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Pressure Valve

People are seeking relief in escapism

The events of 2020/21 amped up the pressure on just about everyone. Beyond the immediate health concerns of COVID-19 and intense social unrest, economic instability added to people’s money worries, work-life balance got even more impossible, and a lot of time indoors strained close relationships. So, people are seeking escape – whether that’s by dedicating time to let off steam and go wild or carving out quiet moments to slow down, focus on one thing at a time, and forget the rest of the world.

ROARING TWENTIES A post-pandemic ‘Roaring Twenties’ era may be on the cards. But while some people look to let loose, others will be seeking to live more mindfully. How can brands balance the needs of both the excited and the cautious?

YOUNG MINDS Young people are feeling the pressure more than other cohorts, but they’re also discussing their worries more. Which brands are enabling them to escape at the right moments?

DIGITAL JOY Tech fatigue is hitting people hard, but switching off entirely isn’t possible. How are brands creating more mindful, joyful, and purposeful digital experiences?

BREAKING POINT As the pressure builds, some people are making fundamental changes to provide better balance. How are companies enabling those that need a bigger shift rather than a short-term fix?

Emerging developments

Track how Pressure Valve is manifesting across regions, generations, and sectors.

What's causing it

Understand the cross-industry drivers that have allowed Pressure Valve to grow.

All The Feels

Catharsis can wear many guises. For instance, scary media can create safe spaces for people to face their fears and work through anxieties, and extreme physical experiences like Tough Mudder can be a perfect distraction. Others may seek refuge in comfort, joy, and nostalgia – whether that’s embracing reboots like the Friends reunion or young people turning to memes for laughs to get them through the pressure of the pandemic. Dystopian fiction such as A Handmaid’s Tale re-emerged after Donald Trump’s election, and horror provided a much-needed hit of dopamine during lockdowns.

Fast Times

Life is moving faster. In cities, average walking speeds are increasing, and research has found that smartphones are tricking people’s brains into thinking time is flying by. The pandemic made time pressures even greater for many. And although brands offer things like ten-minute grocery delivery, minimalist make-up regimes, and one-click checkouts, efficiency isn’t always the answer. As the pressure to keep up becomes increasingly overwhelming, people are finding ways to slow down instead. They are letting their attention linger – whether by having mindful breakfast, visiting an ambience room, or taking a breather in their car.

Mental Health Awareness

The past decade has seen a huge rise in reported mental health issues, especially among younger generations. But alongside this, more public conversation and media coverage has led to greater awareness. in the UK, one in five people who saw a mental health storyline on TV realised that they may themselves have been suffering from common problems such as depression, anxiety, and panic attacks, and sought more information. These shifts combined have helped normalise escapism and time-outs as a form of self-care.

Post-Pandemic Release

After the pressure of COVID-19, the post-pandemic period is expected to usher in a desire for hedonistic release. However, whether that lasts a week or a decade will depend on individuals’ needs and resources. Amid predictions of a new Roaring Twenties, historians highlight the fact that the original celebratory decade was far from universal. Still, from sell-out festivals to teens splurging on fashion to ‘hot vax summer’, people are giving themselves permission to indulge in the things they missed out on and taking pleasure in planning their next escapist moment or activity.

Life cycle

Strong growth
Pressure and anxiety have never been higher for many, but the pandemic gave people permission to seek moments of relief and big lifestyle changes. Escapism is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.


of COVID-19-related news articles published by major US outlets between January and November 2020 were negative, compared to 54% of related stories in non-US outlets

(NBER, 2020)

Over 50%

of American consumers expect to spend extra in 2021 by splurging or treating themselves

(McKinsey & Company, 2021)


of Britons who adopted new routines and habits during the pandemic found that it helped with their mental health

(OnePoll, 2020)

Who's driving it

Meet the people and groups most impacted by Pressure Valve.

Stressed workers

Our society celebrates – and often requires – overwork. The average worker is interrupted every three minutes, the gig economy promotes an always-on hustle culture, and work emails are checked at all hours. Despite cutting commutes and stress for some, widespread remote working has led to a rise in working hours and work-related burnout. As companies and governments create policies to improve work-life balance, employees are looking for moments of escape and detachment to help them concentrate better on both their work and personal life.


Parenting has always been difficult, but the pandemic pushed many families to unsustainable limits. Parents – mothers in particular – are desperate for better balance. Some are rethinking their career plans or home life, be it switching to part-time work or swapping the city for the suburbs. Those who can’t afford to make big lifestyle changes are cutting themselves some slack and embracing convenient tools and services like high-end ready meals, five-minutes kids’ activities, and extra screen-time allowance.

Young people

Younger generations have higher levels of anxiety and mental health problems. They are worried about their future – from the post-pandemic job market to the climate crisis. But they are more willing to talk openly about their problems, particularly in online spaces. They also have some powerful coping mechanisms – from Gen Zers using comedy and nihilism for relief to Gen Yers dedicating time to concentrate on creative and mindful hobbies like gardening, cooking, and learning new instruments.

Marginalised Communities

Black and marginalised communities are at the sharp end of societal pressure – from dealing with everyday racial discrimination to experiencing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on their finances and careers. In response, these communities are pushing for their own definition of radical self-care that advocates rest as resistance, Black joy as vital, and slow discussions of tough topics.


Explore how Pressure Valve is playing out in culture and mass media

Brand implications

Get inspired by thought-starters around how to apply Pressure Valve.

Time Out

People are looking for time-outs and they want permission to take them. How can brands not only provide opportunities for escapism but frame them as positive and necessary moments – whether that’s a hedonistic night out or a quiet evening at home?

Good News

With people seeking a break from the negative news cycle, how can brands help to get positive narratives across and provide digital experiences that are immersive and joyful rather than simply a distraction?

So Emotional

People are using cathartic content and immersive experiences to process tough times. How can brands help them get in the right mood at the right time?

Lighter Loads

Some groups are facing additional pressures – such as working parents and communities of colour. How can brands ensure they understand the specific needs of these audiences to help them lighten the load before they reach breaking point?


See how Pressure Valve relates to other Macro Behaviours.