Categories: Q Health

Well, color me calm

Adult coloring books are popping up everywhere! So what’s the big deal about them and why are people buying them? The idea stems from the field of psychology and the therapeutic effects of art.

Researchers have acknowledged the therapeutic qualities of art for years; today, art therapy is used to help people express themselves when what they’re feeling is too difficult to talk about. Research has shown that coloring has tangible results in therapy. A recent study found that mindful art therapy significantly decreases symptoms of physical and emotional distress from cancer treatment. Art therapy has been proven to help those with cancer as well as other conditions such as depression, dementia, anxiety and post traumatic stress.

If you aren’t familiar with art therapy it involves using an art medium as a tool to help address specific problems. What’s great about the adult coloring books is that it eliminates the perception that one must be a “good” artist. One simply needs to color to get the desired effect. However, with this being said, some experts suggest that because of the lack of artistic input from patients prevents adult coloring being considered a genuine form of therapy.

Donna Betts, board president of the American Art Therapy Association, said in comparison, “It’s like the difference between listening to music versus learning how to play an instrument.”

Although coloring isn’t considered a form of therapy, that doesn’t mean it isn’t therapeutic in nature. Many people are beginning to use coloring as a way to focus. Some therapists have coloring books in their offices to help fidgety clients focus on the session and to express their concerns. Some students have been taking them to lectures to help them focus on what is being taught.

Coloring has been compared to meditation from its effect on the human brain. Coloring elicits a relaxing mindset, similar to meditation. Coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus on the moment. Tasks with predictable results, such as coloring or knitting, can often be calming. Concentrating on coloring erases negative thoughts and creates a state of peace; and many people who have a difficult time with meditation can find this easier.

This gentle activity where you choose the colors to create your picture and the repetitive action of coloring it focuses the brain on the present, blocking out any intrusive thoughts. A recent study from San Francisco State University has shown that people who partake in creative activities outside of work not only deal with stress better, but also their performance at work improves, too.

If you have not taken a moment to color something in a while try picking up an adult coloring book next time you go to the grocery store. Or download one of the many coloring apps.

Information in this article was adapted from and is the opinion of the author.


Peter Stoker

C. Peter STOKER, MPH, CHES, is a community health education coordinator, HIV outreach educator, epidemiologist for Salt Lake County Health Department. Information in these articles is gathered from multiple sources and are a reflection of the author’s opinion only.

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