YPulse’s What is Wellness? trend report data shows 49% of young people say mental health is the most important part of their wellness—making it the top answer, even over physical health. And 67% say they are proactively working on their mental health, meaning they’re carving out time for what makes them feel happy, less stressed, and in tune with themselves. In our Mental Health report, we ask 13-39-year-olds what activities they do to improve / maintain their mental health as an open-ended question. We know they say anything that feels good is good for their wellness, so their list goes beyond the expected mental health activities:
Exercise is the number one thing young people do for their mental health
For both Gen Z and Millennials, the top activity they use to benefit their mental health is exercise. With the open end, we ask them to tell us why they do this activity, and they give a wide variety of reasons exercise is their favorite way to de-stress or take care of their mind. One 18-year-old female says exercise maintains / improves their mental health because “exercising makes me move around rather than being on social media”—showing Gen Z is conscious of needing time away from their phone to de-stress. A 25-year-old male says they exercise for their mental health because “It relaxes me, gets the body going and lets me be in touch with myself.” Our Fitness report shows that 85% of young people say, “working out is just as much for mental health as physical health,” and that the top reason they exercise is to feel good rather than to look good. So, while many cited the physical benefits and improving their self-confidence, the time spent focusing on themselves and feeling good is the core reason they link exercise with their mental health.
Gen Z’s second top answer is playing sports, which we know is also their top hobby, so clearly an activity that releases good feelings for them. Like the reasons they cite for other exercise, Gen Z places emphasis on how playing sports clears their mind, rather than the positive associations with physical benefits. One 15-year-old male says football is a mental health activity simply because “It just clears my mind of everything.” Playing sports also makes the endorphin rush more fun for the young gen, and is something they can do with their friends, even through school.
Gen Z plays video games for their mental health
Video games are number seven on Gen Z’s ranking of mental health activities; while exercise can be good for their mental health because of getting away from screens, for others, screen time is the de-stressor. YPulse data shows that 54% of Gen Z say video games are effective for treating anxiety, and their answers tell us exactly why. One 16-year-old male says playing video games helps their mental health because “It’s fun and gives me motivation. Often times I’ll make my own games too. It’s just a way to make friends and have fun.” Another 21-year-old male names the social aspect of it too, saying “It’s a good stress reliever and I get to spend time with friends.”
YPulse’s Metaverse trend report data shows Gen Z playing virtual world games are using them as a way to hang with friends the same way they would IRL. More than half of Gen Z (54%) say they hang out with friends virtually while they game, and an additional 39% say they hang out with them in-person while playing. While time on screens is often viewed by older gens as isolating or bad for young people’s health, Gen Z proves the opposite; gaming can not only be a fun distraction from stress, but a connection with their friends, too (which is number 10 on their list of mental health improving activities). And what’s more: 81% of Gen Z agree “Hanging out with friends is just as important for my wellness as working out,” so video games can be bigger for their mental health than you may ever have thought.
Millennials’ diet are part of their mental health care
Though Millennials reject traditional (toxic) diet culture, they’re still foodies at heart who love a feel-good meal, especially when it’s a healthy version. Just like the physical benefits of exercise help them maintain / improve their mental health, eating a healthy diet helps them to feel good, too. One 39-year-old male says eating healthy is good for their mental health because “It improves my energy level.” A good, healthy meal keeps them going for all the other parts of their day—even the hard ones.
Our trend report The End of Food Culture (As We Know It) also shows Millennials are significantly more interested in food content online than Gen Z, and a top kind they look for is healthy versions of typically non-healthy meals. But they certainly don’t deny themselves a deliciously unhealthy meal when they want it and agree that it can be good for their mental health to indulge; 73% of Millennials agree “Somebody can work out and eat junk food in one day, both for their wellness.”
And brands should be cognizant of how diverse a lens young people see wellness and caring for their mental health through, because they do want brands to help them be their best selves. Our data shows 64% of young people say they want brands to encourage them to do things that make them feel good, no matter how healthy it is, over encouraging them to stick to strict health routines. Whether it’s through messaging about exercise or food that’s about more than their physical benefits or prioritizing the hobbies that make them happy, brands would do well to remember that young consumers want wellness advice that fits their feel-good self-care approach.