Without thinking twice, I picked up a crayon and began to color in with my daughter. It was only after a couple of minutes that I sort of came to and realised that “this is actually really therapeutic”.
On the face of it, sitting there coloring in the hippos, crocodiles, sky and grass would seem kind of mindless for an adult – if done alone, that is – but in practice it's really mindful.
And adult coloring is really a thing. And it's hugely popular.
In fact, my brother's mother-in-law is doing it, and so is my next door neighbor. Adults from all walks of life are turning to coloring books as a form of stress release, therapy and just plain old fun.
But before you dismiss this colorful craze as silly, ‘just another fad' or for people with too much time on their hands, check out what researchers are saying about the power of art to improve emotional, mental and even physical health.
10 Big Benefits of Adult Coloring
1. Relieve Stress
Researchers have discovered that coloring activities help relax the amygdala – the section of the brain that is activated in situations where you feel stressed or scared.
Simultaneously, coloring activates the parts of the brain that support creativity. A study conducted in 2005 by Nancy Curry and Tim Kasser found that those who colored in mandalas reported drastically decreased anxiety levels.
This is especially useful for those who suffer from constant anxiety or experience anxiety as a side effect of disorders like PTSD or depression.
2. Exercise the Mind
As previously mentioned, coloring sparks brain activity and activates the parts of the brain responsible for creativity and logic.
Coloring is considered a good ‘mind exercise’ because it utilizes both sides of the brain’s cerebral cortex– an important system of control as it promotes motor skills and coordination.
When you color, you utilize the logic-based part of the brain through the choice of color or pattern. When you choose to pair or blend colors, you utilize the creative part of your brain. Coloring works out both brain hemispheres, so that’s a total win-win!
3. A Creative Meditation
Tried meditating the Eat, Pray, Love way and couldn’t get to grips with silent meditation? Fortunately, that’s not the only way to get centered.
Psychologist Carl Jung believed that coloring mandalas helped patients experience many of the benefits of meditation, like inner calm and self realization.
Jung believed that the mandala pattern was a representation of the intricacy of ‘self,’ and noticed that many of his patients would doodle circle drawings.
He used the idea and the practice of coloring to promote wellness among his patients, noting that creating and coloring mandalas symbolized “a safe refuge of inner reconciliation and wholeness.”
4. Thought Swapping – Replace Patterns of Negative Thinking
Plagued by worries about your bills, your health, your family or your future? All of the above? Coloring may actually help replace patterns of negative thinking with more positive ones.
The focus that coloring necessitates makes concentrating on issues very difficult, and often when people color, their negative thought patterns abate.
The negativity is replaced with more positive thoughts when ‘colorists’ react favorably to the pairing of colors and the creative pattern.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Stan Rodski explained that coloring elicited real neurological effects, stating: “We started seeing changes in heart rate, changes in brainwaves…the most amazing things occurred.”
5. Self Soothe
Learning how to control your body’s stress activation system (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system…phew!) is a vital component of mental and physical wellness.
Those who can influence how their bodies deal with trauma are much more resilient and have higher coping mechanisms.
Learning to self soothe during a period of trauma is essential to coping, and many are finding that coloring helps combat tough experiences without getting wrapped up in the accompanying emotions.
Researchers have found that coloring works in a variety of circumstances, one being debilitating illness.
A 2006 study by researchers at Thomas Jefferson University found that coloring and other art therapy was essential to reducing stress, anxiety and fear during women’s cancer treatment periods.
6. Make New Friends , Reduce Social Anxiety
That’s right. you can color and make new friends. Coloring has become so popular that coloring chapters are forming in some neighborhood and cities where avid ‘colorists’ are taking advantage of the phenomenon.
Though coloring is traditionally seen as a singular activity, these clubs seek to promote positive social interaction between members of the community.
It is particularly helpful for those who suffer from social anxiety, as they are able to interact meaningfully with new people without the pressure that often accompanies social gatherings.
=> Your next read: 25 Best Adult Coloring Books Ever
7. Walk the Middle Road for a While
Life today is a rat race of accomplishments, stress and competitions. This may be self evident, but coloring is a pretty low-pressure activity. There is no way to win, lose or even play the game.
Having an activity that takes the ‘middle road', that is not reliant on a time limit, a ‘correct’ answer or a competition is freeing and can be incredibly cathartic and restorative after a long day of work or stress.
8. Encourage Yourself to Be Present
It’s no secret that people today are distracted more than ever. With all of the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the notifications that *ding!* constantly from our phones and tablets, it can be hard to focus when you really need to. Coloring to the rescue!
An art therapy student from Lesley University recently attested to the increase in coloring books in her university lectures to help students focus.
She noted that in group therapy discussions, those who have issues concentrating often do better with the aid of a coloring book, stating “we have several adult coloring books at my site to offer the clients.”
9. Build Mental Strength
We know that coloring books can help release stress in tough situations, but coloring books can also train our brains, making us more efficient, logical and mentally strong.
That’s right. Coloring can actually make you sharper and healthier. Leslie Marshall, a clinical counselor, states that coloring “opens up the frontal lobe of the brain- the home of organizing and problem solving – and focuses the mind.”
This can improve reasoning abilities as coloring gives the brain a chance to focus selectively. Additionally, psychologist Gloria Martinez Ayala notes that coloring is so efficient in activating the cerebral cortex that the pastime can delay or prevent illnesses associated with aging, like dementia.
10. An Easy Way to Relax & Have Some Simple Fun
Some may view coloring as frivolous, but when is the last time you sat down and did something just for the fun of it?
Coloring can act as your designated “me-time,” and also as a way to increase self esteem.
In fact, a 2012 study showed that participants in a drawing and painting class reported 80% increased confidence and motivation. Other studies have pointed to the role of art in positive self realization and self representation, as well as increased involvement in a community.
Over the past few years, coloring has evolved from a children’s pastime to a legitimate form of therapy and meditation.
If you want to give it a try…
If nothing else, your life will be a little more colorful!