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Young Europeans Are Doing These 17 Things to Improve Their State of Mind

Young Europeans’ mental health took a hit during the pandemic. Here’s what they’re doing to improve their state of mind…


We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: mental health has long been a top priority for Gen Z and Millennials, who were the most stressed out and anxious generations to date even before the pandemic. Advocating for the de-stigmatization of mental illness and asking for help has been more mainstream for these groups for a while now—and that only became more true the past two years as COVID put their mental wellness to the test. In our recent WE mental health report, we asked young Europeans what areas of their lives have been most negatively impacted by COVID, and mental health was their top response, with 41% of 13-39-year-olds saying it took a hit. A study from EU advocacy group Eurofound shows that 64% of young Europeans were at risk of depression, up from 15% before the pandemic, earning Gen Z and Millennials the title “the sacrificed generation.”

However,  young Europeans have doubled down on their efforts to support and boost their mental health. In fact, 82% agree with the statement, “It’s important to take time to focus on your happiness and mental wellbeing,” and the majority agree “I’ve been going the extra mile to take care of mental health during this time.” In our mental health survey, we asked 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe the open-end question, “What is an activity you do to improve / maintain your mental health?” Here’s what they had to say:

How Are They Maintaining Their Mental Health?
Among 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe

  1. Exercise 
  2. Play sports
  3. Read
  4. Go for a walk
  5. Meditate / breathing exercises
  6. Play games / brain games / puzzles
  7. Listen to music
  8. Outdoor activities
  9. Eat healthy
  10. Relax
  11. Play video games
  12. Go to counseling / therapy
  13. Create art / crafts
  14. Sleep enough 
  15. Watch TV / series / movies / Netflix
  16. Spend time with family / friends
  17. Study

Before the pandemic, we called young consumers the Wellness Intensified generation for their commitment to staying fit and healthy. And while that became more difficult during lockdowns, at-home exercise did take off among young Europeans who sought new ways to keep in shape—and cope with the stress of a global health crisis. More than any other activity, Gen Z and Millennials in Western Europe tell YPulse they exercise to maintain / improve their mental health, and many likely adopted their fitness routines as a result of the pandemic: a study from Global Data found that more than half of U.K. consumers have done home workouts since March 2020, 31% of whom didn’t exercise regularly pre-pandemic, and spending on health and fitness apps grew by 70% year-over-year in Europe in 2020, reaching $544 million, according to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data.

In addition to exercise (which includes everything from yoga to jogging to weightlifting), two other physical activities top young Europeans’ list of mental health go-tos: playing sports and going for a walk, underscoring their reliance on movement for maintaining their minds. But they’re also turning to stillness: fourth on their list is meditation/breathing exercises, which were on the up-and-up before the pandemic but took off in 2020. Now, nearly a quarter of young Europeans tell YPulse they’ve already used a mindfulness / meditation app and a third more say they are interested in doing so. Among those who have used an app, Calm and Headspace are their top choices, both of which experienced popularity booms during the pandemic and have spent the past two years expanding into more content, celebrity partnerships, and brand collaborations—and much of this has been in the entertainment space. In fact, mental wellness has been a growing trend in entertainment for a while now. And with more than half of young Europeans telling us they use streaming like medicine to treat their various moods, it’s no wonder “watch TV / Netflix” is another top way they’re maintaining their mental health—or that mental health and streaming services are getting in on the calming action. In 2021 alone, Headspace launched a show on Netflix, partnered with Whole Foods to create a series on mindful shopping on IGTV, created a bedtime podcast for kids with Sesame Workshop, launched an in-app meditation experience on Snapchat, and created the “Drive with Headspace” Waze experience to de-stress driving.

Even more than watching TV, though, young Europeans say they’re gaming to keep up their mental health, a trend we’ve seen grow in recent years as the belief that video games are detrimental to the mind fades in favor of the realization that they can actually help young people’s mental health. YPulse’s WE gaming survey found that more than half of 13-39-year-olds in Western Europe it’s appropriate to use video games to help with mental health, and a recent Microsoft study found that 84% of gamers agreed that gaming has positively impacted their mental health over the past year, while 71% said gaming helped them feel less isolated. Meanwhile, another study found that gaming could help treat anxiety and depression—and games specifically targeting mental health are starting to emerge. At the end of 2020, BuzzFeed launched its first-ever mobile game, Run Boggo Run, which is focused on mental health: users to play Boggo and her BFF Boe as they run through the “so-called Valley of Despair and seek to dodge Anxiety Gremlins” in order to collect “self-care tokens” and fight the Stress Monster—a metaphor for “the monstrosity that was 2020.”

Many young Europeans also go to counseling / therapy to help their mental health, which is something 60% also say they’re interested in, as well as turn to hobbies and crafts, and spend time with friends and family—which is also one of the top things they started doing during COVID that they want to keep doing. Rounding out the bottom of the list is studying, highlighting the prominent place learning holds in Gen Z and Millennials’ lives, a topic we explored in last year’s Self-Taught trend report, which dug into all the ways that young Europeans are learning outside the classroom. We found that over half say they’re often doing research to learn about something new, and the majority say they enjoy learning. And with so much extra time on their hands during the pandemic, many Gen Z and Millennials turned to the internet to learn new skills. During the first wave of lockdowns, for instance, new Duolingo users spiked across the world, with France seeing 107% more new users, and Spain 109%, and the U.K. a whopping 296%. In fact, 2020 saw 10% of adults in the U.K. begin learning a foreign language, and the country became one of Duolingo’s top five countries by the total number of daily learners. Meanwhile, online courses of all stripes saw a surge in Europe during the pandemic. And while for many it may have been a way to ward off boredom, some have turned to studies to keep calm and carry on.

YPulse Western Europe Business users can access the full WE Mental Health behavioral report and data here.

Don’t have a YPulse Western Europe Business account? Find out more here.