Why Adult Coloring is Good for Stress
The fact that I just released a free set of printable coloring pages might lead you to believe I’ve been into adult coloring from the get-go. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’d say I was wary, but it was more than that. I hate a bandwagon and anything that is all the rage makes me cringe. But I had a persistent friend who kept telling me to try– I’d been having some trouble sleeping and she was confident it would help. I wasn’t inclined but she insisted, “There is even scientific proof!” So of course I went digging.
It turns out the science proving a benefit to coloring is a little sparse. And by a little sparse, I mean practically non-existent. The one study I could find, from 1995, had participants coloring mandalas, plaid designs, or simply free-form. The results showed that indeed the first two did indeed decrease anxiety, while the free form coloring did not, for this group of 84 undergraduates, anyway. Given how coloring is being touted as a panacea I expected more. One small study done twenty years ago is hardly proof.
Still, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
Coloring has a number of things going for it that could help calm the mind.
1. Coloring takes your focus away from your worries and directs it towards the page.
Our minds tend to either loop on things that have happened in the past or think about things that may (or may not) happen in the future. The fundamental problem with this isn’t necessarily the fact that we do it– though in some cases it can certainly spin out of control– the problem is that it keeps us from experiencing the moment we are in. The deliberate practice of focusing the mind makes it easier to be in the moment at other times.
2. Coloring is a conscious decision to step away from whatever other non-relaxing other thing you might be doing.
This can be work, cleaning, surfing on the phone, following rabbit holes on Facebook, organizing files, whatever your poison is. Don’t get me wrong, I think the connectedness we get from the internet, to other people, other places, and information is amazing (I’m not one of those people who vilify our new world order.) I do, however, think it’s important to use it for good rather than evil. And by evil, I don’t mean plotting to take over the world, I mean escaping from the physical and emotional world around us.
3. There are often repeating patterns which you focus on that draw you in.
This is a common approach that is part of many different kind of meditation techniques across cultures. Mandalas, labyrinth walks, japa (mantra meditation,) focusing on the breath, focusing on a part of the body, these are all types of meditation that include repetition. This repetition is an easeful way to quiet your mind.
4. It’s art.
Art has been shown in many studies to help people. Although coloring is hardly art therapy, the benefit of making and looking at art has been studied extensively. Our minds can be calmed by beautiful things. Colors can elicit emotions as well as help us express them. Just look at kids doing art and see the focus and joy. We can get that back too…grownup style.
5. It’s fun. It’s playful. It’s easy. It’s creative.
Being a grown-up has its advantages. It can also suck. I’m very lucky that I have a job (two, actually) that I love, a doting husband, an easy kid. I have privilege in my life and good health. And yet I’m often overwhelmed. I can get anxious, and sad, and sleepless, despite my wonderful life and my expertise on the topic of stress. We can all, after all, use a bit of fun to remind us that it’s ok to relax and take a break from all of the adulting.
So I tried it.
And studies or not, I have to admit she was right. Is coloring a magic bullet? Of course not. Does this take the place of systematically figuring out what things are impacting my overall stress load? Certainly not.
Is coloring a fun way to de-stress? Absolutely. And I don’t need a study to tell me that.
Once I was in, I went in search of some free coloring pages to download. There were a few I liked but not many. The ones I did like were often not full sized, or not actually free in the end. So I imagined exactly what I would want to download:
Free pages that are original, beautiful, and have thoughtful ideas that support me to decrease my stress without making me feel like I’m reading some cheesy FB meme or missing the boat by not doing more to take care of myself.
I searched. And I searched. They didn’t exist, so I commissioned my dear friend Allison Jones to do the art and I put words to them that I use with my patients and clients often.
If you want a full set, I’d love to share them with you. Just CLICK HERE enter your email, and download all eight!