Coloring is an activity that we tend to associate with children. As we grow older, we put aside our crayons and colored pencils in favor of more respectable writing utensils like pens and highlighters, only flirting with the old pastime when doodling in page corners during a particularly boring meeting.
However, it turns out that coloring can be beneficial for adults—namely for its de-stressing power.
In fact, a recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that only 40% of us can say with confidence that we rate our mental health as “good,” and over two thirds are keen to partake in activities that might help us unwind—but can’t even muster up the willpower.
Given those figures, it’s no wonder that we’re collectively exploring new ways to relax. But, since when did adult coloring books become all the rage?
It turns out that coloring books for adults have been around for decades, but the trend started to spike in 2012 when French publisher Hachette released Art-Thérapie: 100 Coloriages Anti-Stress, a collection of mandala-like designs that promised adults “relaxation support.”
One coloring enthusiast shares their finished pages from Basford’s “The Secret Garden.” Image credit: masterkirie.deviantart.com
Since then, global sales of coloring books aimed at adults have been nothing short of gobsmacking: just last week, they took up five of the top ten best sellers spots on Amazon with Joanna Basford's The Secret Garden leading the pack; the UK's largest high street chain of bookshops, Waterstones, saw a 300% rise in coloring book sales between 2013 and last year; in Brazil, an incredible one in six books sold last month was a coloring book.
What Makes Coloring So Appealing To Adults?
The first is obvious—it’s fun! There’s also an element of nostalgia, since coloring books remind us of simpler things, childhood, and a chance to enjoy play.
Coloring also offers that relief and mindfulness without the paralysis that a blank page can cause. This is the paradox of choice, and it’s been well-studied—too many options is overwhelming. Similar to how it’s easier to choose between two things instead of picking your favorite out of fifteen, coloring allows you to express yourself without having to choose the picture.
Best of all, coloring is easy. These books allow you to be creative with your color choices, while making something unique and knowing that there’s no real way to get it “wrong.” Worst case? Just start over on the next page.
How Coloring Helps Adults De-Stress
Sure, it might sound appealing, but is coloring really good for you?
It turns out, the answer is a resounding yes. Just like meditation, coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus only on the moment, helping to alleviate free-floating anxiety.
In fact, the benefits of coloring aren’t even breaking news! The famed psychologist Carl Jung used to prescribe coloring to his psychiatry patients. His clients were given mandalas to color as part of their therapy—you can still purchase similar mandala coloring books today.
But what, exactly, is it that coloring does to our brains that makes it so therapeutic?
Image credit: hot-and-trending-uk.tumblr.com
Coloring Stops You From Overthinking
For a start, coloring is “mindfulness” made manifest. When we are coloring, the mind is filled with an activity. This means we stop focusing on the past (which is often associated with depression) and future (a common tendency of the over-anxious), to become present to the here and now.
Even if what you’re experiencing is milder, day-to-day worry, it's still good not to overthink too much. But when you concentrate on coloring, your mind isn’t able to dissect or churn over anything else. That’s because—contrary to common belief—it isn't actually possible to think of two things exactly the same time. Instead, what happens is the mind darts from one to another, which often leaves us feeling frazzled and intellectually dissatisfied.
Coloring Can Help Reduce Adrenaline
Coloring is not a passive act: we need to make creative decisions about which color to choose and as we focus on not going over the lines, our minds and bodies become more relaxed. That relaxation lowers the activity of the amygdala, a part of the brain that is affected by stress.
In that way, many of the physical responses that stem from the release of adrenaline are diminished when we color: our heart rate slows, our breathing becomes less frenetic, and blood flows to the stomach so food can be digested more easily.
As we become physically less charged, our thinking becomes less panicky, and vice versa. The result is that coloring can help turn the vicious circle, where anxiety begets more anxiety, into a benign one that promotes calm.
Coloring Helps Us Remember To Stop and Enjoy
Is coloring a pastime you remember from your childhood? (I do!) Perhaps you have children and they do it now. In either case, while coloring means we don't ruminate as much on the past, in many ways it allows us as adults to become children once more.
Plus, there's something reassuring and comforting about picking up real pens and paper again – especially when our lives are so dominated by screens and mice and keyboards.
Adult Coloring Parties Even Give You a Chance To Be Social
Another aspect of modern life fueling the adult coloring trend is sharing on social media. Not only can you post your elaborate creations on Facebook and Pinterest, but there are whole social media groups dedicated to offering pro tips on things like Prismacolor versus gel pens, or how to make that tricky owl in the corner pop.
And as coloring books become an increasingly popular hobby for adults, this usually-solo activity has also turned into a social one. Adult coloring parties are even becoming a thing! Which certainly beats out Tupperware.
Coloring Even Helps Your Fine Motor Skills and Vision
Coloring requires the two hemispheres of your brain to communicate, and the activity itself improves your fine motor skills and vision. The "action involves both logic, by which we color forms, and creativity, when mixing and matching colors," psychologist Gloria Martínez Ayala says to Huffington Post.
Coloring Before Bed Can Even Help You Sleep Better
It’s almost impossible to avoid engaging with your electronics at night, whether it’s answering emails, catching up on your favorite shows, doing online research, or reading on your e-reader.
But, because coloring manages to keep you engaged while being such an effective de-stresser, those to pick up a box of crayons for a set period of time before bed have been known to get better sleep.
Related: 9 Simple Ways to Improve Your Sleep
What To Look For In Your First Coloring Book
Remember that these aren’t your kid’s coloring books—they’re often incredibly detailed with intricate doodlings! And it takes a good while to color in one of these drawings completely.
While there’s something very satisfying about watching the color slowly spread across the page, the effort does take several hours. Since you’ll be spending so much time on each page, here are a few things to consider before purchasing:
Image credit: forbes.com
Pick a Coloring Book That Captures Your Interests
There are coloring books of geometric animals, lost oceans, Harry Potter scenes, art masterpieces, affirmative sayings, and the world’s most beloved cities.
Game of Thrones fans have just a little longer to wait for a G.R.R. Martin-approved adult coloring book illustrating his fantasy series—just think, how many shades can you use to color in the infamous red wedding?
Cleverpedia.com put together this comprehensive list of 75 adult coloring books classified by genre—there’s really something for every taste.
Want them all? There’s even The Monthly Coloring Club — an adult coloring subscription service starting at $4 per month.
Or start by printing free pages: From art nouveau to TV series, stained glass, graffiti, or even cupcakes, Coloring Pages For Adults has a vast array of free designs to get you started. Art Is Fun also offers a variety of designs that you can sneakily print at the office when no one’s looking.
Other Tips To Get Your Color On
The number one complaint from first time colorists is that they picked a book with too intricate of designs. Not only can it be hard on the eyes, but the time it takes to shade in all those tiny squiggles might make you lose interest.
Other insights include:
- Read the reviews if purchasing a coloring book online. Common complaints include a book that doesn’t lay flat or pages that are too see-through.
- Choose variety and richness. If you can, spend a little extra on your coloring tools. Be it crayons, pencils, watercolors, gel pens, markers or pastels, the more color choices and textures, the better your coloring experience.
- Be present. When using coloring as a way to increase well-being, find a way to revel in the solitude of the experience. Reduce distractions and focus your intentions on the colored hues, patterns and strokes you choose.
Ready To Fill In Some Pages?
Even if it didn't make us healthier, many of us would still probably be coloring as adults. It's true, of course, that the inherent fun of coloring might be linked to its de-stressing properties, but I think the activity's helpful qualities are really just an added bonus. At the end of the day, I believe coloring is good for you because it's fundamentally fun.
Keep in mind, if you're dealing with significant mental or emotional issues, coloring isn’t a replacement for art therapy. But for those who just need a hobby to help them chill out, these books could be the ticket.
According to ColoringBooks.net, adults should skip the crayons and go straight for the colored pencils, since precision is everything when it comes to tuning in. And Crayola has a complete guide that shows how to take your tools up a notch by blending colors, shading and adding highlights and lowlights to your newfound masterpieces. Now get to coloring!