When You Feel Like Punching a Wall, Read This First

Remember when the San Francisco Giants were playing the Miami Marlins in the summer of 2018?  Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland blew a save—essentially causing his team to lose the game. In frustration, he punched a wall. He fractured his right hand in the process and couldn’t play for weeks on end.

Punching things, breaking things, throwing things out of frustration—some businesses have even found a way to monetize these common venting techniques. The Break Room, with locations all over the world, offers customers the chance to grab a bat or any other heavy stick of their choice and literally smash some dishes, glasses, or appliances in a room.

But why do so many people want to destroy or punch things when upset? And does it actually help?

The release of tension that brings us to acts of aggression when we’re mad is thought to be stress-relieving. Yelling, screaming, slamming doors, throwing things—these are all considered to have the same venting effect. Whether it’s a “no” from your parents to something you really wanted to do, receiving criticism, or a major breakup—these things can make you furious. In your rage, you may be shaking. Your heart may be pounding, your ears ringing, and you’re sweaty, hot and red-faced. You can’t think clearly, but you just know you need to punch something. Instead of a person, you pound your fist into a wall.

Problem is, punching a wall isn’t really a solution. While it may or may not help you in the immediate moment with a cathartic release of stress (which is why some mental health treatment centers offer kickboxing as an experiential therapy), nothing really changes in terms of your anger management issues. In fact, one 1999 study suggested that people who punched something when upset actually became angrier and more aggressive later on than those who didn’t punch anything.

Ok, fine, I won’t punch a wall. What should I do instead?

We’re glad you asked.

There are definitely better ways to release your frustration and distress instead of engaging in activities that lead to fractured hands and trouble with your parents (and maybe even the police, if it’s public property damage). In Anger Management, a program often incorporated at teen mental health rehab centers, you learn that you don’t need to hold in your anger—you just need to express it in other ways.

Also, if you consistently struggle with anger, you may want to consider whether you have a mental health issue. This can be oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD), or conduct disorder—all characterized by extreme anger and irritability.

Or, it can be another mental health issue like depression or anxiety. Those who struggle with excessive anger are more likely to be clinically depressed or anxious too. Why? Anger ruins family relationships, friends, jobs, and more. It negatively affects every area of one’s life. Teens with anger issues often have low self-esteem, because of the shame or remorse they feel after acting out. It could go the other way, too, though—with anger being a symptom of depression. In fact, in the DSM, irritability and angry outbursts are symptoms of depression for adolescents.

If you do have a diagnosed mental health issue, you might need to attend a teen rehab center. There are residential treatment centers (RTC), intensive outpatient programs (IOP), and partial hospitalization programs (PHP) for adolescents who struggle with extreme anger. There are also dual-diagnosis treatment programs for teens who have substance abuse problems in addition to their anger issues. But even if you don’t have an official mental health disorder, you should still get help for your anger if it’s becoming detrimental in your life.