How A Childhood Pastime Now Helps Adults Relieve Stress

Jim Marcotte is a writer and business consultant based in Cape Coral, FL. He and his wife, artist Ronnie Walter, are the founders of The Coloring Cafe™. You can contact him through this website.

Some therapists refer to coloring as a form of “active meditation.” It has long been accepted that repetitive motions can help with focus and calming of the mind, and where the mind goes the body follows. Runners and walkers, knitters and even doodlers have long enjoyed the benefits that come from practiced, repetitive motions—and now, equipped with a set of pencils and a coloring book you can enjoy those benefits anywhere. We hear from moms who swear by a little coloring to end the day and quiet their minds after the kids are in bed. Students bring them to lectures because they can actually concentrate better while coloring diverts their nervous energy.
Sometimes people just want to unplug for while, and coloring is a low cost, low tech method to help ease the stress of our fast-paced high tech world. Settle in, pick a color and listen to the rhythm of that pencil on the paper as your creativity flows onto the page. It is a beautiful thing, but remember not every “colorist” is in it for the therapy. Adult Coloring is a fun and relaxing creative pastime, it’s rewarding all by itself. The other benefits - those are a bonus!

by Jim Marcotte

Adult Coloring books are showing up on bestseller lists worldwide. Coloring for adults has moved out into the mainstream, people are toting books and pencils around with them wherever they go. What the “colorists” know, however is this pastime is not only fun, there can be significant therapeutic value as well. So how is this more than just a fun way to pass some time?

Art in many forms (music, dance, painting and drawing) has long been used in various therapeutic settings. A century ago Carl Jung would instruct his patients to color in mandalas to improve their focus and allow the subconscious to let go. Getting people comfortable with expressing themselves creatively can help resolve issues with stress, self-esteem and communication problems, problems with attention and focus, even some physical and behavioral issues.  It’s not just a theoretical link, published papers now show that art therapies can benefit patients with issues related to cancer, PTSD, and other stress-based disorders and anxiety.

Adult coloring, while not technically a medical procedure, is thought to work in a similar manner. The calming, repetitive motion can temporarily “rewire” the brain and shift focus away from dominating negative thoughts and onto the colors and movements.  Dr. J. Pearson, a neuroscientist at the University of New South Wales, says the actions of coloring - looking at the shape and size, finding the edges, picking out the colors - can help reduce the appearance of anxiety producing thoughts and images by occupying the same area of the brain with what is essentially a meditative process. As Dr. Pearson told NineMSN, “Anything that helps control your attention is going to help. With coloring, you have some rules but it's not too challenging. You need to focus in to achieve it but it doesn't have so many rules that it's stressful."