“Mommy Mommy! Look what I made!” an excited 5 year-old squeals, jumping up and down. She is holding up a piece of paper, covered with bright colors scribbled through the inky black contours of Mickey Mouse. Although this is far from a masterpiece, the child is giddy with excitement and the mother beams proudly at her.
This is the image that likely comes to mind when the topic of coloring is mentioned. Coloring is a favorite past-time of many young children, something nearly all of us have do in grade school and even earlier. And yet, if you go into any book store today you will likely be faced with a display of adult coloring books. What is going on here? Is our generation declining in intelligence and retreating to childish activities? Are we hoping to somehow reverse the aging process, á la Benjamin Button?
Not quite. The coloring trend for adults is actually quite beneficial, especially in reducing stress and promoting a sense of calm. The task of coloring draws us into the moment, commanding our attention and focus. It temporarily pulling us away from the myriad of tasks, thoughts, and concerns we face on a daily basis. This allows our minds to rest, recover, and recharge. The effect of coloring can be very soothing, much like that of meditation.
Although adult coloring book sales are booming today, the trend is not new. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung often recommended creating or coloring mandalas to his psychotherapy patients. A mandala is a geometric form which develops around a center. It has been used in ancient cultures (such as Australian Aboriginal, Native American, Buddhism, and Hinduism) to represent unity, wholeness, and the universe in general. The design of a mandala is generally symmetric and all aspects of it are interconnected, much like all aspects of our own lives are interconnected. Jung believed that this order, focus, and connection compensated for the psychic state of a mentally ill individual. In the same vein, when we are feeling anxious in response to a seemingly chaotic or stressful situation, a structured image with a clear center/focus can do wonders to calm our minds.
However, the benefits of coloring structured designs (such as mandalas) go beyond the calming sensation, and can even have long-term effects. Some of these benefits include:
Relaxing the amygdala- Coloring requires both logic (choosing colors for various shapes) and coordination (utilizing fine-motor skills to stay within the lines), commanding our attention away from other worries. This reduces the activity of the amygdala, a key brain structure involved in the fear response. These effects were visibly observed in labs, showing a decrease in heart rate and changes in brainwaves during coloring.
Improving creativity- In order to color, we must select colors that go well together and experiment with various designs and forms
Overcoming self-doubt- Unlike other forms of art therapy, there is no pressure regarding skill or artistic capability needed to color. Whether you have a background in painting or can sketch a simple shape, you can color. There is no judgment–anyone can pick up a pencil and begin coloring, no training or talent required.
Boosting serotonin release- The repetitive actions and techniques of coloring increase the release of serotonin, one of the main neurotransmitters involved in relaxation.
Improving overall mood and physical health- A study co-sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts studied adults 65 ears and older, and found that those who engaged regularly in creative activities (drawing, knitting, making jewelry, coloring, etc.) used less medication, required fewer trips to the doctor, and experienced less health problems than their non-crafting peers.
Improving well-being of cancer patients- A study from the Thomas Jefferson University found that coloring, as a form of mindfulness art therapy significantly helped decrease symptoms of emotional and physical distress in women undergoing cancer treatment
Easing symptoms of anxiety- Researchers from Illinois’ Knox College found that coloring structured designs, such as mandalas and complex geometric patterns, was more effective in reduce symptoms of anxiety than coloring unstructured pictures or not engaging in coloring at all.
Having fun!- When it comes down to it, coloring is simply fun. It is a chance to let go of worries and unleash your creative side (or your inner child).
With all these benefits, coloring is definitely worth a try! Choose a coloring book that appeals to you, preferably one that has complex patterns or a central focus, grab some pencils, and begin. There are plenty of coloring book themes to choose from today, ranging from nature to geometric shapes to fairy tales. No matter what you like, there is a coloring book out there for you. Good luck and happy coloring!
Please share your experiences with coloring with us on Twitter @yogatailor or in the comments below.
For more information on the studies mentioned, visit:
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