How the Adult Colouring Trend Promotes Mental Well-Being

In recent years, North American bookstores have witnessed a markedly high increase in sales of adult colouring books. Originating in 2013, with the release of the international bestseller ‘Secret Garden’ by Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford , modern adult colouring books continue to be highly popular among the adult and senior populations. In fact, quite recently, Crayola released ‘Colouring Escapes’, a colouring kit specifically tailored to the emerging adult colouring trend. Contrary to children’s colouring books, adult colouring books feature relatively more sophisticated and intricate patterns that often include depictions of nature and animals.

The escalating success of adult colouring books can be attributed to their ability to alleviate stress and facilitate relaxation. Accolades report colouring being conducive to increased mindfulness, lower levels of anxiety, and a longer attention span. Specifically, colouring has been regarded as being similar to mindfulness techniques such as meditation and yoga, as it prompts the individual to calm the mind, avoid racing thoughts and experience a state of tranquility. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association revealed the significant decrease in the stress hormone cortisol following 45 minutes of art-based activities within 75% of subjects. Coupled with a biological basis of stress reduction, the feelings of pleasure and childlikeness associated with colouring offer a highly feasible and accessible method of relaxation.

Moreover, several “colorists” have reported colouring as an effective tool to cope with mental illness, severe physical conditions, and traumatic life events. Specifically, many senior long-term care homes reveal that colouring allows Dementia and Alzheimer’s patients to remain engaged with their external surroundings. Since such populations are highly predisposed to depression, adult colouring books offer a novel avenue for creativity and self- expression; lessening feelings associated with emotional distress. Furthermore, several individuals and cohort studies attest to colouring as a remediation strategy against the psychological shortcomings associated with cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the death of a family member. However, adult coloring does not only aid the physically or mentally ill, it also reduces anxiety levels within healthy young adults, as showcased by a 2012 study conducted on undergraduate university students. Given the heightened stress levels experienced by this population, such results affirm and further reiterate the positive outcomes of the adult colouring trend.

Some individuals also regard the therapeutic abilities of coloring as being highly similar to those of professional art therapy, due to an observed restoration of personal well-being and the opportunity for creative expression. Although colouring differs from professional art therapy due to a lack of the client-therapist interaction, several aspects and outcomes of the colouring process are in accordance with the primary  goals of clinical psychotherapy interventions. Specifically, colouring re-enforces the concept of achieving mindfulness and living in the present moment. Similar to professional interventions, this may prompt the individual to establish strong personal awareness and control thoughts.  In fact, Dr. Joel Pearson, a brain scientist at the University of

New South Wales, posits that colouring may stimulate parts of the brain similar to clinical interventions used in the prevention of anxiety- related imagery. He further asserts that colouring may facilitate the replacement of negative thoughts and imagery with positive schema.

The question that remains is: what is the biology behind the coloring trend’s effectiveness? Simply put, colouring exerts its therapeutic effects by downregulating the sympathetic nervous system; the primary stress response mechanism of the body. Thus, colorists have a decreased heart rate, lower rate of respiration, and a relaxation of muscles. Additionally, changes in brainwaves elucidate increased concentration, enhanced brain stimulation and the invigoration of fine motor skills. Moreover, mindfulness based art therapy (MBAT) activates the right hemisphere of the brain – the main storage site for traumatic memories – to increase awareness  of emotional responses. Similar to MBAT, colouring may also induce its effects pertaining to personal well-being via this neurobiological mechanism.

Thus, the adult colouring trend is a strong example of how art-based activities can be effective in maintaining a state of well being and remediating a myriad of health conditions. Regardless of one’s artistic ability, coloring enables them to escape the current moment and allow their subconscious thoughts surface into actual imagery- a hallmark of achieving personal well being. Moving into the future, studies should continue to explore the relation between adult coloring and psychobiology, perhaps contributing new insights to the field of neurobiology. All in all, adult colouring reflects a breakthrough in the self-directed maintenance of mental, emotional and intellectual health.

By Ritika Arora

Please note that opinions expressed are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views and values of The Blank Page.