swings at the dresser, but I ignore it and put most of the weight into my left arm. I wreck, crush, demolish for the entirety of “I’m Not Okay” by My Chemical Romance. The irony of the lyrics is not lost on me.

“I’m okay!
I’m okay, now
(I’m okay, now)
But you really need to listen to me
Because I’m telling you the truth
I mean this, I’m okay!
(Trust me)”

The next victim appears in the corner of my eye: A copy machine. I open the upper panel and break the inside with my crowbar. Glass flies everywhere. A piece hits my goggles, which momentarily startles me. After a quick break to silently bless Rosy for making me put goggles on, I keep swinging away. The energy calms my anxious thoughts. Your friend’s feelings will not be hurt if you can’t make it to her bachelorette party, I tell myself. She told you at the last minuteJust think of the right way to let her down.

My anxiety is persistent and lurking. It’s present in all facets of my life. I have anxiety over my job, for example. I feed off perfectionism, organization and orderliness, and whenever things are not perfectly in line, I ruminate for hours. Is it a bad sign that my editor hasn’t returned my article yet? Are my pitches for tomorrow’s meeting good enough? Should I come up with a few more tonight? I have to regularly remind myself that these thoughts are irrational.

I take a few more swings at the copy machine. You’re good at your job and you shouldn’t worry about being perfect all of the time, I tell myself.

I rarely wear closed-toe shoes because of a foot injury I have, and after 25 minutes, my right foot is pulsing intensely. I know I’ll need to soak it in an Epsom salt bath tonight. “Happy?” by Mudvayne comes on. Although the lyrics are melodramatic, they fit my mood perfectly.

“In this hole, that is me
Left with a heart exhausted

What’s my release, what sets me free?”

As I’m midway through what I know is going to be an intense, energy-releasing blow, my music stops.

“Time’s up!” my watcher says. I turn in my weapons, remove my face mask and wipe the sweat off my upper lip. I breathe in and out deeply for a few moments. They know not to mess with me.

At the end of my 25 minutes of destruction, I’m given a red Sharpie marker and told to write on the cement wall. The wall has thousands of things written on it, the vast majority of which are too vulgar for publication. I write something equally inappropriate and head outside feeling like I completed an intense cardio workout. I take off my right shoe, unable to cope with the pain anymore. My ears still ring and my shoulder still throbs, both of which will persist for days. Maybe I got a little too into it.

My husband joins me for falafel afterward, and instead of being preoccupied with my thoughts (my customary state of being), I’m relaxed and talkative. I order extra french fries without my typical procedure of looking up how many calories they have. I don’t worry about the texts, phone calls and emails I have to reply to.

My anxiety feeds on inactivity. I feel most tense when I’m sitting at my desk during a slow afternoon at work or when I’m mindlessly binge-watching Curb Your Enthusiasm on a rainy weekend.

Being active is one solution—at least for now. I’ve made a promise to myself that I’ll get out of my own head more.

I go home, soak my foot in an Epsom salt bath, and rest my right shoulder.

I could definitely do that again, I think to myself. I liked breaking things.

Words: Jamie Friedlander
Photo: GIPHY