Adult coloring books have been very popular recently! Full of intricate designs and patterns, these books claim that coloring can reduce anxiety, promotes mindfulness and helps us “stress less”. I always enjoy a good coloring session with my daughter, but do these new coloring for anxiety books really live up to the hype that publishers would have us believe?
Can Coloring Reduce Anxiety?
Apparently, the answer is yes!
One study by Curry and Kasser examined the psychological benefits of coloring complex geometric patterns. The eighty-four undergraduate students who took part were divided into three groups. Students colored either a mandala, plaid design, or a blank piece of paper. The researchers measured their anxiety levels at three points. First, right before going into the lab. Second, after a short “anxiety-induction experience”. Lastly, after 20 minutes of coloring. Those who colored the mandala and plaid designs reported feeling less anxious after the exercise.
A different study by Flett et al. took their research “out of the lab” to see how a home based practice of coloring can reduce anxiety, stress and feelings of depression. Going a step further, they also wanted to test coloring’s potential to promote well being (measured in terms of resilience, flourishing, and mindfulness.) They asked participants to color either complex pictures or do a logic-puzzle for at least 10 minutes a day, for 7 days. As they suspected, those in the coloring program felt less depressed and anxious. Both the coloring and puzzle groups had small increases in mindfulness. Neither group showed improvement in resilience or flourishing.
How does adult coloring help us “worry less”
According to clinical psychologist Scott M. Bea from the Cleveland Clinic, there are three reasons why coloring can reduce anxiety:
1. Coloring focuses our attention away from ourselves
Coloring gives us an opportunity to focus on the present-moment and away from the whirlwind of negativity we sometimes get caught up in. Taking this time out can give us similar benefits as other mindfulness exercises. According to Curry and Kasser, the benefits of coloring mandalas in particular can help draw people into a meditative state.
2. Coloring gives our brain a chance to relax
Focusing on a simple activity, like coloring repetitive shapes, is good for our brain and gives our mind a chance to rest. We stop running through all our “to do” lists or worrying thoughts and just enjoy being creative.
3. Coloring is “risk-free”
Unlike free-form drawing, coloring is predictable and structured. There are no wrong choices and no one to evaluate our work. Dr. Bea says, “It is hard to screw up coloring, and, even if you do, there is no real consequence. As result, adult coloring can be a wonderful lark, rather than an arduous test of our capacities.”
There are many benefits of adult coloring, but is it art therapy?
Many people find coloring therapeutic and studies show it can be very relaxing for those who suffer from anxiety and stress. I appreciate the opportunity it gives me to focus on something that is creative. And I do find that mindfully concentrating on this simple activity allows me to “take a break” from that internal dialogue of health anxious worries churning at the back of my mind.
If you enjoyed coloring when you were young, picking up your crayons again may take you back to those stress free days of your childhood. The color choices you make may help you understand what you are feeling. Even more so, purposely choosing a color pallet for your work can sometimes help influence your mood for the better. Choosing yellows can be cheerful and uplifting. Pinks are often calming. Greens can be grounding.
If you’re interested in taking your coloring practice a step further, you might consider working with a qualified art therapist. According to the Canadian Art Therapy Association, art therapy uses activities like painting, sculpting or drawing to help people express feelings and thoughts that can be difficult to communicate. A therapist gives us an opportunity to discover and reflect on important themes in our work. Through this process, we can become more self-aware of our beliefs and behaviors. He/she can then help us identify any difficult problems and find solutions.
What are the best coloring books and supplies for adults?
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My Top Picks of Adult Coloring Books
You can find adult coloring books with themes for every interest available in bookstores and online retailers. My favorites include Johanna Basford’s series Lost Ocean, or Enchanted Forest and also Secret Garden. You can take advantage of the benefits of coloring mandalas with the book Nature Mandalas, or if you want a little inspiration, there is Good Vibes. Anything by Design Originals is a great place to start. If you are looking for something a little different, the Just Add Colour books have interesting themes like Circus, a fun one called Tattoos or a throw-back Mid-Century Modern Mania.
If you are looking for some great designs of free adult coloring pages you can print at home, check out the list in this post’s list.
Before you start, test them out!
There are so many coloring tools available on the market from markers, pens, pencils or wax crayons. If you choose to use markers, it’s a good idea to test them out somewhere inconspicuous in your new book to see how they work on the paper. Some markers bleed through and can ruin the design on the next page. If your book is printed one-sided, inserting a separate piece of paper behind your work can help fix this.
My Top Picks of Crayons
In my opinion, the Crayola crayons we used as a child are still one of the best and most affordable options. They produce a vibrant and even color. It can be difficult to sharpen a fine point on a crayon. Consequently, if you’re working on small details you might want to use a different medium.
My Top Picks of Pencil Crayons
Pencil crayons are my preferred choice. The best pencils I’ve tried out is the Prismacolor Premier set. Their colors are bold and easy to layer if you are looking to incorporate some more advanced coloring techniques. The only con is that they are pricey. A good alternative is the Prismacolor Scholar set or even the Crayola colored pencils if you have a tight budget.
I’d love to hear any of your own coloring experiences and tips. Share them in the comments below.
I’m not an expert. If you have any concerns about your health, you should always consult your doctor or other qualified health-care provider and don’t disregard or delay seeking professional medical or mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment because of anything you read on this site. Wishing you well.
Nancy A. Curry BA & Tim Kasser PhD (2005) Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety?, Art Therapy, 22:2, 81-85.
Jayde A. M Flett, Celia Lie, Benjamin C Riordan, Laura M Thompson, Tamlin S Conner & Harlene Hayne (2017) Sharpen Your Pencils: Preliminary Evidence that Adult Coloring Reduces Depressive Symptoms and Anxiety, Creativity Research Journal, 29:4, 409-416.
“3 Reasons Adult Coloring Can Actually Relax your Brain.” Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials, November 13, 2015.