If you’ve been to a bookstore in the last few years, you may have noticed a resurgence in coloring books stocking the aisles near the checkout counter. But these aren’t the same coloring books that kept you entertained as a kid, nor are they even for the kids. These coloring books are being marketed toward adults. You heard it right – whoever said coloring was for kids?
You might be asking yourself “why adults are coloring” or “what adult has time to color,” but like many simple pursuits in our complex society, such as meditation and stretching, coloring offers its participant a momentary escape from daily rigors, a path toward decreased stress, a way to connect or reconnect to our inner selves and ultimately, a sense of inner peace.
But these aren’t just more of the lofty promises often peddled by the wellness industry, at least according to a recent article in Psychology Today. In her article, Dr. Shainna Ali provides an informative summary of recent scientific findings that back up many of the claims and the promises offered by coloring book publishers and the many folk who find them helpful.
Dr. Ali posits that the appeal of coloring books for adults can be explained by three possible reasons and possibly all three together: 1) coloring books appeal to a sense of nostalgia for the past, especially the most powerful iteration experienced in childhood, 2) a simple outlet for the basic but unmet human need for creative expression or 3) being in the moment.
On a basic level, three separate university studies have demonstrated a clear correlation between coloring and reduced levels of anxiety. However, further studies showed that therapy, when combined with coloring, produced a heightened therapeutic effect on subjects, meaning that while coloring can’t be considered a form of therapy, it is indeed quite therapeutic.
In a follow-up in Psychology Today entitled “What’s the Deal with Adult Coloring Books,” Emily Silber elaborates on what exactly makes coloring therapeutic, suggesting that coloring requires a high level of engagement, but absent of major goal orientation, allows the participant to put their full effort toward an accomplishment, without stresses of external pressure.
On the one hand, coloring offers a non-mindless respite, which, as opposed to a mindless respite, comes with a sense of accomplishment and time well spent and opposed to wasted. But beneath the surface lies another benefit, mind wandering, which can open up a blocked mind so that if you were stuck on a project such as with writer’s block, coloring can renew focus.
But perhaps the greatest and most overlooked benefit, argues Dr. Ben Michaelis in the Silber article, is coloring for the sake of coloring. The act of creation, even one as simple as filling the lines with color, can fill us with a sense of value. In fact, it might be these small acts of creativity that help us build self-esteem as children and can still aid us in our adulthood.
If you’d like to give coloring books a try, you can browse the Amazon section “Coloring Books for Adults,” which holds a best seller list sorted by popularity. You’ll find options ranging from themed-Disney options to more indie, and even psychedelic options. As with all pursuits that are intended for personal growth, look for an option that speaks to you personally. Enjoy coloring for your mindfulness!