Is empathy the word of 2016?

It’s no secret that the majority of today’s student population and young professionals feel over-worked and always-on. The Youth Lab’s Q2 2015 Youth Culture Report highlighted that only 17.3% of 16-35 year olds actually want to be connected 24/7, with the vast majority realising the importance of taking physical and mental breaks from their hectic, multi-screen lives.

Stress & Anxiety

Only recently, the world’s most famous 18-year-old, Kylie Jenner revealed she suffers from a constant sense of anxiety and worry about the reactions from her fans. Another social media superstar with millions of young fans, 18-year-old Australian model Essena O’Neill, deleted multiple social media accounts last November, because she was dedicating over 50 pressurised hours a week to portraying a false image of her life.

The stress and anxiety associated with maintaining a constant social media presence and projecting a ‘perfect self’ is a contributing factor to the high levels of anxiety for many young people. With growing awareness of the mental health issues of 16-35 year olds, there is a rising tide of empathy coming from young people themselves, with more young people claiming they want to take the time to understand other people better, not make quick judgements, and be more caring towards their circle of friends.

From inward to outward empathy

Retail giant Boots is tapping into the value that teenagers put on kindness, honesty and their ability to be a good friend by inviting them to use a Boots-branded Tumblr and other marketing channels to talk to each other about ways to stay well in body and mind.

Anxiety and stress are reaching a near epidemic level. I think empathy is a good place to start - but empathy begins with yourself. I teach people to care firstly about themselves and to be inwardly empathic. When they are, they are much more likely to extend that empathy outwards. Neuroplasticity shows us that the brain is malleable and mindfulness lets you better control your thoughts - by rewiring your brains you can transform from a state of anxiety to a state of thriving.

Fiona Brennan, Clinical Hypnotherapist


For many 16-35 year olds, the headspace app was the perfect introduction to the relaxation therapy, but for 2016, the emphasis is on breathing as a certified psychotherapeutic tool for health management. Belly breathing and yogic breathing workshops are hot developments from standard meditation. Yoga teacher and wellness coach, Sinead O’Connor works with the team in Thinkhouse every week practising yoga, group meditation and belly breathing.

More and more people are realising the necessity to rid the mind of unnecessary clutter, that it can be good to spend a little more time alone, to just be still for a moment and to mediate. Through the practice of meditation we learn how to quiet the mind and experience a deeper connection to the self.

Sinead O’Connor, Yoga Teacher & Wellness Coach, Hush Yoga

Art Therapy

In addition to the act of meditation, focused concentration can help the mind in the same way, by relaxing the brain and enabling a switch-off from day-to-day stresses. Many are swapping their mobiles for crayons as we notice a massive movement towards colouring books. ‘Art therapy’ can be digitally detoxing and offers people an opportunity to tap into their artistic side with a tangible product at the end. Others are using colouring books as a means to be transported back to a nostalgic, pleasurable time in their childhood.

Just this Christmas OREO got in on the action as they launched blank packaging with markers for customers to colour in at home. Similarly, River Island issued colouring books for their SS16 press day.

But colouring books aren’t the only signs that people are returning to non-digital forms of creativity, as penmanship is also set to come into focus in 2016. It seems the art of mastering any non-digital pastime will offer people a chance to reconnect with ‘real life’ and enjoy some alone time.


In fact, mastery itself is a trend we will see explode in 2016. People are investing time and effort in mastering one skill or pastime, with things like cardistry and slack lining tipped to step into the spotlight this year. For many it will be a welcome u-turn from the insta-trend of wanting everything right now. Films like ‘Boyhood’ and the controversial documentary ‘Making A Murderer’ demonstrate the incredible results of investing time in one project. Long-form journalism is taking centre stage with writers dedicating months to the build behind a story.

Today’s youth audiences, particularly the younger cohorts (teens), have been served up bite-size content for years but now, change has arrived. It’s getting longer. For some time now, we’ve relished binge media habits - Netflix series back-to-back. It’s as much entertainment as we want, where and when we want it. Now social media brands have got in on the act.

Alongside bite-sized, unedited content, Snapchat sees the future of its platform being very much around long form journalism - a place where people can get lost in news stories - dig deeper (in Snapchat Discover) for the real stories, points of view and the stories behind the stories. This is an exciting development and one that brands, with a deep commitment to connecting with this audience, are playing a part in and investing in.

Jane McDaid, Founder of Thinkhouse

For more empathy Insights, connect with The Youth Lab at

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