Hand over the Crayolas, Timmy
Whether you are a “stay within the lines” or “color out of the box” kind of gal, coloring is good for more than your kids’ refrigerator displays. The past few years have seen a veritable explosion of adult coloring books selling like crazy, and for good reason. Coloring definitely has therapeutic potential to reduce anxiety, create focus and encourage mindfulness. Groundbreaking research in 2005 proved anxiety levels dropped when half the subjects in a large study colored mandalas, round frames with geometric patterns inside. Interestingly, simply doodling had no effect in reducing the other half of subjects’ stress levels. 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. (1) By about 2012, there was a budding niche market of adult coloring books trending, and now, because therapists and other researchers have duplicated the same benefits over the years in patients and subjects, adult coloring is more popular than ever.
Connecting psychological dots
Marygrace Berberian is a certified art therapist and the Clinical Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for the Graduate Art Therapy Program at NYU. In her experience, coloring is a great vehicle for opening patients to their emotions and expressing them. She practices art therapy, which differs from coloring, but says about the benefits of simply coloring, “My experience has been that those participants who are more guarded find a lot of tranquility in coloring an image. It feels safer and it creates containment around their process.” Berberian would call coloring “therapeutic, not therapy.” (2) Coloring is often used to help children process and communicate about difficult events in their lives, so may be a useful processing tool for adults as well. The act of focused coloring is akin to other tools that relax our overstressed minds and focus our thoughts – much like meditation, yoga, and exercise.
Hacking the elusive flow
When we listen to great athletes, artists, and intellectuals speak of their practice, we often hear about something called “flow.” According to positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the state of flow includes being focused, having confidence in achieving the task at hand, achieving a sense of serenity and being in a state of timelessness. While Csikszetmihalyi would not define coloring in adult coloring books a great way to achieve flow – something he believes comes from intense engagement in something you are striving to your limits to perfect – he did conclude that adult coloring, like doodling, might better be understood as “microflow,” a compromised form of flow he first wrote about in the 70’s. Coloring is a way to free up parts of your brain, and an activity that can even sometimes simulate the rapture of flow, but in a relaxed state. (3)
It’s too easy
RIght? This activity seems too easy to have great benefits. Anyone can do it. What comes next? Wait for it… You’ll never know unless you try! Actually, the hardest part is deciding to do it and starting. Here are some tips for “new colorists” that may help you motivate. These are just tips – there is no right or wrong way to color, as any TImmy or Suzy will tell you.
- Slip a piece of paper behind the page your are coloring just to protect the pages behind from denting them if you have a heavy hand or bleed through issues.
- Colored pencils are the best. Markers and crayons will do, but pencils are the tools of colorists. Sharpen your pencil more than you think you need to.
- Slow down–you aren’t selling these pages. Enjoy yourself and you will be happier with your colorings.
- Go to a big art store to check out the feel of different pencils. Playing with pencils is so great and they will usually have them available to buy one at a time. You can never have too many pencils–that’s a rule!
- Buy the biggest selection of colors that you can afford. It ends up being cheaper than buying singles or a small boxes of 12 or 24. Amazon will be cheaper than that art store.
- Print out free pages to color found online – there are countless sources.
- Do a Youtube search for tutorials to get you started–there are thousands.
- If you decide this is for you, buy an adult coloring book. You will know which designs speak to your inner colorist.
- If you color in public, take an extra coloring book because a friend will walk in and want to join in when they see what you are doing.
- Have fun and color outside the lines.. it’s ok! (4)
- Kelly Fitzpatrick, “Why Adult Coloring Books are Good For You”. Jan 6, 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/06/health/adult-coloring-books-popularity-mental-health/
- Tom Roston. “Why grown-ups love coloring books too.” March 9, 2016. http://ideas.ted.com/why-grown-ups-love-coloring-books-too/
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. “Flow: The Secret to Happiness.” Ted Talk. 2004. http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow
- Addicted Colorist. “Adult Coloring Books: Top Tips for New Colorists.” Dec 12, 2015. http://coloringbookaddict.com/adult-coloring-books-top-13-tips-for-new-colorists/
Try this great resource for downloading and printing adult coloring pages: