Coloring books used to be just for kids, but that is no longer the case. The advent of adult coloring has been the latest rage in a modern world that quickly looks for an interesting outlet in which to express its self in personal and creative ways. The once niche activity has turned into a trend, and with it, what art therapists, yoga masters, and researchers are describing as a way to combat mild forms of mental illness and increase awareness, meditation, and relaxation.
Art therapy, in and of itself, is a mental health profession that involves creating artwork that develops social skills, manages behavior, explores feelings, and reconciles inner emotional conflicts, among other things, according to the American Art Therapy Association. It’s similar to general therapy, but differs in that visual imagery is the primary hallmark. However, coloring is not the same as an art therapy session. While art therapy relies on a one-on-one relationship between therapist and client, therapy in the form of coloring relies solely upon the individual and his or her relationship with their heart, soul, and mind.
While coloring and art therapy are different, coloring offers many mental health benefits that can be important to any adult. This is especially true for the busy working professional who wants to work effectively and relieve stress. Adult coloring used to be a “prescription” given out by psychologist Carl Jung during the early 1900s, according to Dr. Nikki Martinez at The Huffington Post. He believed it would assist his clients in getting in touch with their subconscious being. However, “we now know that many psychologists suggest this to patients as an alternative to meditation, as a means of relaxation, and as a calming tool.”
Coloring reduces anxiety and stress
Research has shown that coloring can lessen anxiety and stress in adults and help one to practice mindfulness (being in the moment and relishing in the experience). A CNN article on the subject states that 2005 research “proved anxiety levels dropped when subjects colored mandalas.” Coloring also improves concentration. We live in a very busy world, but when you sit down to color something even if it is just for a few minutes, one’s ability to focus on other things also improves. Work projects become more efficient and social relationships become more effective because you are solely focused on the moment at hand.
Besides the fact that they spark creativity and bring comfort to the soul, there are several other unexpected and even surprising benefits of adult coloring.
Coloring stimulates creativity in the brain
Research shows that your best ideas come to life when the right side of our brain is stimulated. Coloring which is a right-brained activity can help spark creativity and illuminate imagination. Nurturing one’s creativity should be a daily occurrence. The more it is done, the more active the right-side of our brains will become. Coloring helps you to think and act outside the box even when you’re trying to stay within the lines.
Cognitive neuropsychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Stan Rodski developed the Colour-tation method of relaxation to help relax the brain in busy environments (probably from his own right-brain stimulation). In an article for ABC Australia, he describes the science behind the benefits of adults using colouring books. He said, “We now have technology that can measure brainwaves and heart rhythms that allows us to examine the impact certain things that you do have on the brain and its reactions. The most amazing things occurred—we started seeing changes in heart rate, changes in brainwaves.”
Coloring relaxes the mind and body
Although the CNN article said simple doodling had little to no effect on calming the brain, it can serve as a relaxation tool for the mind and body. After a long day of work or travel, studies show that coloring helps to clear your mind, unwind your body, focus your thoughts, relax and de-stress. Coloring is an active deterrent from being tied to the tasks of the day. This childhood activity opens up a world of physical restoration and mental rejuvenation. Similar to meditation practices, coloring allows us the luxury of switching off our minds and falling into the moment that is now.
While the science behind adult coloring is intriguing, I have yet to put my crayons (or colored pencils) to coloring paper. I’ll give it a shot one of these days, I’m sure. But in the spirit of better mental health, increased productivity, and replacing busyness with relaxation, we can all give a toast to blending colors, shading patterns, adding highlights, and getting outside the lines every once in a while.