You’ve probably heard about the latest craze sweeping the nation.
This trend has been spreading throughout the States, Canada and Europe, into millions of households.
We are talking about the sheer pleasure of coloring intricate pictures. We probe why this gentle obsession has taken root among millions of adults, and ask one simple question.
Is the real benefit perhaps the opportunity to set one’s anxieties to one side? We believe it is. It is the perfect opportunity for mindfulness, for leaving the past and the future where they belong, for concentrating on the pleasure of the present moment.
Cast your mind back to when you were a little child. Did your mother also give you a coloring book to quieten you down in church? Perhaps your earliest memory is of first grade in baby school, and those giant crayons with the waxy smell. Those were good times, without a care in the world.
Next time a child thrusts a coloring book in your hand do not push them aside with the comment ‘that’s nice’. Enter into the child’s own world. They are immensely proud of what they achieved. This gives them a sense of satisfaction. If I suggested that adult coloring could do the same for you, would you be interested?
Modern adult coloring can be of such a high standard that it matches the quality of creative art. In fact it is, as you can see from the accompanying sample. The world’s greatest painters begin their masterpieces by outlining their ideas in charcoal first. Then they color in the shapes. Sure, their technique is more advanced, but the principle is the same.
A Short History of Coloring Books
The first coloring books appeared in New York in 1866. They were popular with kids, and educators found them a great way to expand young imaginations. The health profession soon took them up, and used them as aids in restoring hand-eye coordination following trauma.
In 1983, a photographer made a coloring book from the works of famous American artists. The National Gallery of Art in Washington still gives copies out to volunteers. Adult therapists became excited about the way that coloring causes happy memories of childhood, and relieves stress and anxiety through meditation. This is the point where our story begins.
Color is Mood’s Destination
The fascination of coloring is in the hues themselves. They have subliminal meanings we are unconscious of, but they do affect our moods. Color even affects the conversion rates of websites. Psychologists are discovering what artists have known for centuries. The dominant color in a painting sets the emotional theme.
Reds, yellows, and oranges are hot colors causing a range of feelings from warmth and comfort to anger and hostility. Blues, purples, and greens calm. They can also cause us to feel sad or indifferent. These are universal values all humanity shares. The ancient Egyptians used Chromotherapy to heal the body, mind, and soul.
The Pleasure of a Job Well Done
Most of us take employment in a process. A worker in a production line seldom sees the complete result, never knows the customer, and probably never owns the product. Counter clerks are in a similar position. They have no idea who made the article, and they may never know who uses it. They are outside the bigger picture.
Psychologists call this sense of social disconnectedness ‘Anomie’. Anomie is one of the greatest causes of feeling life is futile, and is a force behind anxiety in modern living. Americans are turning to coloring, art and other creative hobbies to counter the effects of this negativity. They empower them to do something from the beginning to the end. They also give provide moments of mindfulness, when they focus on a single act in a moment of present time.
The Joy of Releasing Creativity
We are born creative creatures. Until school, that is, when the system beats us into shape and churns us out like sardines in a can. People laugh at us when we try something different. By the time we reach adulthood, we have drowned our creativity in the swamp of habit. No wonder so many of us dwell in anxiety.
There is an interesting relationship between anxiety and creativity. Most great artists and musicians have ‘tortured souls’. The poet T.S. Eliot said ‘anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity’. Anxiety has been the springboard for the world’s greatest creative moments. When we channel it into something beautiful, our anxiety vanishes because we are only mindful of the creative moment.
Can you start to see how adult coloring is not only a relaxing hobby and great fun? It also draws on our creativity, and it calms our anxious passion. It is so inexpensive you could think of it as a wonderful gift.
Mindfulness & The Anxiety Chain
The Texas University Stress Management and Reduction Unit coined the phrase ‘The Anxiety Spiral’. They view anxiety as a small worry that grows bigger and bigger like water in a pond disturbed by a pebble. As work, we could
- Worry about a particular task due tomorrow
- Think of past times we performed badly
- Wonder whether we are good enough
- Imagine our boss suddenly firing us
- Become anxious about financial security
- End up depressed: We are not good enough
We should stop the spiral in its tracks as soon as it starts. We should focus on doing a good job today, not waste precious energy dwelling in the past and future.
Coloring for a Better Tomorrow
Anxiety may be a shadow that follows us everywhere. We cannot outrun it, but we can do something about it. The best way to counter anxiety is to channel it into creative activity. We could take the dog for a walk, tidy up the house, anything that takes our mind off it, is good.
You could also start coloring for fun. If you promise to read this article to the finish we will give you a free introductory pack. Do we have a deal? Let’s finish this article by thinking about the science behind the hobby that has become one of Amazon’s best sellers. Let’s hear what an associate professor at the University of New South Wales, Australia says.
The Science Behind Adult Coloring
Dr Joel Pearson believes there is a causal link between coloring, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment. ‘If you cut yourself with a rusty nail, you get a jab for tetanus, he says. ‘It’s the same idea here – if you have a traumatic event, maybe color in … to prevent PTSD from developing.
Anything that helps you control your attention is going to help,’ he goes on to say. ‘You can think of coloring in as a form of meditation.’
Meditation is the act of giving our whole attention to a single thing. The ancients practiced it in their search for spiritual truth. We still use it today to search for meaning and purpose, although we may not call it by that name.
Coloring is a type of meditation with something for our busy hands to do, so we can concentrate on what we are doing and what is in our minds. When we stop worrying about other things, we enter a state called mindfulness. This is like a peaceful island in an ocean, and a refreshing oasis in a desert.
Being mindful, including while coloring pictures improves our brains’ ability to focus, helps us make lucid decisions, and calms the restless sea of our emotions. It is a wonderful way to channel our anxiety and our creativity. It’s no wonder so many Americans are flocking to share the pleasure.
How Coloring Works in Practice
Coloring appeals because it is easy to get started. We already have the outlines and there is no blank piece of paper staring at us. Here’s an interesting study titled ‘Can Coloring Mandalas Reduce Anxiety’ you can read when you have a moment. Briefly, researchers at the Education Resources Information Center concluded coloring a round mandala or a pattern, reduced anxiety more than coloring a plain piece of paper.
Things have changed since we were kids. Coloring pictures have evolved into complex creatives depicting almost everything we can imagine. We have flowers, animals, abstract drawings and much more to choose. The common factor is their complexity, and the tiny spaces where we add the color. Forget the smelly crayons unless you want retro.
The modern adult colorer has a palette of choices. Art stores are the best place to shop for art markers and soft colored pencils. Watercolor pencils are great when we moisten them a little. Be careful of anything wet because it will bleed through the page and spoil your work. The digital revolution means we can also color on the web.
“I recommend it as a relaxation technique,” says Antoni Martinez, a psychologist. “We can use it to enter a more creative, freer state. I recommend it in a quiet environment, even with chill music. Let the color and lines flow.”