As a kid, you might have picked up a coloring book on a rainy day or when your parents needed you to occupy yourself quietly. As an adult, maybe you still enjoy coloring or doodling when you need to unwind.
Adult coloring, touted as an approach to self-care and potential relaxation technique, has become something of a trend in recent years. Perhaps you’ve even come across adult coloring books featuring everything from mandalas and detailed scenery to tapestries of obscenities.
If you find the act of coloring soothing, it may not surprise you much to learn that coloring could be more than just a fun way to pass some time.
Read on for an in-depth exploration of the potential benefits of adult coloring.
In a 2017 study, researchers randomly assigned 104 female university students to a coloring intervention group or a logic puzzle group. Participants either colored or solved logic puzzles daily for a week. At the end of the study, the 54 participants who colored reported reduced anxiety and depression, compared to the beginning of the study.
What you color could make a difference, though.
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“The repetitive movement of coloring can be soothing and calming for some people who have high stress and heightened anxiety,” Goldman explains.
What’s more, 2012 research suggests certain colors, like blue and pink, may help alleviate stress.
When you feel like your brain needs a break from all you’ve got going on, coloring may provide a welcome and much-needed distraction.
“We all have so much on our minds that we need to ‘turn off’ or ‘tune out’ for a while, and coloring can be a short-term distraction technique,” says Goldman.
Think you have too much happening on a daily basis to take time out for coloring? You might be pleased to learn coloring even for a short period of time can help. Many of the studies investigating the benefits of adult coloring involved coloring for just 10 or 20 minutes at a time.
Meditation can help:
- sharpen your focus and attention
- improve concentration
- increase awareness of your surroundings and yourself
This practice may also offer numerous physical and mental health benefits, including:
- lower blood pressure
- improved immune function
- better sleep
- reduced stress and anxiety
Wondering how coloring ties in? It could, as Goldman explains, make it easier to meditate.
“We typically aren’t multitasking when we sit down to color. This allows us to be more present in the moment, or the “here and now.” It increases our ability to pay attention to the details in front of us, and not get distracted by the to-do list swirling around in our heads,” says Goldman.
Since coloring can help ease stress and promote relaxation, it can make a great addition to your nighttime routine.
For starters, this approach to unwinding won’t mess with your sleep like electronic devices can.
Using devices to watch movies or scroll social media before bed can keep your brain active when you want it to start calming down for sleep instead. These devices also emit blue light that can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you prepare for sleep.
If you want to add coloring to your bedtime routine, consider giving mandala coloring a try. Many people use mandalas as a meditation aid, and the complexity of their design and shape can make them particularly relaxing to color.
One big reason why coloring is such a common activity in preschool and elementary school classrooms? Coloring can help improve fine motor skills and dexterity — but not only in children.
“Adult coloring can be an effective therapy intervention for many adults with illnesses, or those who are grappling with the natural aging process,” Goldman says, going on to explain that coloring works motor skills. Focusing on keeping your hand steady may help if you experience shaking or tremors.
Coloring may then lead to an improved ability to handle other fine motor tasks, like holding a cup of coffee or brushing your teeth, Goldman says.
Many people process their emotions by putting pen to paper.
Some people find journaling helpful, for example. Others (say, Taylor Swift) deal with painful or difficult feelings by writing songs or poetry.
Not a writer? That’s OK. You might find that coloring has a similar effect.
“Creating artwork has always been a healthy means of working through emotional content,” Goldman says. She goes on to explain that coloring, freehand or in coloring books, can facilitate emotional processing and healing, since it offers a way to let out negative or unwanted emotions instead of bottling them up inside.
You can utilize mindfulness during meditation, but you can also cultivate this skill during activities like walking, cooking, and yes, coloring.
The many potential benefits of mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches include:
- improved cognitive ability
- slower brain aging
- reduced symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression
- increased self-compassion
- better overall satisfaction with life and quality of life
Coloring, then, could have benefit as one more way to hone your mindfulness skills.
“Coloring is a workout for the entire brain,” says Goldman.
Coloring taps into your creativity and organizational abilities along with your focus, attention, decision-making, and problem-solving skills, she goes on to explain. That means when you color, the right and left hemispheres of your brain work together to complete the task.
Creating art can also induce what experts call a flow state. In a flow state, which you might describe as being “in the zone,” you focus so intently on what you’re doing that you lose all sense of time and the things happening around you. This absorption in your task also means you’re less likely to get caught up in worries or self-reflection.
Some research has linked flow to improved performance and motivation, as well as the ability to spend more time on tasks.
Play is a necessity for the developing bodies and brains of infants and children — but adults can benefit from play, too.
“Adults tend to forget how to play and be free. Coloring can take us back to our childhood and bring back memories. It can be a pleasurable activity that is simple, distracting, and fun,” Goldman says.
Coloring — and more specifically, art therapy — can have tremendous benefits for some people. But these approaches typically can’t replace more standard treatment approaches, including talk therapy and medication, Goldman emphasizes.
Goldman recommends connecting with a therapist if you notice:
- your mental health negatively affects your ability to navigate everyday life, including at work or school and in your relationships with others
- feelings of stress or anxiety continue to increase, affecting you and others in your life
- rapid and unpredictable mood fluctuations, including extreme highs and lows
- ongoing conflict or discord in your personal or professional relationships, especially if these conflicts represent a change from your typical interactions
- your usual coping strategies no longer seem effective for navigating everyday stress
- you start to turn to unhelpful or potentially harmful coping strategies, like increased substance use, impulsive spending, or cutting and other forms of self-harm
Therapy can also have a lot of benefit when you want support:
- processing an issue related to identity, identity intersection, or discrimination
- addressing trauma, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- working through grief and loss
Remember your support network
Connecting with family and friends, both face-to-face and virtually, can help when you feel overwhelmed and anxious.
That said, sometimes you need more support than loved ones can provide. Or maybe you need an unbiased opinion from someone with no stake in the situation.
If that’s the case, Goldman recommends reaching out to a mental health professional for more support. After all, they’re trained to offer guidance while remaining neutral, no matter the circumstances.
Coloring can offer a pretty big palette of benefits, for adults as well as children. Just know it’s not the same as art therapy with a trained professional. It also can’t replace professional treatment for lasting mental health symptoms like anxiety, depression, or frequent changes in mood.
In short, while you can’t necessarily color all of your worries away, coloring can be a useful (and fun) way to relax and manage stress more effectively.
So, grab those colored pencils and color away!
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.