Inside Dubai’s Al Quoz industrial area, a grungy-looking building is buzzing with visitors on a weekday evening. The hip-hop beats of Cardi B’s spunky I like it like that play in the background.

In the lounge area, seated on a bean bag, a young woman wearing protective overalls and a helmet waits for her turn. She enters one of four enclosed spaces, carrying a sledgehammer. Inside, on the screen of a discarded TV, she spray-paints her ex-lover’s name in red. Stepping back to a safe distance, she swings the sledgehammer above her right shoulder and brings it down on the TV screen with a crash. A couple more blows later, the crushed electronic mess topples to the floor. With each blow her pent-up feelings of resentment and grief over what was clearly a bitter break-up seemingly melt away.

Welcome to The Smash Room, a one-of-a-kind hangout zone in West Asia. For the entire Valentine week, the place was fully booked by singletons.

While couples elsewhere were serenading each other with roses and candlelight dinner, The Smash Room offered a quirky alternative — those trying to put a failed relationship behind them could symbolically do so by hacking down an old television marked with their ex’s name, or smashing glasses or destroying any keepsakes.

“As they smash [things] they release negative energy and are able to let go of past emotional memories,” says Hiba Balfaqih, co-founder of The Smash Room. “We had lots of women and a few men who had signed up for the anti-Valentine offer.”

She describes the room as a judgement-free area where people can hack, cry, yell, laugh or dance as they please.

Barely a year old, the idea behind the venture is to help people de-stress, release anger and cope with emotional issues. Its chic Instagram-worthy interiors, complete with neon lights and graffiti, come with used printers, discarded crockery and defunct computers. After a briefing on safety precautions, the smash enthusiasts wear overalls, a helmet and protective padding for the chest and knees. They can pick a song from the playlist to listen to during the smash-up. One can also bring along a personal object to be destroyed. They then pick a weapon of choice — baseball bat, hammer, crowbar or sledgehammer. The debris is later sent for recycling.

A psychologist who grew up in Montreal, Canada, Balfaqih came up with the idea for The Smash Room when she was trying to cope with the death of her grandmother in 2017.

“My grandmother was my best friend. Her death was a huge setback in my life,” she says. She tried psychotherapy and even kick-boxing, but was unable to shake off her feelings of grief.

“I was so upset that I literally wanted to smash something on the wall. One of my friends suggested I do just that. So in her backyard I started breaking some junk… I yelled and I cried... it made me feel better.”

That’s when she and her friend Ibrahim Abudyak wondered if they could help others too in this way.

The Smash Room became a space for therapy beyond conversations and reflections.

Balfaqih disagrees with the perception that breaking things is a sign of aggression. “If you eat salad, it does not mean you are a vegan. So, breaking things once at The Smash Room does not make you violent,” she says.

On the contrary, it is a healthy way of releasing anger, and she has seen people emerging feeling lighter and happier, she adds.

She cites the example of a woman who came in looking so stressed that she couldn’t even speak to anybody. “After coming out of The Smash Room, she asked us for a hug and told us that this experience had helped her release some longstanding angst. She looked like a changed person. In a few weeks she brought along a friend.”

And it’s not only grief that is pulling people to The Smash Room, as it is fast emerging as a unique venue for celebrations ranging from birthday gigs to bachelorette parties, and even as an offbeat workout zone. “Smashing is a great exercise, where you burn calories faster than you would on a treadmill,” says Balfaqih, who is also an entrepreneur. Her venture The Startup Factory helps budding entrepreneurs find the information and other support systems they need to get their business off the ground.

Taking it all a notch higher is the upcoming epic smash, a monthly event limited to 10 people, where one can demolish bigger objects — refrigerators, washing machines and even old cars.

What a badass way to crush your worries.

Tessy Koshy is an independent journalist based in Dubai