Folks of all ages are concerned about the state of the world right now (honestly, how could you not be?). However, Gen Zs are more likely than older generations to feel stressed out about current events, especially mass shootings, climate change, and family separations, according to a recent American Psychological Association survey.
But Generation Z is more than just stressed out. Gen Z is in the midst of a mental health crisis. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2017, 13% of 12- to 17-year olds said they had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year, up 8% since 2007. Seventy percent of U.S. teens said anxiety and depression is a major problem among their peers, according to Pew Research Center. And the suicide rate among 15- to 24-year-olds is the highest it’s been since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Gen Zs spend on average more than four hours per day on their mobile phones, and some experts say screen time is to blame for Zs’ mental health challenges. But there’s an innovative movement in content that makes screen time therapeutic: entertainment content that soothes, relaxes and comforts. While compelling entertainment of the past has relied on drama and cliffhangers (or at least a really good romance) to draw viewers, Gen Zs are increasingly turning to audio, video, and GIFs that help them chill out.
On YouTube, hundreds of channels stream mellow music set to looped anime scenes. One of the most popular low-fi channels, Chilled Cow, has nearly four million subscribers, and encourages viewers to use the soundtrack to chill, sleep or relax. Spotify is home to dozens of playlists that explore the nuances of “chill” as a genre: There’s Evening Chill, Chill as Folk, Boho + Chill, and License to Chill, among others.
One of the weirder trends to rise in the chill out entertainment space is A.S.M.R., or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Experience, a perceptual phenomenon characterized by pleasurable tingling sensations caused by sounds like whispering, pages turning, or slicing a block of cheese. Not everyone experiences the phenomenon, but those who do describe it as a “braingasm”. Many studies are underway to test the effectiveness of A.S.M.R., but the first study of it’s kind found people who experience A.S.M.R. effects had reduced heart rates and were calmer and relaxed. A.S.M.R. videos have exploded on YouTube; about 500 new videos are uploaded each day, according to The New York Times. Trends in A.S.M.R. move fast as creators discover different A.S.M.R. triggers, from chewing raw honeycomb to eating fried chicken. Brands from IKEA to Michelob have even integrated A.S.M.R. into their advertising.
The most recent addition to the chill entertainment movement is “contentless content” videos, as it’s been described by Cassandra Daily. These are videos that have no plot or narrative but use repetitive visuals to create a hypnotizing effect. It’s hard to describe what exactly is entertaining about them, though they are undeniably satisfying to watch. Brands are already playing in this space. McDonald’s France and TBWA\Paris created a surreal 3D animated video of an Egg McMuffin being made; the imagery is pastel, somewhat magical, and undeniably calming. In a promotion for Google Home products, the tech company created a mini-golf themed looped animation that showed golf balls sailing across greens and plopping into holes—again, oddly satisfying! Expect brands and marketers to continue to tap into “zone out” entertainment as a continued means to help Gen Zs de-stress. We could even see major streaming sites offer chill out channels, in the same way they offer genres such as comedy, romance and drama. And TV networks and movie studios will likely experiment with what longer-form content can look like when there’s no drama or cliffhangers. It’s not a far leap to imagine a future of cinema or “must see TV” that makes you feel as relaxed as a long meditation or yoga class.