We can all add to our repertoire of approaches to maintaining and improving our mental health. I wrote earlier about using creative activities for relaxation and stress relief. One of the art activities included is coloring. I wanted to learn more about the values of coloring for adults and found research and medical coverage that has given me greater appreciation for its benefits for mental health.
First, a little background. Adult coloring books have been around for a long time. In the 1970s there was a surge in interest. But in the past 7 years or so they have been more popular than before. The largest spike in sales of coloring books was from 2014 when one million copies were sold to 2015 when sales were 12 million. After a few years of much lower but consistent sales, the recent years of COVID-19 saw dramatic increases. More publishers and self-publishers created an expanded variety of products and the total sales numbers are hard to gather – but lots of people began coloring.
For some people, coloring is a simple distraction or way to recapture something we may have enjoyed doing as children. Clinical psychologist Scott M. Bea, PsyD, says, “Adult coloring requires modest attention focused outside of self-awareness. It’s a simple activity that takes us outside ourselves” like activities such as knitting or mowing lawn.
Multiple Benefits of Coloring
WebMD.com, the popular online health information source, published a medically reviewed article in August of 2021 entitled, “Adult Coloring Books: 7 Benefits of Coloring.” The first benefit is one we all need:
1. (Coloring) Relaxes Your Brain and Improves Brain Function
Coloring books are a great way to relax your brain and quiet your mind. When you’re coloring, you’re focused on the simple activity in front of you. This begins to relax your mind and keep your thoughts from intruding.
Coloring can also improve your brain’s ability to function. When you’re coloring, different parts of your brain’s cerebral hemispheres are activated. When you choose what colors to use, your creativity is activated. As you color forms and shapes, your logic is also activated.
The other six benefits in the article illustrate why coloring has become a tool recommended by therapists and counselors to decrease mental stress, relieve depression and reduce anxiety levels. It is even thought to help prevent dementia conditions by stimulating synapses in your brain. Your creativity is stimulated beyond the coloring itself as you stimulate the creative part of your brain.
Focus on Mandalas and Fractals
Coloring books come in multitudinous styles, themes and subject matter which appeal to people’s interests. There are a couple of types that seem to have particular benefits for mental health: mandala and fractal coloring books.
A study conducted by Nancy A. Curry and Tim Kasser, Galesburg, IL examined the effectiveness of various art activities in reducing anxiety using coloring of mandalas, coloring plaid and free coloring on blank paper.
The group who colored mandalas significantly decreased their anxiety levels below baseline (which) suggests that coloring such designs may be useful for helping individuals who chronically experience anxiety. At the least, coloring mandalas or other complex designs may be useful in lessening other stress-related problems if conducted before or immediately after the stressful activity. For example, people with test anxiety could color mandalas prior to taking the test, or people who fear flying on airplanes might color before, or even during, their flight.
The effectiveness of coloring is enhanced by practicing mindfulness as you color. It’s all about being in the moment, engaged and involved in what you are doing. It’s not multi-tasking. It’s focusing on the image and clearing your mind of everything else as you choose colors and create your beautiful piece of art.
As you proceed, you engage in something that doesn’t bring stress or anxiety but relaxes you. Because of this, many people pull out their coloring when they feel angry or upset to calm down and focus.
In mindful coloring you learn to clear your mind and focus on the task at hand – and this skill can be applied in many areas of your life. It’s easy to be distracted and we so often are trying to do more than one thing at a time.
Time To Try It!
As noted above, mandala and fractal coloring have some proven benefits for mental health. If you are not familiar with fractals, check this out: Nature and Fractals Reduce Overwhelm and Stress
Mandala books are prolific online and elsewhere. Here are some of the many options for fractal coloring books. Happy coloring!!!
- 30+ Fractal Artworks: Adult Coloring Book
- Fractal Art: A Coloring Book
- Insanely Intricate Phenomenal Fractals Coloring Book
- Fractals Coloring Book: Over 60 Complex and Mind-Altering Images
I’m Carol Brusegar, author, photographer and curator of information. My focus is on gathering and writing on topics that enhance all our lives – regardless of our age. Topics include health and wellness, personal development, innovation and creativity, and a variety of helpful, practical tools and practices. I have a special interest in helping people over 50 years of age to create their 3rd Age – the next stage of their lives – to be the best it can be.