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Adult colouring in books have become all the rage. They are everywhere and demand is outstripping supply.
 
So what is going on? Do colouring in books really relieve stress or is it just another passing fad that we’ll look back on in a year or too and ask ourselves, “Did we really do that?”
 
Clearly colouring in has grabbed people’s attention and offers a welcome relief for eyes tired of looking at computer screens and looking for some gentle R and R.
 
So let’s look at some of the reasons why colouring might just work as a form of stress relief.
 
 
1. It’s doing something different, away from our ‘usual’ routine. 
 
Now that doesn’t have to be colouring in, any form of diversion such as exercise, getting out into green space, watching a movie, meeting up for a coffee with a friend would all achieve the same thing. There are multiple other creative forms of relaxation. My mother did crotchet, my mother-in-law knitted, I have friends who make the most exquisite quilts or do embroidery. Other relaxing activities include jigsaws, painting, sketching, cartooning, carpentry, the list is endless.
 
 
2. It’s spending some focused time on an activity.
 
As above, forcing ourselves to pay attention to a particular task will in this instance divert our attention from other things, especially if our perfectionist tendencies demand we don’t stray over the black lines.
 
3. It’s engaging with colour.
 
Psychologists and art therapists have recognised how colour can have a significant impact on our mood. Our choice of colour in our art works can be used to convey emotion.
As a kid I used to treasure my Staedtler coloured pencils which I kept in a special case, closely guarded to prevent others nicking my favourite colours or disturbing the order in which they were kept. (Yes, perfectionist and OCD tendencies started young!)
 
 
4. It’s engaging with a creative process.
 
Giving ourselves permission as grown ups to do something we might otherwise perceive as childish can be hugely liberating, and fun! One negative is that the creativity is partly prescribed, all you have to follow someone else’s design, beautiful as it might be. Why not create your own?
 
When we activate the pleasure networks in our brain we experience reward and a higher level of dopamine, which makes us feel good and we note that this could be a good thing to repeat because of the pleasure it affords us.
The same can be found with eating chocolate (assuming you like the stuff) or spending time with someone we find attractive, or even playing a video game.
 
 
5. It’s engaging the brain.
 
Colouring in activates a number of different brain areas in both hemispheres because we are applying logic and creativity. We engage our focused attention, our visual cortex and area used for fine motor skills.
 
This focus along with our imagination distracts us from other worrying thoughts. This helps to reduce activity in the amygdala, part of the limbic system that is associated with the generation of emotion and triggering the stress response of fight, flight or freeze. Hence the ‘de-stressing’ effect.
 
I guess if you like colouring in and don’t obsess too much about getting the colours exactly right or fretting about making a ’mistake’, adult colouring in probably deserves a place in the toolbox of stress relieving strategies.
 
For now, I’m off to our local artist’s supply shop, they’ve got some beautiful new crayons in that I really fancy trying out.
 
Have you tried adult colouring in books as a means to alleviate stress?
Has your workplace suggested it?
What other methods of stress relief do you find effective?
Do you think adult colouring in is a fad or a trend?
 

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, keynote speaker and best-selling author. You can now pre-order her new book ‘The Natural Advantage’ due for publication in October 2024.

2 Comments

  • Jackie says:

    Hi Jenny

    Thank you for your wonderful weekly letters. I really look forward to them after attending one of your UWA Seminars ages ago. Yours is the only email I read amongst the tons we get from different organisations. You make them so readable!

    I have started colouring in, only because a book was delivered to our office from one of the booksellers who drop off a series of books every fortnight. I bought a set of 12 coloured pencils, then realising their inadequacy went to an art supplier who had run out of everything except a $300 set which I baulked at. The supplier was rather scathing about the "fad" though it would have increased their sales hugely! I did buy 12 more loose pencils so may add to the collection. My grandchildren have become involved when they visit, which is great fun.

    I was feeling a little foolish at being drawn into a "fad" but I do actually find it relaxing and somewhat comforting for some reason. It gives the same feeling doing tai does, in that you stop thinking about needless anxieties or the state of the world.

    I’d love to hear how one protects oneself from the horrific world events without losing faith in the goodness of humanity. I’m reminded of a quote whose source I can’t remember which says loosely: "Good is eternal but evil needs to be constantly respawning". I hope that is true.

    Many thanks for your positive input.

    DM

    • Dr Jenny Brockis says:

      Hi Jackie, Thanks so much for your comments.I’m not sure whether it is a fad or something that will now stay with us as a valid means to relax and remove ourselves from some of the worries of the world.As our daily media diet grows ever more prolific with stories that make me question what has happened to our humanity (or was I simply naieve before?) I think we need to find whatever works for us as a means of coming to terms with those events we cannot understand nor influence. If it is using coloured pencils to create something we find beautiful and calming I see that asa good thing.

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